What are treatment options for alcoholism?

Updated: Mar 23, 2020
  • Author: Warren Thompson, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Further treatment of alcoholism involves the following:

  • Complete abstinence is the only treatment for alcohol dependence

  • Emphasize that the most common error is underestimating the amount of help needed to stop drinking

  • Hospitalize patients if they have a history of delirium tremens or if they have significant comorbidity

  • Consider inpatient treatment if the patient has poor social support, significant psychiatric problems, or a history of relapse after treatment

  • Strongly recommend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

  • Encourage hospitalized patients to call AA from the hospital; AA will send someone to talk to them if the patient makes the contact

  • Patients need to attend AA meetings regularly (daily at first) and for a sufficient length of time (usually 2 years or more) because recovery is a difficult and lengthy process

  • In the beginning of treatment, and perhaps ongoing, patients should remove alcohol from their homes and avoid bars and other establishments where strong pressures to drink may hinder abstinence

  • If the patient has an antisocial personality (ie, severe problems with family, peers, school, and police before age 15 years and before the onset of alcohol problems), recovery is less likely

  • If the patient has primary depression, anxiety disorder, or another potentially contributory disorder (the other disorder must antedate the problems with alcohol or it must be a significant problem during long periods of sobriety), treat this primary problem aggressively

See Treatment and Medication for more detail.

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