Just In: SAMHSA Release New Guidelines for Treating Alcoholism

Perspectives on addiction and alcoholism have changed dramatically over the past several decades. Society used to consider alcohol and drug addicts as mere being bad people who were weak of will and in character and deserving of punishment. In fact, the criminalization of substance abuse was partly a strategy intended to force alcohol and drug addicts into abstinence. However, we learned that addicts would often fall right back into their previous substance abuse behaviors shortly upon their release, accounting for the high rates of recidivism and indicating that addicts required some other, more effective treatment for their suffering.

We now know that addiction and its derivative forms, such as alcoholism, are actually diseases. Specifically, addiction is a chronic, progressive, relapsing disease in which the brain’s structure and functioning are altered, causing obsessive and compulsive alcohol and drug-seeking and consumption. With this knowledge, we began to develop more effective ways of treating addiction and alcoholism, helping those who suffer from dependency to manage the disease so that they would be able to live healthy, productive lives. As addiction treatments and recovery programs became more refined, a number of laws and policies pertaining to substance abuse, addiction, and recovery were written and instituted, which effectively regulated many aspects of treatment to homogenize recovery methods while making them safer and more consistent.

Recovery Treatments for the Many Effects of Alcoholism

Those who suffer from alcoholism today have the opportunity to receive rehabilitative treatment via a number of methods and programs available to treatment alcohol dependency while accounting for the individual needs of each alcoholic. It’s important to seek recovery treatment for alcoholism not only to conquer the dependency but to prevent the progression of potential physical health effects that occur as a result of alcohol consumption. When a person begins consuming alcohol frequently, it has a number of effects throughout the body. In the brain, alcohol interferes with the communication pathways of the brain, causing changes in mood and thought patterns, disrupting behavior, and even making coordination and movement difficult. Excessive consumption of alcohol also has a number of possible effects on the heart, such as the stretching or dropping of heart muscle—called cardiomyopathy—irregularities in heartbeat, high blood pressure, and even stroke.

Perhaps the most well-known effect of excessive alcohol consumption is the damage that alcoholism has on the liver. This can lead to a number of conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver, steatosis or fatty liver, fibrosis, and alcoholic hepatitis. It’s also been discovered that the prolonged consumption of excessive alcohol can cause the pancreas to begin producing toxins that can lead to pancreatitis, marked by improper digestion caused by swollen and inflamed blood vessels in the pancreas. What’s more, alcoholism often leads to a much weakened immune system, putting alcoholics at increased risk of contracting such illnesses as pneumonia and even tuberculosis. Consumption of large quantities of alcohol over a period of time has also been connected to increased incidence of cancer, particularly in the mouth, throat, esophagus, breasts, and liver.

There are a number of treatment options for individuals suffering from alcoholism and the many physical effects that alcohol consumption can cause. Like most other addictions, it’s often recommended that alcoholics enter an inpatient treatment program at a residential facility after completing a medically supervised alcohol detox program. Inpatient programs allow individuals to receive round-the-clock care and supervision, which tends to be why inpatient programs have been implicated in higher rates of success and sustained sobriety after treatment. On the other hand, there are a number of outpatient programs that may be preferable to those individuals looking to incorporate their recovery in an existing scheduling and around their responsibilities or obligations; in fact, there are intensive outpatient programs offered at a number of facilities that seek to offer addicts and alcoholics the intensity of an inpatient program with the flexibility of an outpatient program. There are also a number of replacement therapies available for those in recovery, which are characterized by their replacement of addicts’ drugs of choice with safer, regulated medications that keep withdrawal symptoms at bay.

man passed out from alcohol

New SAMHSA Guidelines for Alcoholism Treatment

Earlier this year in April 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—in partnership with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)—released new, updated guidance regarding the use of medications to treat alcohol use disorder. A panel of experts in alcoholism research, clinical care, medical education, and clinical policy convened in order to review evidence concerning the efficacy of certain medications used for the treatment of alcohol dependency and alcoholism. According to literature, the organizations are operating under the pretense that between 10 and 20 percent of patients currently seen in hospital and primary care settings meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependency; however, only 1.4 million of the 18 million individuals in need of treatment for alcoholism are receiving treatment of any sort, which includes support groups.

The panel identified four medications approved for use in the treatment of alcohol dependence by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—disulfiram, oral naltrexone, extended-release injectable naltrexone, and acamprosate—that are, despite evidence of efficacy, underused in the treatment of alcohol use disorder and/or in the prevention of alcohol relapse. Despite the promise that these medications have shown in studies on alcoholism, most patients are not offered medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism. According to the guidelines, a patient who is suffering from alcoholism should have their individual needs considered in order to determine whether medication-assisted alcoholism treatment is a viable or preferable option; if medication-assisted treatment is chosen as the preferred treatment option, the patient should be screened for risky alcohol consumption behavior, a treatment plan should be developed for him or her in which the appropriate medication is selected, co-occurring or comorbid conditions should be addressed and treated, and the patient’s progress should be monitored over time. Especially with the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the use of medications to assist patients in their recovery from alcoholism has much potential and will likely see an expansion in viability and utility.

Are You or Someone You Love Struggling?

If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction, call Recovery Hub today at 888-220-4352. Our recovery specialists have helped countless addicts navigate their recovery to achieve sobriety, health, and fulfillment in life once again. Let us help you find the right rehabilitation program for you, too.

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