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Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Your healthcare provider may help you figure out if you are drinking at unhealthy levels and would benefit from treatment. The type of treatment that will be best for you depends on a number of things. Consider the following:

  • How much you drink and how challenging it has been for you to control it

  • If you are able to cut back to a moderate level of drinking on your own

  • If you might benefit from medicine to reduce alcohol craving and prevent relapse

  • If you might benefit from the help of a counselor

  • If you might benefit from a more structured treatment program

  • If you are physically addicted to alcohol, you may need medical treatment and may need to stay in a hospital or treatment center

Some people who are drinking at unhealthy levels, but not dependent on alcohol, have decided to cut back their drinking on their own. They use an online app from the VA National Center for PTSD called VetChange. It is available for free from the iTunes store.

There are multiple apps based on 12-step recovery principles. There is also an app called Overcoming Addictions for those who want to stop alcohol or drug use. It’s based on the SMART Recovery program that is an abstinence focused cognitive behavioral program. SMART Recovery is an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous, which is also widely available.

The VA provides a wide range of effective treatments. These include:

  • Group treatments

  • Individual counseling

  • Inpatient or residential treatment

  • Medicines to reduce craving or prevent relapse

Treatment programs usually include counseling, such as:

  • Individual and group therapy. This is where you talk about your recovery with a counselor or with other people who are trying to quit. You can get support from others who have struggled with alcohol.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is where you learn to change thoughts and actions that make you more likely to use alcohol. A counselor teaches you ways to deal with cravings and not go back to alcohol.

  • Motivational interviewing (MI). This is where you address mixed feelings about quitting and getting treatment. A counselor helps you find your personal motivation to change.

  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). This uses motivational interviewing to help you find motivation to quit. It usually lasts for 2 to 4 sessions.

  • Brief intervention therapy. This therapy provides feedback, advice, and goal-setting in very short counseling sessions.

  • Twelve-step facilitation therapy. This therapy helps you to get active and get the most out of participation in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs.

  • Couples and family therapy. This can help you become and stay sober and keep good relationships within your family.

If you have questions about how to make healthy lifestyle changes, talk with your healthcare team. 

Helping someone you care about

If someone you care about has an alcohol problem, you may be able to help them limit their drinking by talking to them. You should:

  • Discuss the impact that the drinking has on you.

  • Talk with the person in private, when they are not drinking alcohol and when you are both calm.

  • Call for an appointment right away if the person agrees to get help.

The VA healthcare team will not judge them. Instead, they will listen to the person's concerns and treatment preferences. They will discuss a variety of different options available to help the person reduce or stop alcohol use and live a healthier, more fulfilling life. If you choose to drink alcohol, moderate drinking reduces your risk for these problems.

You may privately check your alcohol use with the Alcohol Use Disorders Screening Test (AUDIT) by going to MyHealtheVet. You can also take a confidential, on-line assessment through NIAAA.

Alcohol problems may be diagnosed during a routine healthcare provider visit. They can also be diagnosed when you see your healthcare provider for another problem. If a partner or friend is concerned that you may have an alcohol problem, they may urge you to see your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will:

  • Ask questions about your symptoms and past health, and do a physical exam.

  • Do a mental health assessment to find out whether you may have a problem that is often seen with alcohol use. This might be depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is not unusual for people to try to ease mental health distress with alcohol. But healthier choices are available to manage distress.

  • Ask questions or do medical tests to find any health problems commonly linked to alcohol, such as gastritis, pancreatitis, or liver disease.

For more information

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