Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous legal substances in the United States. When consumed in moderation, it can cause relaxation and happiness. When misused, it can lead to addiction and illness. Millions of Americans suffer from alcoholism, but there are countless support groups and resources that help people recover every day.

Find out more about alcohol addiction

Alcohol is one of the most popular beverages in the world. We consume it to celebrate joyful occasions, to ease sorrows and to relax when the clock hits five. But alcohol can be dangerous. It changes how we think. It affects how we feel, and it’s highly addictive.

  • Drug Name Alcohol
  • Addiction Liability Very High
  • Scientific Name Ethanol
  • Street Names Booze, Brew, Chug, Cold One, Juice, Hard Stuff, Good Stuff, Shine
  • How It's Used Swallowed
  • Side Effects High Blood Pressure, Ulcers, Sexual Problems, Vision Problems, Suppressed Immune System, Brain Damage, Birth Defects, Cancer Risk
  • Psychological Dependence Very High
  • Physical Dependence Very High

Almost 88,000 Americans died alcohol-related deaths in 2014, and more than 16 million Americans had an alcohol use disorder that year. That means 6.8 percent of the adult population in the United States suffered from alcoholism, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Dozens of countries have outlawed it, and the United States prohibited the production and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933. The short-lived prohibition movement was driven by issues such as widespread alcoholism and alcohol-related domestic violence.

Today, adults ages 21 and up can legally consume alcohol in the United States. But most Americans try their first alcoholic beverages during adolescence.

Past Month Alcohol Use Among Students.

graph of how many students tried alcohol in the last month

Source: NIDA’s 2015 Monitoring the Future survey

Teens who try alcohol are most likely to get drunk for the first time between grades seven and 11. Numerous studies show that the earlier someone begins drinking, the higher the likelihood that they’ll become addicted to alcohol.

Children and teens try alcohol for many reasons. In most homes, children realize that drinking alcohol is an acceptable — and sometimes expected — part of the social fabric of American society. Millions of children watch their parents drink at dinner every night. They see people getting drunk on TV, and they hear alcohol being glamorized in music.

The obsession with alcohol consumption in the United States is a large reason why it’s difficult for people with alcohol use disorders to seek assistance. Not being able to handle your liquor or control how much you drink is often considered shameful. Alcoholics often fear being stigmatized if they seek treatment.

Similarly, people in recovery from alcoholism frequently face pressures to drink. They’re surrounded by triggers and temptation in advertisements, media and restaurants. No other substance of abuse is consumed as publicly or commonly as alcohol.

Fortunately, alcoholism is the most widely studied substance use disorder. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous have provided people with free support for decades. Scientists have developed medications that can ease withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings and prevent future drinking. Therapists and counselors practice techniques that allow people to find happiness without drinking and learn to function in a society infatuated with alcohol.

Almost 88,000 Americans died from alcohol-related incidents in 2014.

Defining Alcoholism

The terms alcoholism, alcohol addiction and alcohol use disorder are often used interchangeably. Alcohol use disorder is the official term for recurring alcohol consumption that causes clinically significant impairment and an inability to meet responsibilities, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

pouring a glass of whiskey

The term alcoholic is often used loosely and indiscriminately. An alcoholic may be someone who is addicted or physically dependent on alcohol. It’s also used to describe drinkers who are not addicted or dependent but tend to experience problems involving alcohol.

The APA classifies alcohol use disorders as either mild, moderate or severe depending on how many diagnostic criteria a person meets. Someone with a mild AUD meets two to three criteria. Someone who meets four to five criteria has a moderate AUD, and anyone who meets six or more criteria has a severe AUD.

The criteria for alcoholism have nothing to do with how much someone drinks, how long they have been drinking or the type of alcohol they drink. Someone is addicted to alcohol when they lose the ability to control their drinking. They feel an uncontrollable urge to drink, and they have incredible difficulty stopping themselves from drinking.

Stages of Alcoholism

The stages of alcoholism aren’t scientifically defined like the severities of alcohol use disorders, but they provide an easy-to-understand view of how someone becomes addicted to alcohol. As a person progresses through the stages, he or she becomes more severely addicted.

