An alcoholic is someone who is dependent on alcohol. Someone who is alcohol-dependent, or alcohol-addicted, has a compulsion for alcohol that is overwhelming. They develop a physical dependence on alcohol and will start to develop withdrawal symptoms from alcohol three to eight hours after their last drink.
The first step towards helping an alcoholic is to understand that alcoholism is a disease. Their cravings for alcohol are real and, as with all addictions, alcoholism operates in the brain. The alcoholic has an inability to self-regulate and they cannot decrease their using. Tolerance builds and the alcohol intake increases in order to achieve the same effect. There is also evidence to show that alcoholism can be inherited and is genetic.
Can I stop an alcoholic drinking?
No. If a loved one or someone you know has an alcohol dependency, they have to accept they have a drink problem and want to stop for themselves. Nothing you can do will stop them drinking. And even if the alcoholic wishes to stop drinking, this may be difficult for them due to the withdrawal symptoms they will experience. They have to be completely committed and determined in order to stop drinking. This takes time and a lot of support from you – the person who cares about them.
So, how do I help an alcoholic?
Firstly, stop making excuses for them and don’t cover up their drinking problem. Honesty is absolutely key here and it’s important that the alcoholic faces up to the consequences of their alcohol addiction, whether that’s a violent incident or an accident. Pick a time when the alcoholic is sober and try to talk. But, realistically, this might not be effective. The most successful and kindest way of getting someone you know on the path to recovery is a professional intervention, involving a specialist interventionist and the concerned family members. Through a properly orchestrated alcohol intervention, the alcoholic is confronted with the reality of their problem and the impact it has on those around them. The ultimate aim of this meeting is to get the person to accept they need help and into the most appropriate form of treatment.
Can alcoholism be treated?
The good news is yes, alcoholism can be treated. But it’s a long process. Following a successful alcohol intervention, the next step to recovery is usually a detox to remove the alcohol toxins from the body. Detox is most effective in a residential clinic where medical staff are on hand 24/7. Medication using a group of tablets known as benzodiazepines is normally prescribed to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol use. Detox alone is not enough for sustained abstinence from alcohol. It is essential that the alcoholic undergoes a period of rehabilitative care which should include a range of treatments such as counselling, group work, cognitive behavioural therapy, relapse prevention and education. These address the physical and psychological issues behind the alcohol addiction and equip the individual with the skills to live a life free of alcohol.
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