Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

Learn about how medication-assisted treatment can be the best alcoholism treatment.   

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Table of Contents

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Some people may think that those struggling with alcoholism are only addicted to the habit of drinking. After all, many people drink and do not become addicted to the substance. However, alcohol is a drug, so the body can become dependent on it. Overuse of alcohol can result in alcoholism, a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled drinking and preoccupation with alcohol. For those seeking to overcome alcoholism, medication-assisted treatment is an extremely beneficial option.  

Is Alcohol Addictive?

Alcoholism is the inability to control drinking due to both a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol. Like with any other drug addiction, alcoholism can take a massive physical and mental toll on the user, and it can impact those closest to the person suffering from alcoholism.

So what exactly makes alcohol so addictive? Research shows that, of people who are exposed to alcohol, 10-15% develop alcohol-related problems.1 Studies indicate that brain differences may be at blame for those who become addicted to alcohol; in the same study referenced above, scientists found GAT-3 levels were lower in tissue taken from individuals with “documented alcohol addiction.”

Causes of Addiction

Ultimately, though, alcoholism can be caused by psychological, genetic, and behavioral influences. For instance, those with family members who have had alcoholism are at a greater risk of developing an alcohol addiction themselves. Sometimes, people under immense stress may find themselves seeking relaxation and escape in the form of alcohol, while others may be in settings that encourage unhealthy substance use (like binge drinking).

It is important to note that alcoholism is a real disease that is not easy to control. It can cause changes to a person’s brain and neurochemistry, so someone facing alcohol addiction may not be able to control their actions. 

How Do You Know If You Are Addicted to Alcohol?

Alcohol addiction can look different depending on the person. It presents itself in various ways; one person may drink all day, where another engages in binge drinking and then stays sober for a while.

The way to tell if someone has an alcohol addiction can, in some cases, be straightforward. If someone tends to rely heavily on alcohol and has trouble staying sober for an extended period, they are likely to have an alcohol addiction. 

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Some signs that someone is abusing alcohol include the following:

  • They are unable to control the amount of alcohol they drink
  • They want to cut back on alcohol but are unable to do so
  • They spend a lot of time drinking, acquiring alcohol, or recovering from drinking to excess
  • They use alcohol in settings where it is not legal or safe, such as while driving or swimming
  • They have strong cravings to drink
  • They avoid social or work functions if they can’t drink at them
  • They seem to drink to excess in social or work functions  

Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol abuse is a slippery slope that can easily lead to alcohol addiction. While some of the signs of alcohol abuse can overlap with full-blown alcohol addiction, someone with alcoholism may show the following symptoms:

  • Increased quantity or frequency of alcohol use
  • High tolerance for large amounts of alcohol; needing more than others to get intoxicated (due to tolerance)
  • Drinking first thing in the morning
  • Only wanting to be present in situations that allow drinking
  • Avoiding contact with loved ones
  • Increased lethargy, depression, and emotional issues  

Health Issues from Drinking

Additionally, there are many serious health issues associated with alcoholism. Alcoholism can result in heart disease and liver disease, which both have the potential to be fatal. Other health risks and signs of alcoholism include:

  • Ulcers
  • Diabetes complications
  • Sexual problems
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Decreased immune system function
  • Birth defects
  • Vision issues

While it may not always be easy to spot the above health issues in a loved one, if someone’s physical and/or emotional health seems to be declining, and they seem to be drinking regularly, they may be suffering from alcoholism.

A proper diagnosis is important in treating alcoholism. If you suspect yourself or a loved one is dealing with alcoholism, a doctor can ask questions and perform tests to determine if alcohol use disorder (AUD) is present. It’s important to answer diagnostic questions honestly to receive the best care and, ultimately, the best outlook. 

How Easily Can You Become addicted To Alcohol?

So many people drink, yet only a few become addicted. So, how much is too much? This issue varies widely from person to person. As many know, body size and weight can play a role in how alcohol affects a person.

Three drinks may hardly have an intoxicating effect on someone of a large size and stature, while for a small person, three drinks are enough to impair them. Even clinicians have different standards for how much a person should drink. Some suggest limiting intake to three glasses a day, while others employ the “1-2-3 rule,” which states that one should only have one drink a day, no more than two at once, and no more than three times a week. 