Some people remain in the early stage their entire life, and others rapidly progress to end-stage alcoholism. The way alcohol affects each person is determined by a combination of genetic, environmental and social factors.

Early Stage Alcoholism

The first stage of alcoholism is characterized by drinking more than usual, finding reasons to drink and drinking to reduce unhappy feelings or stress. The person may consciously use alcohol to feel happier or may not realize they’re drinking more often.

During the early stage, a person’s tolerance to alcohol increases. They have to drink increasing amounts of alcohol to feel positive effects, and they do not exhibit signs of intoxication after drinking low levels of alcohol. Early stage alcoholics often think alcohol makes them function more normally because they begin to feel negative side effects when they stop drinking.

Middle Stage Alcoholism

As a person progresses to the middle stage, they begin to become dependent on alcohol. They suffer withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking. They drink to avoid withdrawal rather than drinking to achieve happiness.

The middle stage of alcoholism is characterized by drinking in secret, increases in unpredictable behavior and problems with relationships, work or school. They begin to recognize that they have lost their ability to control how much they drink, but they’re often afraid to admit they have a problem.

Late Stage Alcoholism

Late stage alcoholism is characterized by dramatic physical and mental health problems. People are often malnourished, and their organs begin become stressed. They often have liver, respiratory or heart problems. They tend to suffer from severe depression or anxiety when they go too long without alcohol.

People in the final stage of alcoholism are usually on the verge of losing their jobs, being kicked out of school or ruining relationships with friends and family. They may or may not realize they have a problem, but they are so obsessed with drinking that it is the most important thing in their life.

Quiz: Am I an Alcoholic?

Determine if you are an alcoholic or how much alcohol is affecting your life by taking the 11-question quiz.

What Is Heavy Drinking and Binge Drinking?

Heavy drinking and binge drinking are warning signs for alcoholism, but a person can binge drink or drink heavily and not have an alcohol use disorder. Heavy drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion five times in 30 days. Binge drinking can be defined as having five or more drinks on the same occasion once in the past 30 days, or drinking until the blood alcohol content level reaches 0.08 grams per deciliter (g/dL).

alcoholic woman laying in bed with wine

A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found binge drinking and heavy drinking were more common in northern states in the West and Midwest, states along the Pacific and in New England states. The lowest binge and heavy drinking rates were found in the South and Utah.

Research compiled by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism consistently indicates people drink the heaviest in their late teens and early twenties. Young adults are also the most likely to binge drink. However, studies also indicate that young adults tend to binge drink and drink heavily regardless of college enrollment status.

Marital status tends to affect drinking behavior among young men and women. After getting married, young men and women drink less than at any other time in their lives.

Risks of Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking

Binge Drinking

The immediate and most visible risks of binge drinking include a high propensity to engage in reckless behavior such as drunk driving, jumping off of buildings, fighting or having unsafe sex. Binge drinking increases a person’s chance of blacking out and suffering alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning occurs after someone consumes too much alcohol in a single sitting. It can cause vomiting, slowed breathing, internal bleeding, coma, organ failure and death.

Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking causes side effects similar to alcoholism, such as increased risk of cancer, organ damage and mental health problems. Heavy drinking also increases a person’s chance of becoming dependent on and addicted to alcohol.

In 2014, 24.7 percent of adults ages 18 and older said they engaged in binge drinking in the past month.

Side Effects of Chronic Drinking & Alcoholism

The body can recover from alcohol’s most noticeable effects — slurred speech, glossy eyes, impaired coordination — in a matter of hours. After a good night’s sleep, someone can recover from a night of drinking with a headache that will be gone in less than a day.

However, the long-term effects of binge drinking every weekend, drinking heavily or consuming numerous drinks daily takes a heavy toll on the body.

The side effects and risks of long-term alcohol abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia
  • Stroke
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Pain in the hands and feet (neuropathy)
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
  • Irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Inflamed stomach lining (gastritis)
  • Chronic liver damage (liver cirrhosis)
  • Inflamed liver (alcoholic hepatitis)
  • Inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Increased risk of cancer

Long-term alcohol abuse also increases a person’s risk of social problems such as unemployment, relationship problems and exposure to violence. It increases a person’s risk of traffic accidents, falls and firearm injuries.

