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When to Get Urgent Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

If you or someone you care about has an alcohol problem (alcohol use disorder) or signs of one, you may want to call a healthcare provider. Signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Having to drink more to get the same effect or having withdrawal symptoms when drinking stops

  • Refusing to admit to an alcohol problem or being too sick to seek help

  • Having blackouts, which means not remembering what happened during a drinking episode

  • Continuing to drink alcohol despite having poor health

  • Not being able to take care of everyday duties because of drinking alcohol

Who to see

Health professionals who diagnose and treat alcohol problems include:

  • Family medicine doctors

  • General practitioners

  • Nurse practitioners

  • Physician assistants

  • Internists

  • Psychiatrists

  • Psychologists

Other health professionals who can help with recovery include:

  • Psychiatrists, addiction psychiatrists, or other doctors who specialize in addiction medicine

  • Psychologists

  • Licensed mental health counselors

  • Social workers

Some health professionals might have chemical dependency certification (CDC) or be certified alcoholism counselors (CAC).

Treatment can also help you and your family with alcohol problems:

  • Behavioral treatments can help you find your motivation and develop the skills to change drinking behavior

  • Medicines can be prescribed to help people stop or reduce drinking.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or similar support groups are for people with alcohol misuse or dependence.

  • Al-Anon and Alateen (for teenagers) are for families and friends affected by someone's drinking.

Watchful waiting

  • Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. If you get better on your own, you won't need treatment. If you get worse, you and your healthcare provider will decide what to do next.

  • Watchful waiting alone is usually not a good choice for people with alcohol use disorders. If you have alcohol problems, or if you believe that your health or other areas of your life are being affected by drinking alcohol, you may want to get help to cut back on or quit drinking.

  • Watchful waiting also is not a good choice if you or other people are being hurt by another person's drinking. It's important to seek help for yourself and other people, even if the person who is drinking doesn't seek treatment. Early treatment for all people affected by drinking makes recovery more likely.

  • If you have concerns about your drinking or the drinking of someone you care about, talk with your healthcare provider.

When to get urgent help

Call 911 or other emergency services if you or someone else:

  • Has the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, such as vomiting, coughing up blood, gasping for breath, passing out, and seizures; People die from alcohol poisoning when they do not get enough oxygen.

  • Has a history of heavy drinking and is having severe withdrawal symptoms but is not willing to get treatment

  • Has alcohol withdrawal seizures; People can die from injuries suffered during a seizure.

  • Has delirium tremens (DTs), which can cause symptoms such as confusion, shaking, a fast heartbeat, and seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations); People with delirium tremens can die of a heart attack, if it is not treated.

  • Is thinking or talking about suicide or harming others 

Call a healthcare provider right away if you or someone you care about:

  • Has withdrawal symptoms, such as confusion and trembling

  • Agrees to be seen for possible treatment

  • Has stopped drinking but starts drinking again (relapse)

  • Has severe stomach pain

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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