Published: March 28, 2008

Take The First Step: Meetings may not be enough; seek medical advice

By MIchael Levy

Q: My husband has been drinking for many years and I finally convinced him to go to some Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. For the past couple of weeks, he has been going to some meetings, but he still has been continuing to drink and I am not sure what to suggest now. I would appreciate any advice or suggestions. Thank you.

A: First, I am glad to hear that your husband has been attending some AA meetings, which means that at least he acknowledges that his drinking is problematic. In terms of where to go from here, let me suggest the following:

While AA can be enormously helpful, some people, particularly when they first make the decision to address their drinking, need additional help and support. If your husband's drinking has been daily and quite heavy, it is possible that his body has gotten so used to alcohol that when he tries to stop drinking, he experiences a withdrawal syndrome that needs attention and treatment. Medicating feelings of withdrawal by continuing to drink may be a factor in why he is still drinking, as without alcohol, he can get quite ill and experience symptoms such as anxiety, sweats, and increased heart rate and pulse, to name just several. In fact, it can be very dangerous for some people to abruptly stop drinking as they can have a seizure..

Given this, I would suggest that he see a professional who knows about drinking problems and that person can help to determine the kind of care he needs. This could include first getting detoxified in an inpatient alcohol treatment program so that he can safely free his body from alcohol without experiencing a withdrawal syndrome. And if does not require inpatient care, in addition to AA, there are other professional options available. These could entail seeing a therapist to provide him additional support, or even attending something called an intensive outpatient treatment program or IOP. An IOP is a program that offers more structure and support than once per week therapy as people can go there five times per week, for either a full or half day. In the program, the person can learn much about alcohol problems and build a foundation for recovery. People can learn a lot about their own pattern of drinking and develop an individualized relapse prevention plan.

So there are many other treatment options in addition to AA. The first step would be for him to see a trained professional to decide what would be the most appropriate kind of care for him. You can speak with your health insurance company for an appropriate referral, or a great resource in Massachusetts is the alcohol and drug abuse hot line number, which is 800-327-5050. The people there who answer calls know many resources in our state and they can steer you in the right direction. If I can be of further help, please feel free to contact me.

Send questions about addictions or related problems to: Take The First Step, c/o The Eagle-Tribune, 100 Turnpike St., North Andover, MA 01845; or send an e-mail to Questions will be answered in confidence by a clinical team led by Dr. Michael Levy, director of clinical treatment services at CAB Health & Recovery Services in Peabody and author of "Take Control of Your Drinking ... and You May Not Need to Quit."

The Eagle Tribune, North Andover MA

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