Long thought to be an issue with self control, alcoholism was classified as a disease in 1956 by the American Medical Association (AMA) who recognised that there is both a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol in those suffering from this brain disorder.
The only ‘cure’ for alcoholism is total abstinence. Alcoholics can never return to drinking casually or socially, as the dependence is permanent. But measures can be taken to ease the dependence and make life as a recovering alcoholic enjoyable, and in this way an alcoholic may be ‘cured’.
Do you think that you or someone you know might be an alcoholic? Some of the signs and symptoms that characterise alcoholism include:
- An inability to control the amount of drinks or time spent drinking.
- An inability to quit drinking, despite either wanting to or being asked to.
- Always thinking about your next drink.
- Alcohol affecting work, social life and relationships.
- Loss of interest in activities that don’t revolve around drinking.
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Having alcohol free days or weeks to ‘prove’ that you don’t have a problem.
When is it time to get help?
The latest NHS guidelines, published in 2016, advise that you shouldn’t be drinking more than 14 units of alcohol per week, and this should be spread over three days or more. You should also regularly have several alcohol-free days per week. If you think that you are drinking a lot more than this, regularly, and don’t feel able to cut down, you should go to a doctor to get diagnosed. However, the NHS also recommends looking into outside sources of help such as treatment centres and Alcoholics Anonymous right away, without waiting for a diagnosis.
What are the treatment options?
There is no way around the fact that, if you want to beat alcoholism, you are going to need to stop drinking. The first step to any treatment will be detox, which you can do at home, as part of an outpatient service, or within a treatment centre. It is generally recommended that you do not attempt to detox without medical supervision, as this can be dangerous or even life threatening, depending on how severe your addiction is.
Outpatient detox services tend to be day clinics which offer medication and support services, whilst inpatient detox will happen at a rehab facility. You will never be asked to ‘just stop drinking’, and will usually be offered one or more of the following medications:
- Benzodiazepines, (or ‘benzos’), are medications which help limit anxiety, muscle spasms and insomnia. These are the most common medications prescribed to treat withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detox, but are ideally prescribed when the patient is under supervision, as they can be very addictive in themselves.
- Acamprosate is a popular medication for those who are detoxing, helping to rebalance the chemicals in the brain that become unbalanced due to heavy alcohol use.
- Naltrexone is a useful drug for helping with alcohol cravings. It blocks opioid receptors in the brain, so that the pleasurable or ‘high’ feeling you get when you drink is dulled. Naltrexone can make withdrawal symptoms worse so you will usually have to be at least seven days sober before it will be prescribed
- The most intense medication used to treat alcoholism, and one of the most effective, is Disulfiram. This medication produces an extreme sensitivity to ethanol (one of the main components of alcohol) so that if you do slip and drink again it will make you very ill. Nausea and vomiting is almost assured, as well as other unpleasant effects such as flushing, headache, weakness and low blood pressure.
Withdrawal symptoms will usually begin almost immediately when you give up drinking, and can last for up to two weeks, although this could be longer depending on the severity of your alcohol abuse. This is why a residential programme is recommended from the very start, helping you to manage these symptoms.
When detoxing, you may experience:
- Extreme sweating
- Tremors (‘the shakes’)
In more serious cases you could suffer:
- Delirium tremens (Note that only in the rarest of cases will delirium tremens be reported, but it can be fatal so it is critical that a medical professional is involved in your recovery)
Rehab is the next step for any recovering alcoholic, either running alongside your detox or possibly afterwards. A patient cannot enter into a rehabilitation facility if they are still drinking, and it is not useful to go to rehab just so that you can detox.
The point of a rehab centre is to make the detox stage a permanent state of being. As tough as detox can be, it is almost impossible to stay clean without further therapy and support. Rehab can last anything from 30 days to 90 days, depending on the severity of your condition and your specific requirements. It is an intense, structured experience in which you live with other addicts and take part in group counselling, as well as one-on-one sessions. You will also learn life skills and be able to avail yourself of other useful services that will help you to make a permanent life change.
What is a typical day in rehab?
- Start the day with a healthy breakfast and morning meetings. There is no sleeping in, and the day will usually start with the sunrise. You may have time for meditation or yoga, to help you build healthy habits from the very beginning of the day.
- A group session following breakfast will be led by a therapist and focus on topics related to the treatment process and your recovery. This is a chance to hear from others about their experiences and can be amazing in helping you not to feel so alone.
- Healthy lunch and time to socialise with others. Rebuilding social skills without needing alcohol is important.
- Individual therapy time which may include CBT, grief counselling, anger management and so on.
- Family therapy. This won’t be every day but is an important part of rebuilding your life with the people that love you, but you may have hurt during your addiction.
Alternative therapies may also be available, including exercise, dance and yoga, neurofeedback (brain training) and biofeedback therapies
How can we help?
Cassiobury Court is a beautiful, homely residential facility, situated in a charming residential area and set within lush grounds, offering a really relaxed and peaceful environment. All bedrooms are individual and there are shared bathrooms and ensuite rooms available so that you can have quiet time to yourself when you need it. A comfortable dining room, lounge, activity room and TV area offer space to socialise, whilst tranquil holistic therapy rooms are the key to revitalising alone time.
At Cassiobury Court we believe that abstinence-based rehab is the only way to successfully recover, so you are invited to start your detox here and then carry on through rehab once you have detoxed completely. Once detox is over, group and individual therapy sessions help you to learn new habits and build a new lifestyle from within the centre, that you’ll be able to keep up once you leave.
Before you go, you will have a thorough discharge plan worked out, and support on leaving so that you don’t struggle in the initial weeks afterwards.
With your will and determination you can become alcohol free, and everyone at Cassiobury Court would welcome being part of your journey in getting there.