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Substance Abuse and Addiction – Treatment Overview

Treatment for alcohol abuse and dependence usually includes group therapy, one or more types of counseling, and alcohol education. You also may need medicine. A 12-step program often is part of treatment and continues after treatment ends.

Treatment doesn’t just deal with alcohol. It will help you manage problems in your daily life so you don’t have to depend on alcohol. You’ll learn good reasons to quit drinking.

Treatment helps you overcome dependence, but it doesn’t happen all at once. Recovery from alcohol abuse or dependence-staying sober-is a lifelong process that takes commitment and effort.

Can you quit on your own?

If you are abusing alcohol and are not dependent on it, you may be able to cut back or quit on your own. But most people need help when they quit drinking.

If you want to quit, talk to your doctor. When you get a doctor’s help, treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence is safer, less painful, and quicker. If you can’t stop drinking alcohol with just your doctor’s help, a treatment program can help you get through the first cravings for alcohol and learn how to stay sober.

How does treatment start?

You might start treatment with your family doctor, or your doctor may recommend that you enter a treatment facility. A friend may bring you to a self-help group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. or you might go to a clinic that deals with alcohol abuse. You may just decide that you drink too much and want to cut back or quit on your own.

You may have a treatment team to help you. This team may include a psychologist or psychiatrist, counselors, doctors, social workers, nurses, and a case manager. A case manager helps plan and manage your treatment.

When you first seek treatment, you may be asked questions about your drinking, health problems, work, and living situation. Be open and honest to get the best treatment possible. Your treatment team may write a treatment plan, which includes your treatment goals and ways to reach those goals. This helps you stay on track.


Do you need detox?

Your doctor may decide you need detoxification. or detox, before you start treatment. You need detox when you are physically addicted to alcohol. This means that when you stop drinking, you have physical withdrawal symptoms, such as feeling sick to your stomach or intense anxiety .

Detox helps get you ready for treatment. It doesn’t help you with the mental, social, and behavior changes you have to make to get and stay sober.

Whether you need detox and whether you can go through it at home or need to go to a clinic or other facility depends on how severe your withdrawal symptoms are. Most people don’t need to stay at a clinic but do need to check in with a doctor or other health professional. Whether you need to spend time in a clinic (called inpatient care) also depends on other problems you may have, such as a mental health problem.

Your doctor may give you medicines to help reduce withdrawal symptoms.

What’s the best treatment program for you?

Your doctor can help you decide which type of program is best for you.

  • In outpatient treatment. you regularly go to a mental health clinic, counselor’s office, hospital clinic, or local health department for treatment.
  • In inpatient treatment. you stay at a facility and have treatment during the day or evening. This usually lasts 1 to 6 weeks. You most likely will then go to outpatient treatment.
  • In residential treatment. you live at the facility while you recover. These programs may last for months. This may be a good option if you have a long history of alcohol or drug use, have a bad home situation, or don’t have social support.

If you are thinking about going into a treatment program, here are some questions to ask .

What does a treatment program include?


Treatment programs usually include counseling, such as:

  • Individual and group therapy. where you talk about your recovery with a counselor or with other people who are trying to quit. You can get support from others who have struggled with alcohol.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). where you learn to change thoughts and actions that make you more likely to use alcohol. A counselor teaches you ways to deal with cravings and avoid going back to alcohol.
  • Motivational interviewing (MI). where you resolve mixed feelings about quitting and getting treatment. A counselor helps you find personal motivation to change.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). which uses motivational interviewing to help you find motivation to quit. It usually lasts for 2 to 4 sessions.
  • Brief intervention therapy. which provides feedback, advice, and goal-setting in very short counseling sessions.
  • Couples and family therapy. which can help you become and stay sober and keep good relationships within your family.



A treatment program may include medicines that can help keep you sober during recovery. You may take medicine that can help reduce your craving for alcohol or that makes you sick to your stomach when you drink.


Most programs provide education about alcohol abuse and dependence. Understanding alcohol problems can help you and your family know how to overcome them. Some programs also offer job or career training.

Support groups

Treatment programs often include going to a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Your family members also might want to attend a support group such as Al-Anon or Alateen.

What else should you think about?

  • If you have an alcohol problem and a mental health problem, such as depression. you will need treatment for both problems. Doctors call this a dual diagnosis .
  • Alcohol typically affects older adults more strongly than younger adults.
  • Alcohol abuse in the military can interfere with military readiness.
  • Some people are sent to alcohol treatment because of a court decision. This may happen if you have an alcohol problem and you commit a crime. A court may require treatment and keep track of your progress. Treatment often is available in prison.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information. © 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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