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How Does Alcohol Dependence Treatment Work?

Alcohol use disorders exist as the most prevalent form of addiction worldwide. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, an estimated 7.2 percent of the American adult population lives with an alcohol use disorder. Compared to other forms of addiction, alcohol addictions are the most treatable and carry the highest recovery success rates.

Alcohol dependence treatment involves helping drinkers work through the physical and psychological effects of alcohol addiction. As with any healing process, alcohol dependence treatment addresses addiction’s effects in stages while equipping a person with needed coping skills for living a clean and sober lifestyle. In effect, alcohol dependence treatment takes a step-by-step approach to undoing the harmful effects of alcohol on the brain and body.

Treating the Physical Dependence

alcohol dependence treatment

The first and hardest step in alcohol dependence treatment is detox.

In many respects, the detox stage can be the most difficult step to take in the recovery process. Without needed treatment supports, many people don’t make it past this first stage in recovery.

During the course of alcohol abuse, the brain becomes increasingly dependent on alcohol to help maintain bodily processes. This dependency stems from alcohol’s damaging effects on brain cell functions.

The more damage to brain cells the less responsive they become to alcohol’s “calming” effects. These changes incite drinkers to increase their alcohol intake to compensate for the brain’s weakened state.

As physical dependency progresses, drinkers start to experience withdrawal effects as a result of the chemical imbalances taking shape in the brain. In effect, withdrawal effects provide yet another reason to keep drinking.

Alcohol dependency treatment helps drinkers make it through the detox stage, which entails the very worst of withdrawal symptoms. Medication treatments and ongoing support from staff enable a person to overcome this most difficult stage of the recovery process.

Treating the Psychological Dependence

While the body’s physical dependence plays a pivotal role in driving alcohol abuse behaviors, addiction has more to do with the psychological effects of alcohol over time. Once brain chemical imbalances reach a certain point, drinkers develop a psychological dependency on alcohol’s effects.

Alcohol addiction takes root within the brain’s reward system, an area of the brain that relies heavily on neurotransmitter chemical outputs. This area of the brain regulates a person’s belief systems, motivations and drive.

With addiction, alcohol effects regulate chemical levels throughout the brain compromising the brain reward center’s functions. In effect, alcohol’s effects reshape a person’s belief systems making alcohol a top priority and motivating force within his or her daily life.

Once a person completes the detox stage, alcohol dependence treatment entails dealing with the thinking patterns and emotional responses that drive addiction-based behaviors. Alcohol dependence treatment programs offer a range of interventions designed to help drinkers undo the psychological effects of addiction. Interventions used include:

  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Support group work
  • Group therapy
  • Drug education counseling

Alcohol Dependence Treatment Medication Therapies

The damaging effects of alcohol over time leave the brain in a deteriorated state, especially for people with long histories of alcohol abuse as well as chronic drinkers and binge drinkers. Under these conditions, alcohol dependence treatment programs administer medication therapies, such as methadone and Antabuse, which work to support and strengthen damaged brain cell functions.

Ultimately, alcohol dependence treatment provides those in recovery with whatever supports are needed to eliminate the need for alcohol in a person’s life.

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