Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Treatment for alcohol use disorder can vary, depending on your needs. Treatment may involve a brief intervention, individual or group counseling, an outpatient program, or a residential inpatient stay. Working to stop the use of alcohol to improve quality of life is the main treatment goal.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder may include:

  • Detox and withdrawal. Treatment may begin with a program of detoxification or detox — withdrawal that's medically managed — which generally takes two to seven days. You may need to take sedating medications to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Detox is usually done at an inpatient treatment center or a hospital.
  • Learning skills and establishing a treatment plan. This usually involves alcohol treatment specialists. It may include goal setting, behavior change techniques, use of self-help manuals, counseling and follow-up care at a treatment center.
  • Psychological counseling. Counseling and therapy for groups and individuals help you better understand your problem with alcohol and support recovery from the psychological aspects of alcohol use. You may benefit from couples or family therapy — family support can be an important part of the recovery process.
  • Oral medications. A drug called disulfiram (Antabuse) may help to prevent you from drinking, although it won't cure alcohol use disorder or remove the compulsion to drink. If you drink alcohol, the drug produces a physical reaction that may include flushing, nausea, vomiting and headaches. Naltrexone (Revia), a drug that blocks the good feelings alcohol causes, may prevent heavy drinking and reduce the urge to drink. Acamprosate (Campral) may help you combat alcohol cravings once you stop drinking. Unlike disulfiram, naltrexone and acamprosate don't make you feel sick after taking a drink.
  • Injected medication. Vivitrol, a version of the drug naltrexone, is injected once a month by a health care professional. Although similar medication can be taken in pill form, the injectable version of the drug may be easier for people recovering from alcohol use disorder to use consistently.
  • Continuing support. Aftercare programs and support groups help people recovering from alcohol use disorder to stop drinking, manage relapses and cope with necessary lifestyle changes. This may include medical or psychological care or attending a support group.
  • Treatment for psychological problems. Alcohol use disorder commonly occurs along with other mental health disorders. If you have depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, you may need talk therapy (psychotherapy), medications or other treatment.
  • Medical treatment for health conditions. Many alcohol-related health problems improve significantly once you stop drinking. But some health conditions may warrant continued treatment and follow-up.
  • Spiritual practice. People who are involved with some type of regular spiritual practice may find it easier to maintain recovery from alcohol use disorder or other addictions. For many people, gaining greater insight into their spiritual side is a key element in recovery.

Residential treatment programs

For a serious alcohol problem, you may need a stay at a residential treatment facility. Most residential treatment programs include individual and group therapy, support groups, educational lectures, family involvement and activity therapy.

Residential treatment programs typically include licensed alcohol and drug counselors, social workers, nurses, doctors and others with expertise and experience in treating alcohol use disorder.

July 25, 2015