  • Alcohol interferes with the way the brain operates. It disrupts the pathways that receptors in the brain use to communicate. Chronic alcohol abuse can cause drastic changes in mood and behavior, leading to memory problems, decreased cognition and compulsive actions. It can also contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

    Long-term alcohol abuse can cause a deficiency in vitamin B1, also referred to as thiamine. Thiamine deficiency causes headaches, nausea, fatigue, irritability and depression. It can also lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a condition commonly referred to as wet brain.

    Wet brain is actually a combination of two diseases that commonly occur together: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome. Wernicke’s encephalopathy is characterized by nerve damage, and symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome include memory problems and nerve damage. Korsakoff syndrome can cause permanent brain damage.

    The brain is the chief component of the central nervous system. Alcohol affects the way the brain communicates with the rest of the body, and long-term alcohol abuse can cause chronic nervous system damage.

  • Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, affecting the way nerve cells communicate. It suppresses nerve cells, causing them to respond incorrectly when they receive and send signals. Long-term alcohol abuse can damage nerves and cause neurodegeneration (loss of neuron functioning).

    Nearly half of long-term alcohol abusers develop a condition called alcoholic neuropathy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Neuropathy occurs when nerves are directly poisoned by alcohol. The condition is exacerbated by poor nutrition, which commonly occurs alongside alcoholism.

    Neuropathy is characterized by numbness or pain in the arms and legs, feeling pins and needles, impotence, incontinence and muscle problems. The damage to the nerves is permanent and will worsen until the person receives treatment. Neuropathy isn’t life threatening, and medical attention can ease many symptoms.

  • Binge drinking and alcohol poisoning can cause damage to the heart, resulting in:

    • Cardiomyopathy
    • Arrhythmias
    • Stroke

    Cardiomyopathy, also known as heart muscle disease, is a heart disease that makes it difficult for the heart to deliver blood to the rest of the body. Arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats, either rapid or sluggish. A stroke occurs when a part of the brain fails to receive enough blood, which can result in long-term brain damage or death.

    Chronic drinking also causes high blood pressure. This problem contributes to coronary heart disease, a condition characterized by damage to the heart’s major blood vessels.

  • Drinking alcohol takes a great toll on the liver, the organ responsible for metabolizing the majority of the alcohol that enters the body.

    Alcohol breakdown in the liver results in the release of harmful chemicals, which can cause:

    • Inflammation of fatty liver cells (steatosis)
    • Inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis)
    • Thickening or scarring of the liver (fibrosis)
    • Chronic liver damage (cirrhosis)

    Liver cirrhosis is the final stage of alcoholic liver disease. It occurs after numerous years of heavy drinking. Early symptoms of liver cirrhosis include fatigue, loss of appetite and stomach pain. As liver cirrhosis worsens, symptoms include:

    • Buildup of fluid in the legs (edema)
    • Yellow skin (jaundice )
    • Impotence and shrinking testicles in men
    • Abnormal bleeding

    Continuing to drink with liver cirrhosis can lead to bleeding, severe liver damage and a shortened life span. When damage is severe enough, the liver cannot heal or function normally.

  • Heavy alcohol abuse is associated with pancreatitis, a potentially deadly disease characterized by an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas produces enzymes related to digestion. Digestion is disrupted when the pancreas is damaged, causing life-threatening consequences.

    Alcohol forces the pancreas to produce toxins that harm the organ. Symptoms of alcoholic pancreatitis include vomiting, extreme abdominal pain and diabetes. Alcoholic pancreatitis can be acute, meaning it heals two to three days after treatment. But multiple acute events can result in chronic pancreatitis, a condition that does not heal and worsens over time. Heavy alcohol consumption is the primary cause of chronic pancreatitis.

  • Binge drinking and heavy drinking weaken the immune system, making the body vulnerable to disease. The immune system protects the body against most harmful bacteria, germs and viruses. White blood cells attack bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells to keep the body healthy. The immune system learns how to fight infections so it can more efficiently defeat them the next time they enter your body.

