Is There a Cure for Alcoholism?
Individuals who have had their lives disrupted by alcoholism – whether they are addicted to alcohol or they have a family member who is struggling with the condition – often hope that there is a cure for this frustrating and often devastating addiction.
The inability to stop or control drinking can throw lives into chaos and do serious harm to relationships and the person’s ability to live a productive, healthy life. When this happens, the individual or family members may hope for an easy way to end the problem through providing treatment that leads to a cure.
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What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a type of substance use disorder; it is an addiction to alcohol, a psychoactive substance that, among other effects, causes:
- Loss of inhibition
- Mild pain reduction
Nevertheless, alcohol abuse can result in severe risks to physical and mental health, and to the individual’s relationships, responsibilities, and other pursuits. As described by the West Virginia University School of Public Health, even in the short-term, alcohol use has a high risk of injury and other dangers.
Long-term use and abuse of alcohol can lead to even more challenges, including alcoholism, as the person is unable to control alcohol use despite negative consequences.
A Hard Truth: There Is No Cure for Alcoholism
As defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, alcoholism – like other addictions – is a chronic brain disorder1. Similar to other chronic illnesses like asthma and hypertension, alcoholism is not a condition that goes away after treatment. Instead, alcoholism treatment is meant to help individuals manage the condition throughout their lives so they will not relapse to alcohol use.
Because it is a chronic condition, alcoholism has the potential for relapse; in fact, its potential for relapse is similar to that for other chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40-60 percent of people struggling with addiction will relapse after treatment; this is compared with 30-50 percent of people with type I diabetes and 50-70 percent of people with asthma or high blood pressure.2
In other words, there is no cure for alcoholism. However, alcoholism can be managed through treatment.
Treatment Options & Programs
Many diseases and disorders do not have cures; however, treatments have been devised that can help people to live long, healthy lives in recovery, which means that these individuals have the condition under control. Similarly, alcoholism can be managed through treatment and recovery with diligence and commitment.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism summarizes the types of treatments that can help a person learn to manage alcoholism and develop tools and skills to stay sober. These include:3
- Behavioral therapies: Learning to recognize situations that trigger cravings for alcohol, and how to substitute other behaviors for drinking, is one of the main methods for treating alcoholism. Behavioral therapies can also include therapy aimed at improving the motivation to stay sober and that help the person deal with personal issues that may contribute to drinking.
- Family therapy: Sometimes the struggle to stop drinking has a root in family dynamics. By involving the family in counseling sessions, all family members can learn how to help the person maintain motivation and provide needed love and support for continued sobriety.
- Mutual help or 12-Step groups: A keystone to alcoholism treatment is support from others who have been through the same problems. Mutual help groups provide coaching, resources, and accountability to help the person stay on track with recovery and remain committed to abstinence for years to come.
- Treatment for co-occurring disorders: Sometimes mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or other conditions are an underlying cause of the person’s abuse of alcohol. By helping to address and manage these conditions, treatment programs improve the person’s chances of returning to alcohol use out of a desire to self-medicate.
With these and other treatments and therapies, alcoholism can be managed throughout a person’s life, decreasing the chances of relapse and improving the person’s quality of life. In recovery, the person’s relationships with others can be improved as they maintain the ability to keep up with daily responsibilities and activities.
How to Address Alcoholism
The first step in getting help for alcoholism is finding a rehab or treatment facility that provides research-based treatment aimed at helping the individual recover and manage the condition. Comprehensive treatment gives individuals the needed tools to stay sober for the long-term and enjoy productive lives despite the disorder.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. Definition of Addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Treatment and Recovery.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Exploring Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorders.