How Alcohol Rehab Works
August 19, 2021
Alcoholic beverages are quite common in the United States. Alcohol is a legal substance, and you can easily buy drinks in any store if you’re at least 21 years of age. Because of that availability, alcohol is the most used and abused substance in the US.
Some young people even drink underage. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2019, more than 400,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is the medical term for addiction to alcohol, characterized by an uncontrollable compulsion to drink.
In total, almost 15 million people in the US aged 12 and over had AUD in 2019. If you happen to have this condition and want to live sober again, the best way to go is through alcohol rehab.
What is AUD and how can I get it?
You can get AUD when you drink too much alcohol too frequently. “Too much” is relative to the amount of alcohol present in the beverages you drink. If you love drinking hard liquor, which has 40% alcohol or more, you will develop AUD sooner than if you drink milder beverages.
Regardless of what you drink, though, excessive drinking will always increase your chances of getting AUD.
To put this into perspective, here are the standard measures of alcoholic beverages, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One drink is defined as any volume of beverage that contains 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. That is equivalent to:
- 12 fluid ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
- 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
- 5 fluid ounces of rum, whiskey, vodka, or tequila (40% alcohol)
Taking only one drink per day for women, or two drinks a day for men, is considered moderate drinking. If you drink only this much, or less, you are far less likely to develop AUD. For a 100% chance of not getting AUD, the only option is to avoid drinking.
Heavy drinking is defined as having more than 8 drinks per week for women, and more than 15 drinks per week for men. If your drinking habits fall under this category, you are more prone to getting AUD later on.
If you have AUD, the clearest sign is the constant urge to drink alcohol. It will be your go-to beverage, and you can’t live without it. You will find yourself drinking more often than you want to.
Aside from that, AUD also alters your mood and behavior. You would experience the following:
- Neglecting duties and responsibilities to make more time for drinking (e.g. ditching work or skipping classes)
- Turning down invitations from family and friends more often
- Getting angry when loved ones and friends express their concern for your drinking habits
- Running into financial trouble because of spending too much money on alcoholic drinks
- Violent or aggressive behavior towards even close friends and family members
- Getting involved in crime because of the influence of alcohol
- Frequently getting injured while intoxicated
- Not being able to quit drinking even if you’re well aware of its negative effects
What therapies are involved in alcohol rehab?
Alcohol rehab comprises different steps. Each one is designed to address different parts of the addiction.
The first step is screening and diagnosis. Usually, your primary care physician will take care of this. He will get your medical history and ask about your drinking habits. He will ask you a series of questions to know more about how serious your AUD is.
Once those are done, your doctor can create a personalized treatment plan for your specific case. He will then refer you to reputable alcohol rehab providers near you. After that, you can get started with the treatments.
What follows in most cases is a process known as medically assisted detox. This will eliminate all traces of alcohol in your body, which begins your recovery process. You may experience some withdrawal symptoms as your body adjusts to the absence of alcohol. But these can be managed with medications if needed.
Some medications also help you avoid drinking. Naltrexone is one popular drug used in alcohol rehab. It removes the feeling of reward you normally get when drinking alcohol. With the reward out of the way, you no longer get a “kick” from drinking. In turn, you will lose your motivation to drink.
Doctors and other medical personnel will also be ready to assist you at any time. If you encounter pain, discomfort, or anything out of the ordinary during the detox process, you can ask for help right away.
After detox, you will then go through a number of behavioral therapies. These are evidence-based treatments that address the mental aspects of AUD.
An example is psychotherapy, or more commonly known as talk therapy. As the name suggests, you and a therapist talk to each other, and you will relay your experiences, thoughts, and emotions about alcohol and drinking. Together with your therapist, you will learn how drinking influences your behavior, what causes your alcohol cravings, and what you can do to address these issues in healthy ways. Psychotherapy sessions can last for months, and it allows your therapist to assess you better and recommend additional therapies.
Another commonly used treatment in alcohol rehab is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). At its core, the aim of CBT is identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. In turn, this leads to a more positive emotional and mental state. During CBT sessions, you and your therapist may talk about your drinking triggers, the emotions that drive them, and what you can do to avoid them. You could even do role playing to improve how you respond to social situations that make you vulnerable to drinking. CBT works more quickly, being effective in as few as five sessions.
Your therapist may recommend other behavioral therapies as needed. As you work with him, your desire for alcohol will keep on dwindling. You will then be able to take control of your life again, and you can live alcohol-free eventually.