Treatment Approaches for Alcohol Addiction

Those struggling with alcohol addiction should seek help sooner rather than later for the issue. Our goal at the Arizona Alcohol Addiction Helpline is to provide you with treatment options and provide information as to what is available to help you.

Alcohol abuse is a disease which affects the brain and body. A person addicted to alcohol will continue to drink even in the face of obvious harmful effects. Refusal to acknowledge alcohol abuse is common and many suffering from this disease will blame other people for their continued use of alcohol.

It is extremely difficult for family members living with a person who is abusing alcohol. They never know what may happen next and constantly worry about the health and safety of their loved one. Many who abuse alcohol neglect personal hygiene, do not follow a healthy diet and have changes in their sleeping and eating patterns. There is also the danger that they may drive while under the influence, potentially killing or injuring not only themselves but other drivers and pedestrians. They may disappear for periods of time causing their families great worry.

When the decision is made to seek treatment, the individual should go through a thorough assessment including a search for any conditions which accompany the primary condition. This is referred to as dual diagnosis. An example of an underlying condition is depression, which may be a result of alcohol abuse or a cause of alcohol abuse. All conditions must be treated concurrently in order to achieve a successful outcome. Some patients benefit from intensive outpatient treatment but most require residential treatment where they can focus fully on recovery.

The purpose of treatment is to help a person stop drinking, maintain a healthy lifestyle and become a contributing person in society and the family unit.


The first step to recovery is to undergo detoxification. This should take place in a medically supervised treatment center as withdrawal symptoms can be debilitating. Medication may be given to ease withdrawal symptoms and make a person more comfortable. Detox ensures that the body is alcohol free but is not a treatment in itself. Treatment should begin immediately following detox.

Therapy for alcohol addiction

One of the most commonly used approaches to helping to treat alcohol addiction is through the use of therapy. This can be done one-one-one or in groups depending on the needs of the patient. One often used form of therapy for alcohol addiction is Cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, shortened as CBT, is usually one-on-one with a therapist and also in a group setting, led by a therapist. This therapy focuses on replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts by redirecting old habits into new channels leading to a healthier outcome. Most therapists have patients practice these methods outside of therapy as homework. Coping skills are taught such as how to deal with cravings and how to develop strategies to avoid alcohol and prevent relapse. Patient and therapist discuss areas such as employment, legal problems and improving relationships with family and friends.

There are multiple therapies that can prove useful for treating alcohol addiction. Other therapies used in treatment can include Solution focused brief therapy, Dialectical behavioral therapy and alternative therapies such as art or equine therapy, mindfulness, yoga and more.


Medication is used to restore normal brain function, prevent relapse and reduce cravings. Many people abuse more than one substance and will require treatment for all substances abused.

There are three FDA approved medications for the treatment of alcohol abuse: naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram. A fourth, topiramate is showing success in clinical trials. Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors which are involved in the rewarding effects of drinking and in the craving for alcohol. It reduces relapse to heavy drinking and is highly effective in some but not all patients, this is thought to be due to genetic differences.

Acamprosate is thought to help with reduction of symptoms during the withdrawal process such as insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, depression anxiety and irritability. It can be more effective in patients with severe dependence.

Disulfiram acts by disrupting the absorption of alcohol, resulting in acetaldehyde accumulation and a very unpleasant reaction including flushing, nausea and palpitations if the patient drinks alcohol. For some patients, compliance is difficult, but for a motivated patient, disulfiram can be very effective.

Most patients benefit best with a combination of therapy and medication. Some do well with therapy alone while others benefit from both concurrently.

Self-help groups

Following recovery, self-help support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can provide support and encouragement to remain alcohol free. These groups reduce the sense of shame and isolation which can lead to relapse. For family members, Al-Anon is a helpful resource, providing information, help and support.

Finding help

Finding treatment for alcohol addiction can be hard if you don’t know where to look but we can help. Call the Arizona Alcohol Addiction Helpline today to learn more about alcohol addiction, treatment options and where you or your loved one can find the help you need.


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