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Alcoholism Treatment and Complications

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD August 20, 2019

Introduction

This Straight, No Chaser post addresses alcoholism treatment and complications.

liver-cirrhosis 

There are interesting commonalities of certain drugs like alcohol and cigarettes. One is users that really enjoy them are able to do so for a long time while being oblivious to the growing danger those activities pose. Another commonality is when things go wrong physiologically, they really go very wrong.

Possible Complications of Alcoholism

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse pose threats to many aspects of your health, including the following.

Symptoms in alcoholic liver disease copy

  • Birth defects (fetal alcohol syndrome)
  • Bleeding throughout your digestive tract, including the esophagus (up to and including rupture), gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) and ulcer disease.
  • Brain cell damage
  • Brain disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (includes dementia, mental status changes)
  • Cancer of the esophagus, liver, colon, and other areas
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle (period)
  • Delirium tremens (DT’s)
  • Dementia and memory loss
  • Depression and suicide

Liver-Damage

Additional complications

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Heart damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risks for behavioral disorders including depression and suicide
  • Increased risks for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Higher risks for trauma, including motor vehicle collisions, violence and head injuries with intracranial bleeding
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Insomnia
  • Liver disease, including alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and cancer
  • Nerve damage
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Alcoholism Treatment

alcoholism treatment
Medical goals and patient goals are often different. In general, they seem to depend on the extent of perceptible injury that has occurred at the time of the decision to quit drinking. Often, patients will want to reduce drinking instead of stopping completely. Furthermore, continued drinking in moderation is only as viable an option as the patient’s level of alcohol-related level of disease. The patient’s ability to stay limited in consumption and focused toward that goal is defining. Moderation is as moderation does, so to speak.

Ideally, abstinence (the complete stopping of alcohol intake) is the goal. It must be the goal when the presence of significant alcohol-related disease exists.

Alcoholism treatment requires multiple simultaneous approaches. These must include family and social networks.  It is often the family network that helps the alcoholic come to the understanding that alcohol intake has disrupted his or her ability to function normally. It is a most unfortunate occurrence when this has not occurred prior to the development of significant medical disease. Individuals with visible physical problems are more likely to take the steps necessary to successfully withdraw from alcohol use. However, this is often too late in the development of the disease.

Regarding the medical aspects of alcohol cessation, withdrawal is a very important consideration. Withdrawal is best done in a controlled manner. Components of effective withdrawal address the various medical and mental health considerations reviewed earlier and medical avoidance treatment.

Medical avoidance treatment

Another key aspect of alcoholism treatment is called medical avoidance treatment. It includes medicine that prevent relapse via various methods. Medications include the following:

  • Antabuse (generic name: disulfiram) is a well-known and commonly used medicine. It works by producing very unpleasant side effects with virtually any alcohol intake. These side effects occur anytime up to two weeks after taking the medicine.
  • Naltrexone (brand name: Vivitrol) is an injectable medicine that works to decrease alcohol cravings.
  • Acamprosate is a drug that has been shown to lower relapse rates in those dependent on alcohol.

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