Perhaps due to the fact that alcohol is an acceptable part of daily life, it is misused and abused. However, the term “alcoholic” is too often pinned on anyone who is seen to regularly drink to excess. As with all forms of addiction illness, there are varying degrees of alcoholism depending on the abuse history of the individual concerned. For example, a person who is a binge drinker may regularly drink to excess but may not have developed alcoholism. That said, no matter what degree of alcohol use disorder (or AUD) a person has, the need to attend an alcoholism treatment program is critical.
In this article, we want to take a closer look at how physicians diagnose AUD and the various alcohol abuse treatment approaches used in alcohol rehab centers to treat it.
At an appointment with a physician to consult on alcohol abuse, individuals are likely to be asked several questions related to their drinking habits to determine if they are alcoholics. A doctor may also ask for their permission to speak with loved ones in order for them to get an idea of the bigger picture of the patient’s alcohol history. This is because various familial factors often play a part in a person’s addictive behavior for example, when other family members are alcoholics or have a history of AUD.
The next step of the initial consultation generally involves a physical examination as there are several signs doctors use to indicate the level of AUD an individual has. The kind of physical symptoms a physician will be looking for include the following:
- Over-developed mammary glands in males
- A discolored mottling of the skin, particularly in hands and feet
- Tiny broken capillaries and blood vessels visible on the skin
- Nerve damage to the eyes causing partial loss of vision
- Frequent bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
- Rapid heartbeat
- An enlarged liver
- A yellowing of the eyes of skin indicating jaundice
- Ulcers that don’t heal
- Delirium tremens or seizures
Lab and imaging tests will also be carried out by a physician when diagnosing AUD. Although there are no specific tests for the condition, there are some abnormalities that show up in lab tests that give a strong indication a person has AUD. Other tests that check for organ damage may also be carried out, particularly if severe AUD is detected.
A psychological evaluation is a crucial part of an AUD diagnosis because of the damaging effects alcohol has on brain function. Patients will be asked about the symptoms they experience together with thought processes, feelings and behavioral patterns they exhibit when they use alcohol which is usually by questionnaire.
Physicians refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders known as the DSM-5 criteria to evaluate and diagnose individuals for AUD and other mental health conditions.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to treating AUD as individuals have a very personal experience of the condition. The best alcohol rehab centers undertake a comprehensive evaluation to devise the most effective rehab and recovery strategy for the individual’s unique needs. Alcoholism treatment programs are widely available on an inpatient or outpatient basis and have been shown to be extremely effective in improving the quality of life of people with AUD.
Alcohol abuse treatment generally includes the following components:
Detox: This is a mandatory first step of an alcoholism treatment program no matter what the approach is. It is essential that individuals are released from the influence of alcohol before they are able to continue with rehabilitation. Once the damaging chemicals that have accumulated in a person’s body as a consequence of alcohol abuse have been removed, they are ready to pass on to rehab with a completely clean slate. Although patients experience uncomfortable alcohol withdrawal symptoms in detox, if they are in the supervised environment of a rehab center these will be treated as they emerge.
Counseling and Therapy: Individual and group therapy is a very important part of alcohol rehab. This is mainly because individuals find solace and motivation from others in the same situation, feeling free to express themselves openly without fear of judgment. One-to-one sessions with a therapist pave the way for self-exploration to get to the root causes of alcohol abuse so that they can be addressed in rehab.
Aftercare: A person isn’t ever cured of AUD and so it makes sense that they need continued support when leaving an alcohol rehab center or finishing an outpatient program. Aftercare programs and support groups provide valuable relapse prevention for recovering alcoholics which can make a big difference to their recovery outcomes.
Treatment for Behavioral Problems: Alcohol rehab usually involves a component of behavioral therapy such as CBT. This discussion-based therapy allows patients to identify the negative thought processes that drive their addictive behavior, empowering them to make positive changes in their mindset. Behavioral therapy is generally offered on an ongoing basis through rehab and into aftercare.
Holistic AUD treatments: Holistic therapies and treatments are designed to heal the person as a whole in terms of their emotional, physical and mental health. Practices such as yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing are used in conjunction with other alternative therapies like art and music therapy, animal-assisted therapy, massage therapy, physical fitness and nutritional education.