    Drinking too much weakens every aspect of the immune system. It prevents white blood cells from fighting diseases and communicating with each other. It inhibits the body’s learned defenses from functioning properly. Thus, chronic drinkers are more vulnerable to diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and HIV. They’re also at an increased risk of developing mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast cancer.

  • When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol is passed to the fetus through the placenta or the umbilical cord. Alcohol can harm a fetus at any stage of pregnancy, and there is no known safe limit to the amount of alcohol a pregnant woman can consume. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a group of alcohol-related conditions that can occur during an infant’s development.

    Alcohol-related birth defects include problems in the:

    • Heart
    • Kidney
    • Ears
    • Eyes

    Alcoholism can also cause developmental and behavioral disorders called alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders. Problems related to these disorders include:

    • Learning disorders
    • Impaired judgement
    • Poor ability to focus
    • Weak attention span
    • Impulse control

    Fetal alcohol syndrome is most commonly characterized by:

    • Abnormal facial features
    • Nervous system problems
    • Growth and developmental issues

    Some symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can be eased, but there is no way to reverse the damage. Drinking while pregnant also increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery and sudden infant death syndrome.

In 2014, 6.7 percent of adults ages 18 and older said they engaged in heavy drinking in the past month.

Alcohol and Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol amplifies the symptoms of pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many people affected by mental health disorders turn to alcohol to obtain relief from their symptoms. However, the relief is temporary. When alcohol leaves their system, their symptoms often worsen.

Alcoholic woman

A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found strong associations between alcoholism and depression, bipolar disorder, antisocial disorders, borderline personality disorder and other substance use disorders. It also found modest associations between alcoholism and panic disorder, phobias and generalized anxiety disorder.

Numerous studies show people with mental health disorders are more likely to develop alcohol use disorders, and people who are addicted to alcohol are more likely to develop mental health disorders.

The two diseases occur simultaneously, and they amplify one another’s symptoms. Treating someone with co-occurring disorders is more complicated than treating someone with one condition. The most effective treatment methods address both disorders concurrently. Treating one condition without treating the other usually results in relapse.

Alcohol interacts with medications that are commonly used to treat mental health conditions, weakening the effect of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers and other drugs. Alcohol can also have dangerous interactions with medications, increasing a person’s chance for poisoning.

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What Happens When You Drink?

When you drink alcohol, it passes through the stomach and into the intestines. About 20 percent of the alcohol passes through the stomach wall and can reach the brain in 60 seconds. The rest is absorbed by the intestines and moved into the blood.

blood flowing through the brain

60 seconds to reach your brain

About 20 percent of the alcohol passes through the stomach wall and can reach the brain in 60 seconds.

After leaving the intestines, the alcohol in the blood moves to the liver, where it is exposed to metabolic enzymes. The liver can only metabolize, or eliminate, about one drink of alcohol per hour in most people. Some people metabolize alcohol more quickly than others.

If the liver doesn’t metabolize all of the alcohol in the blood as it moves past the liver, it is cycled through the rest of the body. Your blood alcohol content (BAC) level rises, and the blood moves to the brain, affecting how intoxicated you feel. The alcohol in the blood cycles through the body and is absorbed in body tissues until it can be metabolized by the liver.

Your BAC — and how drunk you feel — is determined by how quickly the stomach and intestines dump alcohol into the blood and how quickly the liver can metabolize it. Increases in BAC can be influenced by how quickly you drink and the amount of food in the stomach. But decreases in BAC — sobering up — cannot be accelerated.

The Stages of Intoxication

BAC of 0.01 to 0.12 percent

  • Boosted confidence levels
  • Decreased attention span
  • Impaired judgement
  • Impulsiveness
  • Carelessness

BAC of 0.09 to 0.25 percent

  • Memory loss
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Coordination loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Lack of reason

BAC of 0.18 to 0.30 percent

  • Dizziness
  • Unregulated emotion
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

BAC of 0.25 to 0.49 percent

  • Vomiting
  • Inability to stand or walk
  • No response to stimuli
  • Trouble remaining conscious

BAC of 0.35 to 0.50 percent

  • Complete loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsive pupils
  • Cold skin
  • Shallow breathing
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Death

BAC above 0.50 percent

  • Nervous system shuts down
  • Breathing stops
  • Heart stops

Note: Alcohol affects each person differently. Some people feel stronger effects and can face life-threatening side effects at lower BAC levels.

