Treatment Options for Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder

Dr. Rebecca Hoffenberg

Alcohol Use and COVID-19: Are you drinking too much?

Since the start of the pandemic, alcohol sales have risen 243 percent. With the lockdown softening, we are starting to see the effects of this time on all of us, and it has begun to make many of us question our habits. More specifically, what does this mean for patients with a history of addiction? And what does this mean for patients with no history of addiction? 

In times of great uncertainty, we seek out coping skills to manage stress. Since the start of the pandemic, many coping skills have no longer been available or have become harder to access. Patients who once found comfort going to the gym, seeing friends, maintaining hobbies, and traveling have now been forced to find new ways to achieve the same relief. 

There is a significant societal stigma associated with alcohol abuse and alcoholism. This often prevents individuals from fully recognizing signs of a real problem, and therefore, they do not seek out help. So how do you determine if you are drinking too much?  

Below are some questions you can ask yourself if you are trying to determine how much alcohol is too much for you: 

  1. Are people in your life expressing concerns about your drinking? 
  2. Are you experiencing negative consequences as a result of your drinking? 
  3. Are you unable to complete tasks or participate in important activities because of your drinking? 
  4. Do you regret your actions after drinking? 
  5. Do you forget things that happen when you drink? 
  6. Are you experiencing any withdrawal symptoms (i.e., sweating, shakiness, loss of appetite, disorientation, seizures)? Please note, if you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention immediately as this may be a sign of a medical emergency for which you would need urgent treatment. For this reason, it is recommended that you seek assistance from a medical professional before suddenly stopping alcohol use.

Is Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment Right for Me?

Speaking with a mental health professional who specializes in clinical approaches to addiction treatment is usually the most helpful avenue to explore your concerns. Not only will you find a safe space to discuss whether you might benefit from treatment, but you will also be able to identify which type of treatment may be best for you. This is especially important because everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different. Therefore, working collaboratively with a therapist and expressing your personal needs and hopes will help you create a treatment plan with clear goals and objectives. 

For example, as a psychologist with a special interest in working with individuals suffering from alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and addiction, I typically use our first session to explore a client’s present challenges and drinking history. I spend time getting to know what motivates you to drink in order to help us both better understand the role drinking plays in your life. What are you trying to accomplish by drinking? What are you trying to cover up? In addition to learning about you and your goals, the first session or two are typically used to determine which setting would be most helpful in trying to reach these goals. For some this recommendation may involve weekly individual therapy, and for those who have more intensive needs, an inpatient or rehab facility may be the optimal choice. In general, this should be a collaborative decision between you and your therapist. I provide a summary of different treatment options below.

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment: Varying Levels of Care

Individual Therapy

This treatment usually involves one to two sessions of individual therapy each week to target your specific treatment needs. Clients will examine their relationship to substances and associated emotions. In my role as an outpatient therapist with a special interest in working with those struggling with alcoholism, I work collaboratively with my clients to understand the reasons behind their drinking. Together, we determine when or if they are drinking too much or too often, and then we develop a treatment plan that would most efficiently and effectively move them towards their goal - whether that be complete sobriety or drinking/using less frequently.

Support groups

As an adjunct to treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be a very helpful resource to provide additional support for those looking to connect with others struggling with alcoholism. You can find more information here. There are also several alternatives to AA, such as Smart Recovery, Women for Sobriety, and Secular Organizations for Sobriety

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

This is the highest level of care that someone can receive while remaining in their homes. IOP programs are often abstinence-based, meaning patients must abstain from using any drugs or alcohol. Their focus is to establish a goal-based, sober routine that an individual can continue once the program is completed. An IOP frequently involves individual and group treatment, as well as medication management for those with co-occuring mental health difficulties (i.e., depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.).

Inpatient treatment/Rehab

When a patient enters inpatient treatment, he or she will usually stay at the facility (including overnight) for an average of 28 days; however, treatment can often extend up to 90 days or more. The focus is to achieve abstinence from the substance of choice, and the treatment involves learning the necessary skills and concepts to achieve long-term sobriety. Inpatient treatment is recommended to those with significant addiction issues, and for those who have frequently attempted other levels of care. This more intensive treatment can often break the cycle of addiction and guide the patient towards a new focus on wellbeing. Please note, however, that suddenly stopping alcohol consumption can be dangerous and cause a medical emergency for those who are used to drinking regularly. Therefore, an inpatient setting often involves a medical detox and intensive daily treatment to monitor both physical and mental health concerns associated with drinking. If you are considering an inpatient stay, here are some things to think about to prepare.

Dr. Rebecca Hoffenberg is a Clinical Psychologist at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy. For questions or to learn more about how mindfulness & hypnotherapy can help you, please contact us here.

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