Like many chronic diseases, alcoholism cannot be cured; however, effective treatment is available to help alcoholics remain sober. Treatment usually consists primarily of group therapy, one or more types of counseling, and alcohol education. Participants must acknowledge that they have a drinking problem and have a strong desire to stop drinking. Once the decision has been made, they may check into a treatment center for a brief period of time to rehabilitate as they stop drinking. The treatment center (and/or doctor) counsels patients, gives them support, and helps them get through their initial symptoms and safely withdraw from the alcohol. In some cases, short-term medications such as benzodiazepines (Valium or similar drugs) are used to help alleviate some of the symptoms of alcohol dependence.
There are three oral medications that have been FDA-approved to help people remain sober: disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate. They are prescribed for those who have indicated their intention to abstain from alcohol but require some reinforcement. Disulfiram causes unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and flushing with any amount of drinking. Naltrexone blocks the "high" feeling a person may get from drinking but can cause severe withdrawal symptoms in people who are also dependent on opiates. Acamprosate helps reduce the craving for alcohol. An injectable, long-acting form of naltrexone is also available. All of these medications are meant to be used in combination with counseling.
Just as there is no one test for screening or diagnosing alcoholism, there is not one single therapy or medication that definitively treats alcoholism in all those affected. Like many chronic diseases, alcohol dependence is not an easy condition to resolve, and many people will relapse into drinking several times before gaining lasting sobriety. Some of the damage done to the liver and to other organs while drinking may resolve, while some may be permanent. Patients and their doctors will need to work together over the years to maintain sobriety and to address any complications that arise from alcohol damage.