The Treatments and Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Part 1 of a 2-part Q&A Series with Dr. Joel Holiner
What does it mean to be addicted to alcohol? With so many people impacted by alcoholism, whether it is themselves or someone they love, it is important to know the facts about this illness. Alcohol addictive potential varies by person, for example. If you or someone you love is motivated to stop drinking, read on.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Dr. Joel Holiner,one of the top psychiatrists in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Dr. Holiner founded The Holiner Psychiatric Group located in Dallas, Texas and is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology with additional board certification in addiction psychiatry. Here, he outlines the basics of alcoholism treatment. We invite your questions about treating alcoholism at the end.
Q: Is alcoholism a disease?
A: Alcoholism is a lifelong disease. It is a chronic, often disabling disease that actually attacks the brain and leads to shrinkage of brain cells mainly in the cortex of the brain’s frontal lobes and the cerebellum. All of the brain’s neurotransmitters are thought to be affected by alcoholism. There is strong, clear evidence that there is a genetic component to alcoholism, reinforcing the belief that alcoholism is a disease and not a “moral failure.”
Q: How do you begin to treat alcoholism?
A: Alcoholism is often treated by medical detoxification from alcohol with Librium, Ativan or other similar medications. This detoxification may need to be provided in a hospital or residential treatment setting.
Q: How long does it take to detox?
A: The actual detoxification procedure typically requires four or five days. In addition to the Librium or Ativan, treatment includes intramuscular and oral vitamin therapy, physical examination, monitoring of vital signs, laboratory evaluation, and dietary support.
Q: What medications are used to treat alcoholism?
A: Medications used to treat alcoholism include not only the specific detox medications, but ongoing vitamin supplementation, nutritional support and medication specifically used to help with decreased cravings. Campral is often given to help diminish alcohol withdrawal symptoms. ReVia is given to decrease cravings and the pleasurable effects of alcohol if taken with the ReVia. Antabuse is sometimes prescribed to provide a very toxic and unpleasurable reaction if mixed with alcohol.
There is a long-acting form of ReVia known as Vivitrol, which is given intramuscularly on a monthly basis. Vivitrol has been particularly helpful in many patients in maintaining alcohol abstinence. The treatment of alcoholism also includes 12-step programming, residential treatment programs, intensive outpatient programming, outpatient psychotherapy, ongoing medication management, and treatment of any other psychiatric and medical conditions.
Q: Can alcoholism cause seizures?
A: Abrupt withdrawal of alcohol in an alcoholic patient can indeed lead to alcohol withdrawal seizures. These seizures can be dangerous and even life threatening. It is often medically necessary to detoxify an alcoholic patient slowly. It is important to slowly withdraw an alcoholic patient from alcohol either by using decreased amounts of alcohol or medication such as Librium and Ativan in a step-down fashion.
- anemia and vitamin deficiencies
- brain damage
- heart failure
- increased blood pressure
- kidney failure
- liver failure
- nerve problems
Q: Can alcoholism cause hair loss?
A: I do not know of any specific studies on alcoholism causing hair loss with alcohol being a specific factor. But alcoholics often have very poor diets, anemia from liver dysfunction, and vitamin deficiencies that can likely contribute to hair loss.
Q:What other kinds of health problems or complications can you expect if you are an alcoholic?
A: Alcoholism leads to a myriad of emotional and physical health problems. The following complications are regularly seen in alcoholics:
I have had many alcoholic patients who underwent liver and kidney transplants because of the deterioration of organs from the chronic toxic effects of alcohol use. Delirium tremens is a serious withdrawal phenomenon of alcoholism that leads to death in 10 percent of patients experiencing these symptoms of difficulty sustaining attention, confusion, disorientation, hypertension, and rapid heart rate.
Treatments for alcoholism questions
The good news is that alcoholism can be treated. If you or someone you love is affected by alcoholism, get informed. Please ask us your questions about alcoholism treatment and stay tuned for part two of the Alcoholism Q&A Series with Dr. Joel Holiner.