Alcoholism, also known as “alcohol dependence” or “alcohol use disorder”, is a substance abuse disorder characterized by a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring in a 12 month period:
- Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use
- A great deal of time is spent in activities, necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects
- Craving or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol
- Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home
- Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol
- Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous
- Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol
- High tolerance for alcohol use
- Withdrawals experienced without alcohol use
The above criteria was taken from the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). If you or a loved one meet two or more of the above criteria, there may be an alcohol abuse disorder present.
How does alcoholism or an alcohol abuse disorder look in real life? Those who are alcoholics typically prioritize alcohol over everything else in their life. Alcoholics may prioritize alcohol over work, school, significant others, children and even their own health. Alcoholics will typically continue to use alcohol even if they have had legal consequences as a result of their alcohol use.
Treatment for Alcohol Dependence
Treatment for alcoholism typically happens over a period of 3-12 months based on the needs of each individual. Many alcoholics require a medical detox as their first stop due to withdrawal symptoms they experience when they cease drinking alcohol. Medical detox for alcoholism typically lasts between 2-7 days. There is typically little to no counseling or participation in therapeutic processes during detox as the purpose of detox is to get the patient medically stabilized and prepared to be able to participate in treatment.
After medical detox, many alcoholics choose to enter residential alcohol treatment for an alcohol use disorder. “Residential” (aka inpatient) alcohol rehab typically lasts 2-4 weeks. During residential alcohol treatment, clients undergo assessments by professional counselors and physicians and participate in group and individual counseling sessions. Many clients continue to experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms in residential alcohol treatment and those symptoms are closely assessed and treated in an monitored environment.
Stepping Down Through Levels of Care
Following residential treatment for alcoholism, many clients enter “partial hospitalization” or “day treatment.” Day treatment for alcohol use disorder is typically conducted Monday-Friday for about 6 hours per day (30 hours per week) consisting of group and individual therapy. Clients in the day treatment level of care typically see a psychiatrist on a regular schedule to continue the monitoring of post-acute withdrawal symptoms and other medical issues. Clients will participate in day treatment for 1-4 weeks following residential alcohol treatment. Clients in a day treatment program may live at their own residence or in a sober living home.
Following day treatment, the next level of care is intensive outpatient (IOP). At the IOP level of care, clients participate in group therapy 3 hours per day 3 days per week (9 hours per week of group therapy) and may continue seeing their individual therapist and psychiatrist as needed. Clients at intensive outpatient level of care may live at their own residence or in a sober living home.
Drug and alcohol testing is an important component of alcohol treatment and should be performed as medically indicated at all levels of care. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol dependence or alcohol withdrawal, NorthStar Transitions can help. Please click here to verify your insurance and an admission representative will contact you within 24 hours to give a confidential assessment to you about the available alcohol treatment options and insurance coverage.