Every year, tens of thousands of people die from alcohol-related causes. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a ubiquitous disease that can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race, or financial standing. The burden of managing this disease often spreads beyond the person affected and can affect the lives of friends, family, and coworkers. Thankfully, there are several treatment options that can help alcoholics through the long-term recovery stage and can put them on the path to physical and mental health.
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About The Program
Inpatient treatment is a common and effective way to treat AUD. During the inpatient period, patients live in a rehabilitation facility which offers 24-hour assistance from medical professionals and specialists.
Outpatient programs vary, but the goal is to support AUD recovery through counseling and medical detox sessions without interfering with daily responsibilities like school and work.
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) combines inpatient and outpatient treatment. Patients typically commute to an alcohol treatment facility from their home, where they spend their nights.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is often recommended to patients who don’t require medically-supervised detox but who would still benefit from a strict outpatient schedule.
Alcohol detox is the process of removing alcohol from the body, ending consumption. The detox process involves withdrawal, which is when the body reacts adversely to the absence of alcohol. Withdrawal can last for one week or more and is characterized by a series of challenging symptoms. The intensity of those symptoms is directly correlated to the duration and volume of a user’s history with alcohol abuse.
Symptoms typically begin within 6 hours after a patient’s final drink. They can include shakiness, anxiety, intense sweating, increased heart rate, and an upset stomach. If a patient is withdrawing from a particularly intense case of AUD, there is the potential to hallucinate or seize. For these reasons, it’s important that withdrawal is supervised by medical professionals.
Inpatient vs Outpatient
While both inpatient and outpatient treatment plans have the same goal—to help patients during the recovery from alcoholism—they achieve that goal through different means. Often, the choice between the two comes down to the time a patient can commit to treatment, the intensity of their addiction, and what they can afford.
Inpatient rehab has a higher success rate. Patients live in an alcohol rehab center for anywhere between 28 days to six months, and during that time have 24-hour access to medical professionals. It is designed to help treat serious addictions, and for that reason, it requires patients to commit all of their time to recovery. It is often more expensive than outpatient rehab, but many find that the increased chance of recovery justifies the cost.
Outpatient rehab is designed for those with a milder addiction. Patients commute to and from a rehabilitation facility, and in some cases are still able to go to work, school, and take care of other responsibilities. These programs typically last between 3 months and one year and offer a support circle that many find incredibly helpful to the recovery process.
Signs of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is often self-diagnosable, but many patients suffering from AUD willfully ignore the symptoms. While there are many telltale signs, some of the most common include: experiencing blackouts or periods of memory loss; drinking in secrecy or in private; choosing to drink instead of managing obligations; making excuses to drink; feeling hungover when not drinking; lying about drinking habits; feeling ashamed of drinking habits.
Often, it takes the help of a friend or loved one to point out the symptoms of AUD. Once these symptoms are identified, those suffering from AUD should enter a rehab program as quickly as possible. The longer AUD goes untreated, the risk of personal harm or harm to others increases.
Costs & Insurance Options
Of the millions who suffer from AUD, less than 5% receive the treatment they need. This is mostly because many see the financial burden of rehabilitation as an insurmountable obstacle. However, most private insurance plans offer—at the very least—partial coverage for treatment. Some offer comprehensive coverage, though these plans typically involve high premiums.
Many employers also offer group insurance options which may cover the cost of treatment. However, these plans are often limited by the discretion of the employer and may be subject to exclusions.
Most rehab centers keep insurance specialists on hand to help prospective patients understand and leverage their insurance policies. The simple act of reaching out to a rehab center to speak with a specialist greatly increases the chance that patients will receive the treatment they need.
Helping a Loved One
It can be extremely difficult watching loved ones suffer from AUD. Friends and family members may feel helpless, and in some cases, they may even feel complicit in the disorder. Often, when a person suffering from AUD is part of a family unit, family members will cover up signs of the disease or will make excuses to people outside of the family on behalf of the loved one. While these may seem like helpful actions, they ultimately prolong the disease and can prevent the person suffering from AUD from entering treatment. The best course of action involves multiple steps.
The first is learning about the disorder and making sure that the symptoms correlate with the behavior of the loved one. The next is having a conversation. It’s important to practice what you plan to say and to avoid using “you” statements—e.g. “you have a problem and you need to stop drinking”—which can sound accusatory and may be counterproductive. Instead, practice “I” statements; e.g. “I love you and want you to know how concerned I am with your drinking.”
It’s also important to be ready for a negative reaction. Many people who suffer from AUD will react defensively when confronted, and will only hear you out if you’re calm, understanding, and compassionate. In many cases, it can be helpful to hire an intervention specialist, who will assemble a team of friends and help prepare statements that will hopefully encourage the loved one to begin treatment for alcoholism.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Fact Sheet. 2018.
American Addiction Centers. Stages of Alcoholism. 2015.
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