Alcohol: Treatment and rehabilitation

Last modified: Wednesday, 24. December 2008 - 4:02 am

There is no cure for alcoholism, but the progression of the disease can be arrested by total abstinence from alcohol. According to the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, an estimated 9.7 million Americans are dependent on alcohol. This figure includes the 915,000 young people ages 12 to 17 who have a drinking problem. Public and private treatment facilities in the United States are capable of treating about 1.7 million people each year, a far cry from the number needing help.

There are several types of inpatient and outpatient treatment options available in this country. Inpatient programs are often found in hospital settings such as a hospital detox unit or a psychiatric unit. Detox is a short-term solution because it only addresses the physical aspect of drying out the drinker. It should be followed up with individual and/or family counseling and an understanding of the disease concept of alcoholism through a program like Alcoholics Anonymous. Psychiatric hospitals address both the problem of alcohol abuse and the emotional problems that accompany it. Treatment includes individual, group, and/or family counseling, drugs to treat psychiatric illnesses, and the additional support of a twelve-step program. Another type of inpatient program can be found at a 28-day rehabilitation facility. This type of treatment program offers detox from alcohol as well as support from substance abuse counselors; education on the disease concept of alcoholism; and individual, group, and family therapy. In addition, it utilizes support group meetings both on and offsite.

Outpatient programs can be connected to a hospital or a public or private treatment facility. These programs are often short term and require the patient to complete a series of daily or weekly visits for a period of several months. Like inpatient treatment, outpatient programs include individual and/or group therapy, trained substance abuse counselors, education on the disease of alcoholism, and a recommendation to attend a support group.

Another type of treatment program is a residential program in which the patient stays at a home for recovering alcoholics — a sober house where several alcoholics are working to stay sober with the help of counseling, job assistance, and regular attendance at support group meetings. There are residential programs specific to men, women, and young people trying to recover from alcohol addiction. The criminal justice system currently helps offenders get alcohol abuse treatment, and many prisons offer weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for prison inmates trying to stay sober. There is no definitive evidence as to what treatment works best for which patient. Due to the lack of data on the effectiveness of individual programs, it is important for treatment facilities to offer a variety of options to meet the needs of their patients.

Treatment programs based on the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and that encourage attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have been the most common approach used in the United States. The first Alcoholics Anonymous group was formed in Akron, Ohio in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. Today there are approximately 99,000 groups in existence across America.

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