Drinking in Women vs. Men

According to NPR, women who drink more than eight drinks a week are considered heavy drinkers, while men are considered heavy drinkers if they consume more than fifteen drinks per week. A “drink,” according to researchers, is defined as five ounces of wine, twelve ounces of beer, and 1.5 ounces of spirits.3

By these standards, many Americans are technically “heavy drinkers.” However, heavy drinking is not the same as alcoholism. While excessive alcohol consumption is certainly dangerous—according to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for 88,000 deaths per year—it is not considered a disease like alcoholism is.  

What Does Alcoholism Look Like?

An AUD, or alcohol use disorder, is a term defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a situation in which a person struggles with alcoholism. AUD is the official term to describe someone with alcohol use issues; the terms alcoholism and alcohol abuse are colloquial terms that are grouped under the definition of AUD.

The DSM-5 does distinguish three levels of AUD—mild, moderate, and severe sub-classifications of AUD.4 To classify each level of AUD, the DSM-5 offers eleven diagnostic questions for people abusing alcohol to answer. Mild cases of alcoholism will result in a score of two or three symptoms out of the eleven provided; moderate cases of alcoholism will result in four or five symptoms listed; severe cases will result in the presence of six or more symptoms. 

Diagnosing Alcohol Abuse

Some examples of the DSM-5 criteria for AUD include:

  • Wanting a drink so badly, you could not think of anything else
  • More than once wanted to quit or cut down on drinking but was not able to
  • Continuing drinking despite it causing problems with friends, family, work, school, etc.
  • Finding that when the effects of alcohol wore off, you had withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, trouble sleeping, restlessness, nausea, sweating, racing heart, or seizure 

Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

Fortunately, there are many options available to those who are dealing with AUD. The first step is getting yourself, or your loved one, to admit that there is a problem. Denial can be a coping mechanism for those dealing with alcohol abuse, so it may take time for the affected person to be ready to confront their problems. Recovery will not happen until one is ready for it to happen.

There is also the reality that recovery is a lifetime commitment, and there is no quick fix for AUD. Some options make the road to recovery a lot smoother, including rehab, therapies, counseling, and medication-assisted treatment. 

Inpatient Care

Inpatient rehab is a common treatment for alcohol abuse, as it provides a safe and medically supervised space for the affected person to detox and withdrawal from alcohol. Detox can be a physically and mentally taxing time, and some people may need medication-assisted treatment to manage alcohol withdrawal.

Outpatient Care

Outpatient rehab can also be a good option for alcohol addiction help, as it allows the affected person to have medical support and treatment plans to encourage recovery. Medically assisted treatment can also be utilized in outpatient rehab. Counseling and various therapies also encourage the person with AUD and help them fully understand their problem with alcohol and how best to manage it. 

What Are Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and MAT Treatment Programs?

Alcohol addiction statistics show that medication-assisted treatment combined with psychotherapy is the best treatment for someone looking to recover from alcoholism, as it can alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms to ensure a smooth recovery. Alcohol withdrawal can be anxiety-ridden, emotionally taxing, depressing, and even life-threatening. Using MAT can keep a person recovering from AUD safe in the vulnerable withdrawal period. 

MAT Programs

Doctors will work with patients to create a MAT treatment program. This program will be suited to the needs of the patient, with some medication-assisted treatments prescribed for months following an inpatient program, and other medications only prescribed while the patient is at rehab.

Medication-assisted treatment, paired with counseling and behavioral therapies, can help to sustain recovery.6 These treatment combinations can help a person manage the highs and lows that come with recovery, as well as help the person maintain a positive state of mind and reduce cravings.

It is important to note that using medication to assist recovery is not “replacing one substance for another”—when done properly, medication-assisted treatment does not create a new addiction. 

Medications for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

There is always help for addiction, and medically assisted treatment can be particularly effective for alcohol addiction treatment. There are several medications commonly used in medication-assisted treatment for alcohol abuse.

  • Buprenorphine: Using buprenorphine for medication-assisted treatment can relieve some alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Naltrexone: This medication is commonly used for opioid addiction, but it works well for alcohol addiction treatment as well. It suppresses the euphoric and pleasurable effects associated with alcohol, making it less desirable a substance to use.
  • Disulfiram: This medication for alcoholism creates unpleasant, hangover-like effects when alcohol is used, making it a good option to prevent alcohol cravings.
  • Acamprosate: This substance is the most used medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism. Acamprosate interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain to reduce cravings for alcohol. 

Resources

If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
(888) 744-9969 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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