Outpatient Alcohol Treatment Essentials
No one is really sure why alcoholism strikes some people yet leaves others untouched. It’s possible that genetics play a role, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that children of alcoholics are about four times more likely to develop problems with alcohol, compared to people who don’t have this background. But it’s also possible that life stresses and the environment play a role, transforming mere dabbling in alcohol to full-fledged compulsive use.
Getting better alone can be difficult, as the temptation to take a quick drink could lurk around almost every corner, but outpatient treatment programs could be incredibly helpful. Here, people can learn how to amend their behaviors and really get better, and they might not need to leave home and move away in order to get the assistance they so desperately need.
Leaving Drink Behind
Alcohol might seem benign, since it’s served in many restaurants and lines the shelves of many American homes, but it’s a very potent drug that can change electrical impulses deep inside the brain. Where a healthy brain might be aglow with activity, shooting messages from one cell to another, a brain on alcohol seems dark and quiet, with very little work taking place at all. When a sedated brain like this wakes up once more, it seems to attempt to make up for lost time, and the amount of messages sent might be too much for the brain to bear. Visions or hallucinations can take hold, and sometimes, people even develop seizures. Medications can help, and some people take medications on an outpatient basis.
When detox is complete, some people continue to take medications to help them resist the urge to relapse to booze. The medication naltrexone might be helpful, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, as it might block the pleasurable signals people feel when they drink. This drug can help people to learn that drinking doesn’t provide relief, and when that learning has taken hold, they might be less likely to drink in the future. Not everyone needs this drug, however, as some people find that they don’t need a pill to resist the creeping need to drink. It’s a personal decision, and it’s best made by an addicted person in consultation with a doctor.
Getting Ready for Change
In an outpatient program, people can be expected to learn how to:
- Identify their triggers for drinking
- Develop plans they can utilize when triggers arise
- Hone their resistance
- Discuss their addiction
- Turn down offers of drink
Some people are ready to get started right away, and they’re active participants in treatment from the very beginning. Other people, however, go into treatment because they feel compelled to do so, and deep down inside, they may not feel as though they really need to change anything at all. For example, in the Journal of Substance Abuse, researchers measured how ready and committed people in therapy were to changing their behaviors regarding alcohol. Researchers found that about 28 percent of people in care were in the “precontemplation” stage, meaning they hadn’t quite decided to stop drinking yet.
Reaching through to people like this is a vital part of an outpatient program, as people who haven’t decided to stop drinking remain at high risk for slipping, tripping and drinking between their appointments. Therapists can utilize specific therapies in which they ask people to think about their life when it includes alcohol, and then think about life without the specter of drunkenness invading the scene. Some people find hidden reasons to stop drinking in these conversations, and they become ardent participators in addiction care as a result.
Working in Therapy
There are a variety of different therapy techniques that can be used to combat alcoholism, but many therapists begin with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This therapy focuses on the thoughts and situations that lead to a craving for alcohol, and once these triggers are identified, the therapist and the clients come up with a point-by-point plan to either avoid or handle those issues without using alcohol. Therapy like this might sound simplistic, but it does have the ability to change the way people think and the way they behave.
In an outpatient program, people might go to appointments alone and work on a one-on-one basis with a therapist, but people might also go to meetings in groups. Meetings like this can be helpful as they allow the therapist to help multiple people at the same time, and they provide people with the opportunity to role-play and practice their skills with an understanding group of others.
Alcoholism is often considered a solitary disease that can impact one person who drinks too much on a regular basis, but it can also be considered a group disease that can pull down an entire family. Relationships begin to encircle alcohol, and people begin to blame, annoy or harass one another as a result. It’s a difficult problem, and family therapy may be helpful. Here, people can discuss the ways in which alcohol has changed them, and they can all build up techniques that can allow them to communicate more effectively and support one another more efficiently.
Therapy sessions might be held once per day, or they might only be held once per week. As the person improves and control over alcohol begins to build and grow, it can be tempting to skip a session here and there. In general, this isn’t a good idea. According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, people who have big delays between appointments are more likely to drop out of care altogether, possibly because one little lapse makes the next lapse more likely. Each session provides some vital lesson or crucial tool for the person in need, and each and every appointment should be treated as something that absolutely cannot be missed.
Recovery can be lonely, as people who don’t drink might find it hard to:
- Go to office parties
- Attend family gatherings
- Grab a snack in a restaurant
- Visit with drinking friends
People may also have thoughts about addiction and behavior that are hard to share with those who don’t abuse alcohol. They may feel embarrassed of the things they’ve done, or they may feel as though discussing their issues with those who don’t have alcoholism just doesn’t help in any way. Support group meetings may be a vital piece of the puzzle here, providing people with benefits they may be hard-pressed to find in any other setting.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings aren’t technically considered “therapy,” as no counselor is involved in care and no notes or treatment plans are generated when a person starts obtaining help in this way. However, AA meetings often provide a blueprint people can follow as they work to stay sober, day in and day out. By going to meetings regularly, studying the literature the group generates and working through a series of steps relating to spiritual development, people can gain a level of control they might have thought impossible just a few months prior, and they may find that going to meetings becomes as normal and natural as breathing, even when formal outpatient programs are complete.
It can be hard to explain why AA works, and sometimes, people suggest that AA isn’t helpful at all. The fact remains, however, that studies of the effectiveness of support groups demonstrate a clear and present power in these meetings that’s hard for people to find in another way. For example, an article in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research explains that about 40 to 50 percent of people who become long-term AA members achieve total abstinence, while 60 to 68 percent improve in some way. Those who do better tend to “work the program,” really becoming involved in the meetings and the steps associated with recovery, while those who don’t take the lessons to heart don’t recover to the same extent. It’s possible that those who don’t think AA works just didn’t work hard enough in AA to see how transformative the experience can be.
In an outpatient program, people continue to live at home while they obtain care. The home environment is often the space in which the addiction was allowed to blossom, and it might contain very powerful cues that could lead people back to drinking. People might feel an urge to drink when they walk by the easy chair that supported them during drunken binges while the football game played in the background. The porch might hold reminders of late nights drinking whiskey while the stars twinkled in the distance. Cues like this can be hard to shake off, but resistance is vital in order for long-term healing to take place.
Families can help by ensuring that there is no alcohol in the house, of any kind, and that the family also doesn’t drink while the person is in recovery. It’s a small sacrifice to make in order to reduce temptation levels, and it might be something the person can appreciate. Families can also help by being supportive, providing foods the person likes to eat and surrounding the person with love and kindness. It’s hard to get better, and the person should be rewarded for every step taken.
The person in treatment also needs to remember to employ the lessons used in therapy to avoid high-risk situations and dangerous people. Putting the lessons in place immediately is a great way to make them stick, and starting the work now could make long-term recovery more likely. Each time a relapse is averted, the resistance muscles are just a little stronger and addiction is a little weaker.
Alcoholism can be a deadly foe, but outpatient care can make a big difference in the lives of people who need help. For example, a three-year study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that about 43 percent of people who got outpatient care were sober at the end of the study, and 12 percent were considered improved. It’s clear that care really can make a difference, allowing people to develop a whole new way of living.
We use a tested method that can deal with both alcoholism and underlying mental health disorders that can trigger alcoholism, and we’ve found that many of our clients thrive in an outpatient environment. They can lean on their families while getting better, and with our help, they can turn their lives around. Please call us to find out more.