Does Alcoholism Treatment Work?

Alcoholism treatment can be highly effective, but the effectiveness depends on a few different factors.

Person's Willingness Major Factor in Overcoming Alcoholism

The first thing that has a major impact on whether alcoholism treatment succeeds or fails is the person's willingness to participate. An alcoholic who is eager to get his or her life back on track is more likely to follow the program guidelines and work through the most difficult parts of recovery instead of giving up and relapsing back into an alcoholic lifestyle.

Detoxification Phase: Various Drugs That Help

During the initial detoxification phase, certain medicines can help boost compliance rates and keep the alcoholic from resorting to alcohol use to get rid of cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. The use of benzodiazepines or anticonvulsants may help make this period more effective. Once recovery is underway, other drugs can help prevent a relapse, and their use also boosts success rates of treatment. The drug naltrexone has been found to be especially effective. Naltrexone prevents the brain from experiencing the effects of alcohol, making drinking no longer pleasurable. One study in 2010 found that naltrexone was just as effective as 20 counseling sessions. Combining naltrexone with counseling improved the rates of effectiveness even more.

Strong Family Support or Group Can Help Recovering Alcoholic

The level of support the recovering alcoholic gets from others is another component that can make the difference between success and failure. Someone who has a strong family support system or a close group of friends to help see him or her through the process is more likely to recover and stay sober after treatment is through. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs take advantage of this component of recovery by supplying a built-in support system of other recovering alcoholics who are highly motivated to provide support so that everyone in the group succeeds. Family therapy and marital counseling are two other ways to help the alcoholic find reliable support that improves the chances of success.

Treatment, Therapy and Counseling for Alcoholics

When it comes to treatments involving therapy or counseling, including behavioral therapy and individual counseling, the specific therapist has a lot of impact on whether these methods succeed. To achieve a successful recovery, therapy must address the mental and emotional aspects of the addiction. It must also treat any underlying problems, such as schizophrenia or depression, that could sidetrack the recovery process. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches people how to choose other activities in situations where drinking is rife, has a good track record of success.

While long-term counseling can be effective for inducing long-lasting change, even a brief intervention of five or six visits to a therapist can be effective at reducing some of the dangers of alcoholism. For example, brief intervention programs may cause the alcoholic to stop drinking and driving, although he or she may continue to drink regularly.

Individual personalization can also help boost the effectiveness of alcoholism treatment plans, since it takes into account the lifestyle, mental state, and preferences of the addicted person. Managed care, in which someone monitors and assesses the patient on a regular basis to see if anything needs adjusting, is another way to make treatment more effective.

Effective Follow-Up Care Necessary

The effectiveness of any treatment wanes over time if the recovering alcoholic does not remain vigilant and involved in follow-up care. Achieving treatment success for one week is much easier than remaining sober for 12 weeks, 12 months, or 12 years. However, the longer a person goes without alcohol, the less likely he or she is to have a relapse. Effective follow-up care can make or break a treatment program.

Alcoholism Treatment and Relapse

Many people who enter treatment for alcoholism have at least one relapse. While this is technically a failure of the treatment, the true success of a particular treatment plan must consider how the patient reacts to the relapse. If the patient is able to return to sobriety after the relapse or take a few steps back and repeat some of the steps of therapy he or she already did, then the treatment may still be deemed successful. Participation in support groups and follow-up visits to a counselor can reduce the chance of a relapse and increase the likelihood of getting back on track should a relapse occur.