Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

Ann: In the beginning, I drank no more than the people around me, other college freshmen, but one realization was almost immediately clear, it was more important to me Narrator: Ann, who is 63, fought a 15-year battle with alcohol that began in college

It had a devastating effect on her life Ann: At the end of 15 years, I was drinking a liter of vodka a day and by then had lost my first marriage, multiple jobs, the support of my family, and was about to lose the home where I lived Narrator: When she realized she had a problem, she tried to get help but frequently faltered Ann: I managed to stay sober for a year, and then almost inevitably drank again And then another year and almost inevitably drank again

Narrator: Dr Mark Willenbring, an addiction psychiatrist, says that people with alcohol addiction often try to quit many times before they are successful Dr Willenbring: For people with the more severe form of alcohol dependence, where they really do have life disruption, where it's really taking over their lives, quitting is often a lengthy process And it involves stops and starts

Ann: For me it was a process, not an "aha" moment Narrator: Getting help for alcohol addiction is especially difficult if you don't think you have a problem When she was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 74, Ellen began drinking heavily, although she didn't realize it at first Ellen: I don't think I really was aware that alcohol was a problem, primarily because I was still functioning pretty well while consuming, as I say, about a liter a day Narrator: When she finally realized she had a problem, she enrolled in a rehab program, something many people seeking help for alcohol addiction turn to

Dr Willenbring: Rehab primarily consists of group counseling and referral to Alcoholics Anonymous And most rehab now is provided on an outpatient basis, so it consists of several meetings a week for perhaps 4 to 6 weeks and then often followed by a weekly group for 3 months Narrator: Although she found quitting a struggle, rehab worked for Ellen Ellen: I managed to stop by sheer grit, I think

I would go to my meetings and I would try to go to an AA meeting especially on the days I didn't have my Suburban Hospital addiction treatment outpatient program Narrator: Although rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous helped Ellen recover and work for many people, this is not the only approach to recovery Professional treatment is also available, and today that includes new medications and behavioral therapies Dr Willenbring: One of the most important things for people to understand, especially older adults and especially people who are still in the functional stage of alcohol dependence, is that there are new treatments available, primarily medications but also new behavioral treatments

The most common behavioral treatment that we know is effective is cognitive behavior therapy, which is essentially teaching you skills for dealing with craving, relapse, relapse prevention, interpersonal communication and so forth Narrator: Alcohol addiction is a chronic illness that can be difficult to overcome As with other chronic diseases, treatment needs to be ongoing Dr Willenbring: A scientifically-based treatment of addiction involves chronic care management, that is, you treat people as long as they need treatment

So we need to be thinking in terms of years to decades of treatment or management, like we do with asthma, with high blood pressure, with heart disease, with arthritis Narrator: And with appropriate treatment most people suffering from alcohol addiction eventually recover Ann: Oh, I've been in recovery for 30 years now Ellen: I'm committed now to sobriety after 11 months of not drinking Dr

Willenbring: Twenty years after the onset of alcohol dependence, fewer than 10 percent of people are still dependent So the good news is almost everybody eventually gets well Narrator: For more information on alcohol addiction and ways to address it, visit Rethinking Drinking, the website from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism You can also order the easy-to-read booklet Older Adults and Alcohol: You Can Get Help from the website of the National Institute on Aging or by calling 1-800-222-2225

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