Is there an alcoholism cure? Medical experts say no. Instead, the model is like that for other chronic diseases-such as diabetes, which can be successfully treated but not cured.
Treatments vary, but in order to work they must address both the physical and psychological addiction to alcohol.
Most important, in order to be successful the alcoholic must have a strong desire to stop drinking. Ceasing to drink can be traumatic, both to the body and to the mind.
Physical symptoms of alcoholism occur when someone who has been drinking heavily for weeks or months decides to stop drinking suddenly.
These symptoms range from the mild (shakiness and sweating) to the severe (DTs, or delirium tremens). Unfortunately, the more frequently a heavy drinker tries to quit, the worse the physical symptoms can become each time.
Medical experts recommend that drinkers stop drinking under the supervision of a doctor. Doctors can prescribe medicine that can help control the shakiness and anxiety that often accompany withdrawal.
One of the most intriguing aspects of physical addiction is the discovery that excessive drinking can trigger a biological response in the brain that ultimately results in a pleasurable sensation. In addition, hormones called endorphins may be implicated in alcohol craving.
The drug naltrexone, although not an alcoholism cure, has been approved to help block the receptors for endorphins, thus helping the patient undergoing treatment to maintain sobriety.
A drug that has been on the market for years, disulfiram (Antabuse), affects the metabolism of alcohol in the liver. A patient taking this drug who subsequently drinks can experience severe adverse consequences, including death.
These and other medications are most effective when combined with treatments that address the psychological side of the addiction.
Joining an organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), described as a “worldwide fellowship of men and women who help each other to stay sober,” can provide comfort, encouragement, and a safe environment in which to explore the ramifications of the disease.
In addition, patients can seek help in treatment centers, many of which offer a wide array of programs that seek to control behavior without promising an alcoholism cure.
Relapse is not uncommon among those under treatment. The biological, psychological, and social pressures often overcome the patient’s best intentions.
Treatment programs that include cognitive behavior treatment, in which the patient is trained to recognize and deal with the “triggers” that compel him or her to drink, can help the patient withstand the many temptations to resume dangerous habits.
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