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Treatment of alcohol dependence 

Treatment of alcohol dependence
Chapter:
Treatment of alcohol dependence
Author(s):

Jonathan Chick

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199696758.003.0059
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date: 19 October 2019

Some people repeatedly put themselves or others at risk by drinking. One view is that such people could drink sensibly if they were more considerate and used more will power. Another increasingly accepted view is that many such individuals are in a state, existing in degrees of severity, in which the freedom to decide whether to change their drinking, and to adhere to that decision, is reduced compared with other drinkers. This state partly depends on perceived pay-offs for changing, and on acquired dispositions, which are less accessible to conscious control. Such persons become aware of a wish, or urge, to drink, which overcomes rational thought. They may then make up an explanation, for example, ‘No wonder I feel like a drink, I've had a hard day’. Such individuals benefit from help to unlearn those patterns, and to learn different approaches to problems. Discussion, care, and encouragement from others can bolster their will to do so. Assistance to set-up controls within or from outside themselves may help. Some people can do this without external help, and others with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) alone. This approach argues that dependence on alcohol should be managed like other relapsing disorders, such as diabetes and asthma, by using long-term monitoring coupled with intermittent or continuous treatment. Research into alcoholism spanning 50 years has shown that the attitudes of the agency and the therapist influence patients’ outcome, as they may do for many illnesses. The therapeutic alliance is a strong predictor of outcome in the treatment of alcohol dependence. However, agencies must also be prepared to set limits on drunken behaviour at the clinic and telephone calls when intoxicated. And for patients who repeatedly relapse, resumption of treatment should sometimes be made conditional on complying with a new treatment plan, such as supervision of medication. Showing respect, enhancing dignity, conveying accurate empathy, adopting objective and not moral criteria, involving the family, and reducing hurdles to seeking help have been shown to improve compliance, and often outcome, for alcohol dependence.

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