A few people suffer serious physical problems when they try to quit alcohol. Hallucinations and delirium tremens, which most people regard as symptoms of intoxication, are in fact caused by sudden sobriety. Fear, confusion, fever, and high heart rate are just some of the symptoms seen in those addicted to alcohol who have a severe physical reaction when the drug is no longer present in their system. Hospital care and antianxiety medication can help ease the physical effects during this stage of withdrawal.
For most people who quit, the greatest danger is a return to alcohol consumption (relapse).
Getting a loved one to seek help for alcohol dependence can be difficult, since denial of the problem is common and is related to the cognitive changes associated with the illness. You may need to raise the subject more than once, and you may need to involve friends and family members in the discussion to show the extent of your concerns. It's best to approach the subject in a calm way, without accusations and with a focus on care and support for the person involved. Rather than speaking in a generalized way, point to specific behaviours and events that have caused the concern.
Be aware that a variety of effective interventions exist to treat alcoholism. Some people will be able to change their rate of alcohol consumption, or quit altogether, simply by having had the devastating effects of their behaviour pointed out to them by someone they trust. Unfortunately, interventions by family and friends are sufficient in only a minority of cases.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can provide a beneficial option. Known for its 12-step program, this international organization can provide significant value for many people through self-help and peer support. For more information, look for AA in your local phone book.
Alternatively, many communities have access to various publicly supported alcohol dependence programs, and many private programs exist as well. Talk to your health care professional to find out what types of services are available.
Several medications may also help when used in combination with other forms of treatment. These medications work in different ways. Some suppress the urge to drink (e.g., naltrexone*), some cause uncomfortable physical reactions if alcohol is consumed (e.g., disulfiram), and some ease the physical symptoms of the withdrawal process (e.g., diazepam, clonidine).
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
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