Alcoholism is a Disease Without a Cure
Can Alcoholism be Completely ‘Cured’? With all of the publicity about finding a cure for cancer, there isn’t as much buzz around the idea of finding a cure for alcoholism. That’s because the disease, also referred to as alcohol abuse, involves a wide range of complex factors and is medically considered to be incurable. The social, mental, and physiological factors involved in alcoholism work together to create a situation in which relapse is always possible. However, many people are able to successfully complete alcohol treatment and live an alcohol-free life without relapse.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
Not all alcoholics have the same symptoms, which is why it’s so difficult to diagnose. In addition, many people are in denial about how much of a problem their drinking is. Therefore, diagnosis is often encouraged by family and friends who notice some of the major symptoms commonly seen with people who abuse alcohol:
- Using alcohol in an attempt to solve problems or avoid having to face problems
- Increasing consumption of alcohol, particularly when requiring more alcohol to feel drunk
- Drinking alcohol immediately after waking up
- Lying about the amount of alcohol consumed and hiding alcohol
- Refusing to admit to having a drinking problem, despite clear evidence of regularly drinking to excess
- Severe personality changes and mood swings when drinks are consumed
- Physical withdrawal symptoms, especially shaking, when alcohol is not consumed at a regular interval
Components of Treating Alcoholism
Although alcoholism does not have a cure, medical and psychological professionals use a wide range of strategies to treat alcoholism. These treatments aim to reduce the physical dependence on alcohol and equip people with skills to cope with life in ways other than drinking.
Treatment programs can be divided into two major categories, depending on where the person lives during treatment. Inpatient treatment has the user check into a facility, such as a hospital or rehab center, and stay there around the clock. While there, the person receives a variety of treatments on site. Outpatient treatment allows the user to live at home and attend treatments at one or more locations on a regular basis. Either way, people can expect alcoholism treatment to cover as many of the four components as is necessary, depending on the severity of the alcohol problem.
Detoxification: This is the process of removing all traces of alcohol from the abuser’s body and getting safely through the complex physical effects of withdrawal. People who are accustomed to drinking large quantities of alcohol every day may experience severe symptoms, such as seizures, during detoxification. Therefore, this process may need to be done under medical supervision to ensure safety.
Medication: The use of medication to treat alcoholism is a somewhat controversial topic. Many pharmaceuticals available today have been demonstrated to be successful, in at least some patients, in curbing the severity of cravings for alcohol by re-adjusting the chemical pathways related to addiction. However, some people believe in a purely behavioral approach to treating alcoholism, arguing that people are already equipped with the will-power and mental tools required to abstain from drinking alcohol.
Counseling and Therapy: The main component of most alcohol treatment programs is a series of counseling and therapy sessions. One particularly effective type of therapy, behavioral therapy, looks at the types of situations in which people turn to alcohol and helps people change their behaviors to avoid these situations. Other types of therapy which may be used include cognitive therapy, psychotherapy, gestalt therapy, and group therapy. Counseling also equips individuals with the coping skills they need to replace alcohol abuse with productive activities.
Continued Support: Following completion of a formal alcohol treatment program, individuals often require continued support to maintain sobriety in their home environments. Alcoholics Anonymous is the most widespread organization that provides this support. Many people attend support groups for years after undergoing treatment in an effort to stay connected to others and remain vigilant in fighting the problem of alcoholism.
Factors that Affect the Efficacy of Treatment
Two people who go through the exact same course of treatment may have dramatically different results afterwards. This is why researchers cannot say that alcoholism can be cured. Rather, treatments can help alcoholics toward recovery, but the people obtaining treatment must also do their part. It’s critical to be aware of the potential for relapse and to be vigilant about avoiding alcohol, even years after treatment has concluded.
In general, the more severe a case of alcoholism was, the more difficult it will be to successfully recover from it through treatment. People who knew nothing besides alcohol will have to completely restructure their lives, finding new activities, hobbies, and probably even friends. On the other hand, someone who gets treatment early on or before the alcoholism becomes more severe, will generally not have to make as many life changes to be free from the clutches of alcohol going forward.
An individual’s willingness to undergo treatment and desire to be free from the addiction is one of the major factors that affects treatment efficacy. Someone who is eager to live without alcohol will be much more willing to participate in all aspects of the course of treatment and make the tough choices to abstain from alcohol in everyday life. On the other hand, a reluctant participant who is undergoing treatment just to appease family and friends may not have much internal motivation to put in the hard work to avoid alcohol following the treatment.
Family and friends also play a significant role in helping a person successfully abstain from alcohol use. When family and friends are supportive of the treatment process and provide encouragement and accountability on a regular basis, individuals are more likely to be able to get out of the cycle of alcohol abuse. In particular, alcohol abusers should make an effort to spend time with family and friends who do not drink so they do not have the social pressure to consume alcohol after completing a treatment program.
Winning the Battle Against Alcoholism
Although alcoholism cannot be cured per se, people who once were alcoholics can live the rest of their lives without drinking alcohol. Some of the keys to success include choosing the right type of treatment, participating fully in all aspects of treatment, and building a support network to help the individual remain vigilant after formal treatment has concluded. It is also incredibly important for a recovering alcoholic to be self-aware and honest about relapses and potential problems. People who are committed to the process and are willing to continue seeking treatment and support as needed can often live completely alcohol-free lives.