There are many clues which can lead a doctor to suspect a patient is alcohol dependent, and will not usually require a physical examination. For example, a doctor may suspect alcohol dependence if a patient often asks for a medical certificate for time off work, has a mental health problem (e.g. depression) or physical conditions associated with alcohol consumption (especially liver cirrhosis). In such cases, a good doctor will ask the patient questions about their alcohol consumption patterns, or ask them to complete a questionnaire about alcohol, to assess whether or not their alcohol consumption is presenting a health risk.
We AAs have never called alcoholism a disease because, technically speaking, it is not a disease entity. For example, there is no such thing as heart disease. Instead there are many separate heart ailments or combinations of them. It is something like that with alcoholism. Therefore, we did not wish to get in wrong with the medical profession by pronouncing alcoholism a disease entity. Hence, we have always called it an illness or a malady—a far safer term for us to use.
To start with, getting sober and drug-free requires the desire and determination to get clean, and having both of these is crucial. If you’re looking for help for a loved one or a friend, know that they’ll need to be “on board" with the idea of recovery if they are going to have a solid chance of getting clean. If they have not yet recognized their own problem, an addiction intervention may be necessary. During the beginning phases of recovery, an alcohol and drug detox is always necessary to remove any unwanted chemicals from the body, followed by intensive addiction recovery therapy. The latter may take 28-90 days (sometimes more), but completing the program provides all the tools needed to stay substance-free. It is highly beneficial for those leaving rehab to join a recovery support group and even consider spending time in a recovery home.
Fact: You don’t have to be homeless and drinking out of a brown paper bag to be an alcoholic. Many alcoholics are able to hold down jobs, get through school, and provide for their families. Some are even able to excel. But just because you’re a high-functioning alcoholic doesn’t mean you’re not putting yourself or others in danger. Over time, the effects will catch up with you.
Medications also are available that may help a recovering alcoholic avoid returning to drinking. These have been used with variable success; different medications may be more or less successful for different individuals. Disulfiram (Antabuse) is a drug which, when mixed with alcohol, causes unpleasant reactions including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and trembling. It was estimated that in 2008, 200,000 recovering alcoholics in the United States were taking disulfiram. Naltrexone (Depade, ReVia) helps to reduce the brain's craving for alcohol. Acamprosate (Campral) works by reducing anxiety and insomnia that often occur when habitual drinkers become abstinent. Drugs alone will not prevent relapse. They are most effective when used in conjunction with a self-help program and/or psychotherapy aimed at changing behavior.
Given the malnutrition that many alcoholics suffer from, gradual correction of that condition is also important, both to prevent or correct the consequences of malnutrition (like low thiamine level) and to prevent the potential results of correcting nutrition problems too rapidly. One example of the latter is that people with chronic alcohol-induced low sodium levels in the bloodstream (hyponatremia) are at risk for severe neurological problems due to a loss of the outer, insulating covering of nerve cells in parts of the brain (central pontine myelinolysis) if low sodium levels are corrected too rapidly.
The immediate physical effects of drinking alcohol range from mild mood changes to complete loss of coordination, vision, balance, and speech -- any of which can be signals of acute alcohol intoxication, or drunkenness. These effects usually wear off in a matter of hours after a person stops drinking. Many law-enforcement agencies regard a .08 percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream as evidence of intoxication. Larger amounts of blood alcohol can impair brain function and eventually cause unconsciousness. An extreme overdose, alcohol poisoning, can be fatal.
With treatment, about 70% of people with alcoholism are able to decrease the number of days they consume alcohol and improve their overall health status within six months. On the other hand, most individuals who have been treated for a moderate to severe alcohol-use disorder have relapsed at least once during the first year after treatment. Those individuals seem to drink less often and lower amounts after receiving treatment compared with before treatment.
In the United States and Canada, AA meetings are held in hundreds of correctional facilities. The AA General Service Office has published a workbook with detailed recommendations for methods of approaching correctional-facility officials with the intent of developing an in-prison AA program. In addition, AA publishes a variety of pamphlets specifically for the incarcerated alcoholic. Additionally, the AA General Service Office provides a pamphlet with guidelines for members working with incarcerated alcoholics.
Auxiliary groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, for friends and family members of alcoholics and addicts, respectively, are part of a response to treating addiction as a disease that is enabled by family systems. Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA or ACOA) addresses the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) addresses compulsions related to relationships, referred to as codependency.