Medications can be useful for treating alcohol dependence in the long term. They can help decrease the strong desire to drink, which makes it easier to stay away from alcohol if that’s your goal.
There are 2 medications that are called “first-line” treatments for alcohol addiction. They are naltrexone and acamprosate. “First-line” medications are seen as the most dependable choices for treating alcohol addiction. This means that scientists have done research and found that these medications work well for a lot of people.
I didn’t know there were any other options until I went to an addictions treatment centre where I was referred to a psychiatrist who prescribed me naltrexone.
There are 2 medications known as “second-line” treatments for alcohol addiction. They are gabapentin and topiramate. These medications have less research supporting how well they work and are usually tried when the “first-line” medications have not worked.
Gabapentin can help, but it doesn’t put alcoholism into remission. I didn’t take it as prescribed and quickly became dependent on it. You have to take care of your mental health too.
I needed to try a number of medications before finding a combination that worked best.
Counselling can take place in person or online. If you live in an area without many options for in-person counselling or you have reduced mobility, online counselling might be a good option for you. Nowadays you can access counselling over the phone, by text or through video conferencing, so your location doesn’t have to stop you from getting the help you want.
Most people who go to counselling pay for it themselves, or they have health benefits through their employer that help cover the cost. Some counsellors offer sliding-scale fees based on how much you can afford to pay, and student counsellors often offer low-cost counselling.
There are also some short-term free and low-cost substance use counselling services that are publicly funded in different provinces and territories—they usually require a referral from a health care provider and are typically only offered in cities.
There are different types of counselling that can help with alcohol use disorder: one-on-one counselling, couples counselling, family counselling, or in a group with other people. It’s important to find the right type of counselling that suits your needs and goals. Combining counselling with medication treatment can be more effective, so it’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider about your options.
To get an idea of the Canada-wide and region-specific health and support services you might be able to access to help with your alcohol use, check out this Government of Canada website.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of counselling that’s often used for mental health and substance use problems, including alcohol use. It can be helpful if you want to change your drinking habits and develop healthier thoughts and behaviours. A lot of counsellors and therapists are trained in CBT, and it’s offered in both individual and group settings.
If you’re struggling with alcohol use, family-based therapy is a type of counselling that can be very effective. It looks at what could have caused your problems with alcohol and includes family and sometimes friends in the treatment.
This therapy can be helpful if you have supportive family or friends who are willing to join. It’s all about building healthier relationships that will help you feel better and support your overall well-being.
A common type of family-based therapy is behavioural couples therapy, where you and your significant other go to therapy together. It usually lasts for 12 to 20 sessions and involves a daily “recovery contract” to encourage you to stay away from alcohol, be more positive in your relationships and improve your communication skills.
Mindfulness-based programs are about becoming more aware of yourself and not being too hard on yourself. They help you learn skills to deal with tough times and emotions, and to not judge yourself in a bad way. These programs can be useful if you want to change your thoughts and how you think about yourself.
One of the most important things is honesty. I wouldn’t tell them how much I was really struggling, but once I got honest, there was hope.
Community programs are resources in your area that can help with alcohol problems. These programs can include peer support groups, inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, supportive recovery housing, and other organizations that offer help and guidance with challenges related to alcohol and promote long-term well-being.
For more information about AA and SMART Recovery, click here.
I have found a close group of recovery friends that I am now free to share my experience, strength, hope and struggles with any time I need to. The trust that I would not allow into my life and relationships has returned. I am now proud to be a person in recovery and fully transparent and open about my past and emerging recovery story. It is so much easier and free to be authentic, I am who I am, I have a past and it’s all OK.
Intensive outpatient treatment programs
Intensive outpatient programs are treatment programs where you spend several hours each day in structured activities. These programs usually offer different types of therapy, connect you with supportive people, teach life skills and job training, and include group meetings with others who understand what you’re going through. They also involve fun activities and focus on teaching you ways to cope with challenges and prevent going back to old habits.
Inpatient treatment programs
If you and your doctor feel that outpatient treatment isn’t enough for you, your doctor might recommend a program where you can stay overnight. This is called an “inpatient program”. These programs are more common in big cities and urban areas. They provide a safe place for people with alcohol and substance use problems, offering around-the-clock support, counselling, help with life skills, and advice on nutrition.
People in inpatient programs usually stay for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to get the intensive treatment they need. Not all of these treatment programs follow the standards set out by the health authority or provincial/territorial regulations for live-in health care facilities. It’s important to do your research to find a facility that fits your needs and provides the quality of care that you’re looking for.
Supportive recovery housing
You might also consider looking for supportive recovery housing, which is a place where people with various addictions live together in a community. In these homes, the focus is on regaining a healthy and structured lifestyle. They provide a daily schedule, meals and support to help you on your recovery journey. These programs offer different activities like counselling, yoga and support from others who understand your experiences. They also help you learn important life skills to prepare you for independent living.
To live in supportive recovery housing, you usually need to be sober before you can move in and continue to stay sober while you’re there. Most people stay for around 1 to 3 months. Not all recovery services follow the standards set out by the health authority or provincial/territorial regulations for live-in health care facilities. It’s important to do your research to find a facility that fits your needs and provides the quality of care that you’re looking for.
Peer support groups
Peer support groups are places where people with similar experiences come together to offer each other emotional and practical support. When it comes to alcohol use, a peer supporter is someone who has gone through their own journey with alcohol and is trained to help others on their journeys. These groups can be found in many cities and are usually free and open to new members. Examples of common peer support groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery and LifeRing.
With every effort on the path to sobriety, there was something each experience gave me as an added tool towards getting sober. And getting sober was never the end goal. Getting back to the world of living was.