Source: Judicial Branch of California

As you continue to drink, the alcohol builds up in the blood. It affects neurotransmitters in the brain, causing early symptoms of intoxication such as euphoria or disinhibition. Late symptoms include loss of coordination, lethargy and respiratory depression.

When alcohol reaches the heart, heart rate increases. The lungs absorb a tiny amount of alcohol and exhale it, causing alcohol breath. In the skin, alcohol causes blood flow to increase and makes the skin flush.

In the kidneys, alcohol accelerates the amount of urine the body produces, leading to increased urination, dehydration and hangovers. Hangovers occur because the body excretes too much water, minerals and vitamins while drinking alcohol.

How the Body Metabolizes Alcohol

There is no secret to sobering up. It simply takes time. A number of factors can prevent your BAC from rising quickly, such as eating before you start drinking, drinking water between alcoholic beverages and pacing yourself.

There is no way to accelerate your body’s ability to get rid of alcohol — your alcohol elimination rate. Alcohol elimination rates vary drastically between individuals. It’s affected by diet, age, weight, liver size, time of day, how much you smoke and other factors.

The liver metabolizes, or eliminates, about 90 percent of the alcohol that enters the body. It uses enzymes that break the alcohol molecules into a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. It then breaks acetaldehyde into a nontoxic molecule and finally into water and carbon dioxide.

The brain, pancreas and stomach metabolize about 10 percent of the alcohol in your body. It can be expelled through sweat, breath and urine.

Myths About Sobering Up

Once you’re drunk, there is no way to sober up or recover faster. Several myths about sobering up include that you can accelerate the process by:

  • exercise icon
  • soccer icon
  • apple icon
    Eating Food
  • water icon
    Drinking Water
  • cigarette icon
  • vomiting icon
  • trees icon
    Getting Fresh Air
  • coffee cup icon
    Drinking Caffeine
  • shower icon
    Taking a Shower
  • beer icon
    Drinking More Alcohol

Each of those common techniques may mask the effects of alcohol, making you feel like you’re less impaired. But your BAC doesn’t change, and you’re just as impaired as you were before. You just don’t realize it.

Sober Senorita

Alcohol made Kelly feel relaxed and funny. It also made her lose her job and friendships. Read about Kelly’s recovery journey and how sobriety helped her find happiness.

Recognizing and Treating Alcoholism

Alcohol affects the balance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. When the balance is altered, we lose coordination, get excited or feel sleepy. The brain adapts to these changes so it can function normally in the presence of alcohol. This compensation is called tolerance.

As it adapts, the brain begins to crave alcohol so it can function normally. Without alcohol, it reacts violently, causing withdrawal symptoms. The more dependent a person is on alcohol, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be.

Minor symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Fatigue
  • Clammy skin
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia

Delirium tremens, the most intense symptom of withdrawal, can cause hallucination, confusion, agitation and seizure. In some cases it can be life-threatening. DTs usually occur within 48 to 96 hours after the last drink.

Withdrawal symptoms and cravings are strong indicators that addiction treatment is necessary. Other indicators include blacking out regularly, getting in trouble after drinking, an inability to stop drinking and behaving compulsively to find alcohol.

With supervised treatment, medical professionals can relieve many symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and teach a person to live without the drug. However, it’s often challenging to convince an alcoholic to seek professional treatment because it’s difficult for them to admit they need help.

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Getting Into Treatment

Almost 17 million Americans had an alcohol use disorder in 2014, and about two million received treatment, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey revealed that 51.9 percent of people with alcoholism weren’t ready to stop drinking.

51.9 percent of people with alcoholism aren’t ready to stop drinking.

One major reason people don’t seek rehab is a phenomenon called personal exceptionalism. Personal exceptionalism refers to an individual’s belief that they are unique. They think, “That can’t happen to me,” “I’m special,” or “I’m not like everyone else.” In short, they’re in denial.

