Thousands of alcoholics are helped to stop drinking every year. The chances of recovery are good if alcohol abuse or alcoholism is treated in its early or middle stages. Unfortunately, most alcoholics do not receive treatment. Over 90 percent of them will die as a result of their alcoholism. Most of them won’t die directly as a result of alcohol’s ravages to the organs of their body but to accidents caused by their drinking.
Proper treatment for the alcoholic must be more than a drying-out period and an interlude between binges of drinking. Treatment must be a well-designed program to get the alcoholics back on their feet and started in a new life of sobriety. They must learn how to cope with life and problems without alcohol. If alcoholics continue drinking, most will continue to deteriorate emotionally and physically.
Many alcoholics who recognize they have a problem have great guilt and embarrassment because of their condition. It is very difficult for them to admit they are different from others who can drink and enjoy a little alcohol. It is difficult to give up something that seems so essential to coping and feeling better in their lives.
Alcoholics, like all humans, vary in what moves and motivates them. Relatively few alcoholics stop drinking by themselves. If they do, it is usually related to some personal shock caused by their drinking.
Experience has shown that alcoholism alters rational thinking in most alcoholics as long as they remain drinking. The vast majority of alcoholics simply do not face the reality of their condition and cannot permanently stop drinking without help. Long-term or late-stage alcoholics need professional treatment. Quitting “cold turkey” for these people could cause withdrawal symptoms that could be life-threatening.
The overwhelming preponderance of experience indicates alcoholism is rarely, if ever, totally cured. Most alcohol experts have found, for practical purposes, that once the “addiction switch” to alcohol (or any other addictive drug) is thrown “on,” it rarely returns to “off,” even after years of abstinence from the drug. This is why alcoholics in treatment are educated to call themselves a “recovering alcoholic.” They can never safely return to even moderate social drinking.
All successful drug abuse treatment programs have the same goal: to help drug-dependent people become and remain drug free. It is important to stress drug free. Once people become addicted to alcohol, they are highly susceptible to addiction to all other drugs that work on in a similar fashion. Recovering addicts must beware all potentially addictive substances.
Education — important first step
Before anything else is done, anyone who hopes to help an alcoholic recover should first carefully study about alcoholism. Family members, and eventually the alcoholic, must come to understand that alcoholic people cannot drink “normally.” They will need to learn about common early, middle and late-stage symptoms. Family members will need to be forewarned that failures and relapses in treatment are common, yet alcohol-free living is still possible. This education requires time and patience.
An alcoholic is both physically and psychologically damaged. The thinking and metabolism have been altered. When drinking, or even between drinks, the alcoholic acts in unpredictable ways. One moment the person may be mild and accommodating, the next moment consumed in self-pity and remorsefulness, the next filled with belligerence and angry denial that there is a drinking problem.
Only after an alcoholic’s body has a chance to recover from the damaging effects of alcohol through complete abstinence is there a chance of returning to psychological and emotional stability. Then they will have to work, a day at a time, on coping with problems without alcohol or other mind-altering drugs.
Alcoholics do not have to “hit bottom” before they can be helped. This may be a common experience, but it is not always true. Many alcoholics now being successfully treated went into treatment because they were confronted with certain choices and crises they would have in their lives if they didn’t seek treatment.
Diplomatic but forceful intervention can be given by employers or family members or others influential in the alcoholic’s life. This approach is most successful if the individual is still functioning in a fairly responsible way in handling responsibilities and has something to lose that he or she cherishes. This approach is less likely to be successful for a person with nothing to lose, such as someone on Skid Row.
But it is critically important, before any attempt is made to confront an alcoholic, that there be a well educated understanding of the nature of the intervention process by those who do the intervening. Such advance education and preparation is best made with the counsel and guidance of personnel trained in such matters.
Family members and friends need to be aware of the evasiveness, the resistance, the deceptive maneuvers and false promises alcoholics will make to avoid the steps they will need to take to cope with their problem. An alcoholic’s family and friends must be aware of how in the past they may have enabled the alcoholic to remain an alcoholic by covering up for the consequences of the drinking.
Alcoholism is a physical and mental-emotional-spiritual problem. We encourage alcoholic people to seek to live a truly Christian life and use the spiritual help and motivation God offers to overcome alcohol problems. The alcoholics will still need to do all in their own power to quit drinking as well as call on God’s help. Extra educational help and treatment is often necessary.
Not all treatment programs are the same. Responsible adults must evaluate them for their value and appropriateness, taking into consideration the degree of the alcoholic’s problems and circumstances.
There are benefits and limitations in all public and private treatment programs. Some treatment programs are not geared to help alcoholics cope with certain types of problems. Some treatment programs offer counseling but no in-patient detoxification or nutritional help. Some hospitals offer detoxification programs but no long-term support treatment. Some programs offer only good support services. Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, does not provide detoxification facilities, but as a program for helping the alcoholic to maintain sobriety after withdrawal and health treatment, A.A. is recognized as one of the more effective programs.
Long-term alcoholics often have not eaten right. Excessive alcohol intake has unbalanced their nutrition. Nutritional therapy is often needed to speed successful treatment because cellular damage has been caused by years of drinking. The alcoholics need to start eating right to help them feel better and function better. They will have to alter damaging lifestyle habits.