The habitual use of alcohol can lead to alcohol addiction, also termed alcoholism. Once addicted, the alcoholic will show four signs of alcoholism; a physical craving to drink, the inability to control alcohol intake, physical dependence on alcohol and a reduced tolerance to alcohol. The alcoholic is compelled to drink despite serious health, emotional, family, work and even legal problems. It generally takes a crisis for the alcoholic to recognize that alcohol has become a problem.
This is the first stage in recovery from an alcohol addiction – the awareness that alcohol is the problem. Compulsive and uncontrolled drinkers who become alcoholics must acknowledge that they respond differently to alcohol than the average person and therefore drinking alcohol is no longer an option.
The second stage in recovery is to get the alcohol out of the system. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment. Depending on the alcoholic’s condition and circumstances, treatment may begin with hospitalization to manage withdrawal symptoms or enrolling in an alcohol abuse treatment program (often called rehab), which may include alcohol detoxification. In most cases, detoxification may last for 3 to 4 days, but more time may be required for the alcoholic to feel stable enough physically and mentally to move on to the next stage of recovery. Initial treatment programs generally last at least 30 days.
If hospitalization or a rehab treatment program is not warranted, there are a variety of outpatient programs to assist the alcoholic in getting sober. It is difficult to adjust to life after years of compulsive and uncontrolled drinking without the guidance from others who have traveled the same path and learned how to do it successfully. Alcoholics who try to go it alone generally relapse and start the cycle over again. They may not have the slightest idea of what triggers the insanity of taking another drink.
Getting sober is a difficult step on the path to recovery for the alcoholic. Staying sober can be even more challenging unless major life changes occur.
The next stage in recovery is to find a way to maintain abstinence from alcohol by creating a lifestyle that supports sobriety. By this stage in recovery the individual has learned that alcoholism is a chronic disease, meaning that it lasts a person’s lifetime. Alcoholism cannot be cured. Although the physical craving for alcohol may not be present any longer, the underlying problems that led to alcoholism need to be addressed to prevent relapse. In addition to personal problems such as depression, the inability to cope with life’s demands or unresolved childhood traumas, there may be family, financial and legal problems that were accumulated while drinking. These problems may loom larger than life once alcohol is removed as a coping mechanism.
Group therapy or self-help groups dedicated to educating the alcoholic about their disease and how to live sober are available in most major cities. Many of these programs advise developing a foundation in the 12-step recovery program derived from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Indeed, many alcoholics begin their path to recovery by attending an AA meeting and finding the solution to their drinking problem in the AA program.
The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program has been widely successful since its inception on June 10, 1935. It is based on the premise that alcoholism is a progressive disease and the suggested treatment is abstinence from alcohol. The AA recovery program teaches alcoholics how to live sober one day at a time by attending AA meetings, reading AA approved literature, talking to another recovering alcoholic (called a sponsor), and working the 12 steps.
AA recognizes that once alcohol is eliminated as a coping method, the problems created by uncontrolled drinking as well as the everyday demands and frustrations of living life can be overwhelming. Alcoholics learn how to deal with their problems and how to recognize the signs that they are in danger of returning to drinking by studying and following the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Whatever path is taken to recover from an alcohol addiction, the alcoholic will need to fully participate in the process of becoming and remaining sober. He will need to admit alcohol is a problem and that he has a disease, get treatment and develop a new lifestyle that supports sober living.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)