Personal exceptionalism allows people to justify immoral actions or behaviors that they would otherwise condemn. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.7 percent of Americans who required rehab for an alcohol use disorder didn’t seek help because they thought they could handle the problem without treatment. Another 3.7 percent didn’t think they needed treatment, and 1.2 percent didn’t think treatment would help.

It can be difficult to convince a loved one that they need treatment. If you’ve tried to talk to a friend or family member about their drinking habits and they’ve been resistant, you should consider contacting an interventionist.

Interventionists teach friends and families effective ways to communicate with a loved one suffering from alcoholism. Professional, certified interventionists increase recovery outcomes for patients who seek treatment. They also provide families with resources that can help them resolve family issues that stem from or promote alcohol abuse.

It’s pretty clear when someone’s life becomes unmanageable or when there are consequences that are occurring from use.

Interventionist Karen Rainer, Circle of Care Consultants

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Detox from Alcohol

The first step toward recovering from alcoholism involves cleansing the body of the substance. If someone has a mild alcohol use disorder, he or she may be able to detox with the help of a general practitioner, outpatient therapist or support group. Individuals with more severe addictions should attend a detox facility or residential treatment center.

Collage of people speaking with therapists about their addiction

Some people are able to overcome withdrawals and cravings on their own by abstaining from alcohol through sheer perseverance. Detox without medical attention is possible for some individuals, but it’s considered very risky for people with moderate or severe conditions because withdrawal can be life-threatening.

Detox by itself isn’t a cure for addiction because it doesn’t address the influences that caused the disease. People who achieve sobriety on their own but do not receive treatment for underlying psychological problems are sometimes called dry drunks.

Some people in recovery don’t believe dry drunks have achieved sobriety until they receive therapy from a drug rehab center, counselor or support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. In this sense, the term “sobriety” is similar to “recovery,” which refers to someone who is striving to improve their health and wellness and to reach their full potential.

Physicians, counselors and other health professionals don’t use the term “dry,” but they do agree that recovery cannot be achieved through detox alone. It requires counseling, therapy, aftercare and long-term support.

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Medications for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Medications can’t cure addiction, but several medications can aid a patient during rehab. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three medications for assisting treatment for alcohol use disorders.


Also known by its brand name Campral, acamprosate can relieve withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and depression. Patients can begin taking it five days after achieving sobriety, and it’s safe for patients with liver issues.


This medication discourages drinking by causing sweating, flushing and nausea when a patient drinks alcohol. Patients can take it after 12 hours of sobriety. Disulfiram is also sold under the brand name Antabuse.


Naltrexone blocks cravings and mental side effects caused by alcohol such as euphoria or intoxication. Its brand names include Revia and Vivitrol.

Physicians and addiction specialists can also prescribe a variety of medications, such as anticonvulsants and anti-nausea drugs, to treat symptoms of withdrawal.

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Counseling and therapy are vital for preventing relapse. Detox and medications may eliminate obstacles to recovery such as withdrawal, but a number of triggers or everyday stressors can cause cravings that lead to relapse.

Patients have to be able to live without alcohol to recover from alcoholism. Counseling and therapy help patients find motivation for entering rehab, garner positive reinforcement and learn to identify and overcome underlying causes of addiction.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective forms of therapy for addiction. It teaches patients to identify, avoid and manage situations that are likely to lead to alcohol use.


Multidimensional Family Therapy

Multidimensional family therapy was developed to improve family communication and functioning. It’s commonly used in adolescents, and it teaches the entire family to recognize behaviors that contribute or lead to alcohol abuse.

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Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is designed to diminish uncertainties or reservations about seeking treatment. The therapy encourages change instead of teaching patients how to change. It’s commonly combined with other therapies.

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Motivational Incentives

Motivational incentives, also referred to as contingency management, uses tangible rewards for positive behaviors such as abstinence.

Almost 17 million Americans had an alcohol use disorder in 2014.
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Support Groups

Residential drug and alcohol rehab facilities are effective because they provide safe environments surrounded by support. When patients leave rehab, finding support is crucial.

That’s why many rehab facilities introduce patients to support groups. Twelve-step facilitation therapy is common. It introduces patients to 12-step programs, but there are several other support groups that can benefit people in recovery from alcoholism.

