Back in the day, traditional alcohol addiction treatment normally consisted of being shut away from society until such times as sobriety was maintained.
Often seen as a moral weakness, alcoholics were both pitied and vilified. In later years, many ended up in lunatic asylums! For addicts who remained in the community, there were a wealth of supposed “cures” available which were meant to make “the demon drink” appear less appealing.
In the 1800s, alcohol was even prescribed to addicts as it cured the troublesome symptoms of withdrawal! Confusion around the causes of alcoholism and a lack of understanding regarding its complex nature explains why it wasn’t until the 1970s that major advances were made in the treatment of alcoholics.
Compared with the 19th and early 20th centuries, there is far more consensus on what works best, alongside greater sharing of good practice. Whilst in-patient treatment continues to be an option, particularly in the early stages of sobriety when the body is still withdrawing from alcohol, many addicts are now opting to be treated at an out-patient facility.
Outpatient treatment allows addicts to continue to spend time with their families and work, both of which can be helpful in maintaining sobriety.
Contemporary alcohol addiction treatment not only includes advice and strategies for staying away from alcohol, but it also encompasses a selection of talking therapies (including family therapy and couples therapy where dysfunctional family relationships are contributing to the struggle for sobriety), complementary therapies, practical assistance with problems which may make sobriety harder and drug therapy.
It is now recognised that alcoholism is a multifaceted disease, which often co-exists along with other morbidities. For example, a sizeable proportion of alcoholics have untreated mental health problems, chronic physical conditions (frequently involving chronic pain) and other difficulties which cause them to use alcohol in order to self-medicate.
This is reflected in the customised approach to the problem which is common in successful treatment. Skilled professionals pick from a long menu of different interventions, coming up with a tailored approach which is specifically geared to the needs of the individual.
How alcohol addiction treatment has evolved
Essentially, there are a number of differences in how alcoholism is viewed and how alcohol addiction treatment has evolved now as compared with the past. In summary, some of the main ones are:
- Alcoholism is now considered to be a complex, multifactorial disease, rather than a moral failing or voluntary choice.
- Treatment has moved from being mainly in-patient centred to having more of an out-patient focus.
- Talking therapies have advanced and broadened to incorporate partners and the wider family.
- There is a great range of good-quality drugs on offer, which means patients find withdrawal less of a challenge than previously and also have access to drugs which make it easier to stay sober.
- The emphasis is on treating alcoholism not only in terms of abstaining from alcohol but also at looking at the needs of the whole individual.
- Rather than adopting a uniform approach to treatment, therapy is now tailored to meet the needs of the individual.
- There is a focus on holistic and alternative approaches to wellness, stress management and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. Therapies such as Pilates, reflexology, aromatherapy and acupuncture can all help recovering addicts to experience greater calm and relaxation, as well as improved physical well-being.
Alcohol addiction treatment drugs
Today, alcohol addiction treatment drugs are advanced enough to give patients a choice in how and where they complete their detox. It’s now possible in some cases to complete the entire detox procedure at home, with appropriate medication and access to medical advice and support if required.
Modern drugs ensure that physical withdrawal from alcohol is as comfortable as possible. Medication such as Valium, Gabapentin, Diastat (if withdrawal triggers seizures), Atenolol, Clonidine and Tranxene all play a role in keeping patient discomfort to a minimum. Ibogaine can also play a key part in reducing the discomfort which withdrawal can cause.
One of the advantages of drug therapy is that it’s often possible to also treat some of the underlying conditions which may have lead to excessive drinking in the first instance. In general, contemporary alcohol addiction treatment offers more hope to sufferers than ever before.