Alcohol is the most widely used addictive substance globally – and for good reason. It’s easy to come by and is legal for people 21 and older (or younger) in most countries. Accessibility is partly to blame, but cultural shifts that have normalized drinking alcohol also play a role. Even among people aware of the damage done by alcohol, many still think it’s safer than drugs like heroin or cocaine. In reality, alcohol abuse is very dangerous. From 2011 to 2015, one in every ten deaths among working-age adults aged 20 to 64 years was caused by excessive drinking.
Alcohol use disorder, or AUD, is more common than you might think. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 5.7% of adults 26 and older struggled with alcohol usage. Respondents to the survey who reported having a problem with alcohol or other drugs were asked about their sobriety. Sadly, over 75% said they were “in recovery” or “recovered,” showing just how difficult staying sober can be.
Luckily, effective treatment is available for people trying to recover from alcohol use, and physicians and psychotherapists are trained to support the long-term process of staying sober. While recovery is incredibly challenging, many people have successfully quit drinking and lived happy and fulfilling lives.
It’s tough to quit drinking alone. Approximately 90% of people who attempt to quit on their own will fail within the first year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA. That’s why it’s essential to find a professional you trust and discuss your options. Support is available when you’re ready to get sober.
The Goal of AUD Treatment
Alcohol use disorder is a treatable condition. Treatment attempts to change a person’s pattern of substance use.
Many people believe that AUD can only be treated at an inpatient rehabilitation center, but treatment doesn’t have to mean checking into a full-time facility. Instead, effective treatment programs should be tailored to your specific needs, including family or work responsibilities. Treatment — whether outpatient or inpatient — should also include strategies for coping with alcohol cravings and avoiding situations that could lead to relapse.
A treatment program may include participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or a similar 12-step program, counseling, psychotherapy, and even approaches like acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and exercise. Treatment may also include medications and group therapy.
Inpatient treatment is an option for many people struggling with AUD. But treatment can also include detoxification followed by a partial hospitalization program (PHP) or an intensive outpatient program (IOP) where participants live at home but engage in regular treatment at a facility.
The goal of alcohol abuse treatment is to help people stop drinking and achieve sustained sobriety. An alcohol treatment program can help participants return to productive roles in their families, workplaces, and communities.
How to Make Treatment Work — For Good
Recovery is a lifelong process, and different approaches work for different people. Some may find that support groups are highly beneficial, while others might find that one-on-one counseling is essential. The most important thing to do is to explore your options, learn about your addiction, and determine what works best for you. For any long-term treatment, here are some factors that have proven to be critical to consider:
1. Create a Safe Home Environment
A person’s home environment significantly influences their chances of quitting drinking. Especially during the early days of your recovery, it’s crucial to have a “safe home base” that you can turn to. If you want sustained success, you need to ensure your home environment supports your new lifestyle. This includes the physical environment you are in and the people with whom you surround yourself.
Clear expectations and boundaries, a sense of community, the presence of positive role models, access to recovery meetings and sober activities, and the availability of emotional support are all part of the ideal home environment for someone recovering from alcoholism.
This environment should provide a sense of security, peace of mind, and hope. Friends who are also in recovery, recovery meetings, sober activities, and emotional support are all critical. For some people, home may not be the best place to recover. If you don’t feel supported in your recovery at home, you might consider an inpatient treatment program or an outpatient treatment program that offers sober living.
2. Find Your Support System
Treatment for AUD has improved in recent years as more treatment programs include psychological and social elements in their plan of care.
Dr. Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University, says that social interaction is key to maintaining sobriety. Humphreys specifically highlights Alcoholics Anonymous as an example of a peer support group, but many self-help groups or 12-step models are available. “If you want to change your behavior, find some other people who are trying to make the same change,” he notes.
For many struggling with addiction, reaching out to family and friends can seem intimidating. But it’s vital, especially during your initial recovery, that you surround yourself with people who will support your goal of quitting drinking. Many programs involve peer support as part of their overall treatment plan. Having someone at your back can make all the difference when you’re fighting what seems like an uphill battle through tough times.
3. Understand That Relapse Is Not An Indication of Failure
Alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease, and like other diseases, AUD requires constant examination and adjustment to ensure your treatment plan is working properly. Relapses happen to almost everyone with an alcohol use disorder. In fact, 9 out of 10 people who receive treatment for their drinking will relapse, according to NIAAA.
That doesn’t mean you should get discouraged. It simply means that relapsing is part of the recovery process. “It is rare that someone would go to treatment once and then never drink again,” according to NIAAA. Relapse is “part of the process.” You won’t be the first person who ever relapsed. You won’t be the last, either.
4. Set and achieve goals
Research funded by NIAAA shows that people in recovery who experience major life achievements have improved recovery rates. A significant part of recovery from an addiction is developing a new lifestyle filled with healthy and rewarding activities.
It can be hard to get back on track with health and wellness after an alcohol and substance abuse cycle. That’s why it’s key to focus on positive life events and achievements, whether it’s earning your GED or graduating from college. You deserve consideration for these achievements in the same way you would all other parts of your life.
Therapy can help you increase your chances of success by setting goals in other aspects of your life and developing a plan of action for achieving them.
5. Consider Medication
According to research provided by NIAAA, behavioral and pharmacological therapies work best when they are used together. Most people who have AUD will benefit from combining these therapies. Although three FDA-approved drugs for AUD exist, less than 4% of people with AUD have tried them. Ask your treatment provider about the potential benefits of integrating naltrexone (ReVia), which targets the brain’s reward circuits, acamprosate (Campral), an anti-craving medication, or disulfiram (Antabuse), into your treatment plan.
Medication-Assisted Therapies, or MAT, don’t work for everyone with AUD, but medications can help some people in their recovery. Scientists continue to research alcohol use disorder medications, explicitly identifying fundamental molecular structures, genetics, and other factors. New pharmacological treatments for those in recovery are on the horizon.
If you’ve been struggling with addiction, know that abstaining from drugs or alcohol doesn’t make all the problems automatically disappear. You may need extra support from a compassionate team who is willing to help. Many people find they make mistakes or stumble, and that’s okay. Don’t get discouraged. Overcoming the difficulties that come with sobriety takes strength. The key is to never lose sight of the ultimate goal: living a clean and sober life.
It is easier to quit alcohol for good when you have a treatment program that is individually tailored to your needs and combines multiple effective therapies. At Lake Avenue Recovery, we provide personalized and compassionate evidence-based care to everyone who walks through our doors. We understand that each person’s addiction is unique. Allow us to assist you in quitting for good. Call us today at 508-794-4400 to learn more about our addiction treatment options or to get help right away.