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Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous is the largest, oldest and most well-known support group for people in recovery from alcoholism. Its purpose is to help members achieve and maintain sobriety. AA emphasizes a 12-step program that encourages participants to achieve a spiritual awakening that guides their recovery.


We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous

We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous grew from the stigma nonbelievers felt in AA. The purpose of WAAFT is to support people in recovery from alcoholism who choose not to believe in a higher power. Members of WAAFT follow the 12 steps and often participate in regular AA meetings.

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SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery was also developed out of a desire for a scientific, less spiritual self-help approach for recovery from addiction. The SMART Recovery 4-Point Program is designed to give participants tools for recovery. SMART Recovery hosts free online forums and community support groups.

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Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety is a nonprofit organization that helps women overcome alcoholism. WFS’s New Life self-help program emphasizes 13 acceptance statements that help women acknowledge and overcome the disease of alcohol addiction.

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Celebrate Recovery

Celebrate Recovery is a spiritual recovery program based on biblical readings. More than 29,000 churches across the world use the program. Celebrate Recovery helps people affected by addiction overcome detrimental habits by introducing them to the words of Jesus Christ.

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LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing Secular Recovery is an international network of people in recovery from alcohol and other drugs. The group uses peer support to promote personal growth and lead individuals in recovery as they develop personalized strategies for maintaining sobriety.

Aftercare Resources

Patients who graduate from recovery programs shouldn’t rush back into their everyday routines. They have practiced new skills in safe environments, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for all of life’s challenges.

People who transition into sober living homes after treatment maintain higher rates of sobriety, make higher annual incomes and are less likely to be incarcerated, according to a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Aftercare may also involve attending vocational training, career workshops and other educational programming. Recovering alcoholics should find a support group that they’re comfortable with, and they should consider visiting an outpatient therapist who can guide them through any new challenges that arise.

Most importantly, people in recovery need to find purpose. Many people find purpose through religion or by helping others recover. You may find purpose through work or hobbies. Having something to live for makes recovery easier and life more enjoyable.


There is help for people in recovery from alcoholism and for those who know someone with an alcohol use disorder. You can access a number of resources to aid you, a friend or a loved one on the recovery journey.

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Several national organizations provide information and advice for people in recovery from alcoholism. Many organizations also offer prevention and recovery tips.


Al-Anon is a support group for friends and family members affected by problem drinkers. At Al-Anon meetings, participants share how someone else’s alcohol abuse has affected them. By listening to others, participants learn how to cope with someone else’s problematic drinking.


Alateen is a support group for adolescents and young adults affected by a family member’s alcoholism. At Alateen meetings, youth learn from the experiences of their peers and find support from people their age.

Co-Dependents Anonymous

Co-Dependents Anonymous is a support group for people striving to improve their relationship with someone affected by an addiction. Members practice CODA’s 12 steps and principles to recover from codependence.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducts research on how alcohol affects health. It provides educational information for the public.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse conducts research on alcohol and other drugs. It provides resources and knowledge for people wishing to learn more about the diseases of addiction and alcoholism.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is a nonprofit that provides referral services, intervention programs, professional training, prevention information, public awareness campaigns and other recovery resources.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is designed to help families comprehend the culture of alcohol and drug abuse in the United States. Parents can learn how to talk to their children about alcohol, how to convince their child to stop drinking and how to support their child’s recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides information on alcoholism and other mental health disorders. It produces a variety of informational pamphlets, e-books and brochures on preventing, treating and recovering from alcohol use disorders.

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Helpful Hotlines

If you or someone you know needs help achieving or maintaining sobriety, reach out to one of the toll-free hotlines below for support from trained professionals.

SAMHSA National Helpline

The SAMHSA National Helpline provides information on mental health issues and alcohol use disorders any time of day, every day of the year. You can also call to receive a referral to a local mental health provider.

Phone: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

NCADD Hope Line

The NCADD Hope Line employs trained professionals that listen to your needs, assist you in determining your best course of action and refer you to relevant resources in your community.

Phone: 1-800-NCA-CALL (1-800-622-2255)

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ Helpline

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ helpline is for parents whose children are abusing alcohol or other drugs. Support specialists help parents devise a plan for preventing future substance abuse.

Phone: 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373)

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