Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence syndrome as it is now called, affects around one in thirteen people in the UK. It has a great variety of causes and manifests itself in a wide range of behaviours and levels of dependence. Alcoholism is a highly destructive problem and can lead to the break up of relationships, the loss of jobs, as well as serious physical and mental problems.
This article on alcoholism and alcoholism treatment is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
The first step in treating alcoholism is the acknowledgement of the problem in the first place. Unless a person understands that their drinking has reached problem levels there is little chance that they’ll have the desire and the drive needed to overcome the problem. Often it takes the intervention of family and friends to force the person to face the fact that they’re drinking too much.
If you’re unsure whether or not you have a drink problem, you should ask yourself the four questions of the CAGE Questionnaire:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have you ever felt annoyed by other people questioning your drinking?
- Have you ever felt guilty about drinking?
- Have you ever felt the need to drink first thing in the morning to face the day?
If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, then chances are you have an alcohol dependency problem.
Can it be treated?
Strictly speaking, there is no ‘cure’ for alcoholism. However, there are lots of ways that you can overcome your dependency and achieve sobriety once you’ve identified your problem. Different types of alcoholism treatment work for different people, and the most successful route will depend on the cause of the drinking problem.
The hardest part of beating alcoholism is stopping drinking in the first place. Your GP will be able to help you with this. Almost all alcoholics will suffer some sort of withdrawal symptoms, ranging from mild shakes and nausea to delirium tremens (or DTs), which can be severe and even life threatening. If you’ve been a heavy drinker your GP may recommend that you’re admitted to hospital for the detox process so that your vital signs can be monitored. While there are very few dedicated NHS detox facilities there are several private clinics across the UK.
The detox process takes between three and seven days, and you may be given tranquilisers, such as diazepam (Valium), to help you through. After this, alcohol is no longer a predominantly physical or chemical need, but will often remain as a strong psychological desire.
How to stay sober?
Stopping drinking is only half the battle, if that, and most alcoholics will have at least one relapse on their road to overcoming their addiction.
Your GP will be able to offer medical help in the form of drugs that can help you overcome the cravings that come with alcoholism. These include acamprosate calcium which helps to reduce cravings, Naltrexone which blocks the effects of alcohol in the brain, and disulfiram which induces nausea, headaches and discomfort if you do drink.
However, it should be noted that none of these is a ‘magic pill’ or cure for alcoholism. They simply provide help in overcoming the cravings experienced as you try to stop.
A far more important factor is psychological support. Your GP may refer you to a counsellor who will work with you to identify the root cause of your addiction, and help you deal with the stress, or other issues, which started you drinking in the first place.
There are also many support groups where fellow alcoholics support one and other in their battle with alcoholism. The most famous of these is Alcoholics Anonymous (www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk) which holds meetings all over the country for people from all walks of life with all kinds of alcohol-related problems. There are also support groups for the family and friends of alcoholics, such as Al-Anon (www.al-anonuk.org.uk) to help them to cope with the difficult task of helping an alcoholic beat their addiction.
Can it be cured?
The short answer to the question of whether alcoholism can be ‘cured’ is likely to be no, in most cases. Once you’ve identified a problem with alcohol, the chances are that this will be with you for life. Even if you never actually drink again, the risk of relapse will always be there if you do. However, the good news is that there is a great deal of help and support available, both physical and psychological, to conquer your dependence on alcohol and achieve sobriety.