Alcoholism Overview: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Mike Olmos by Mike Olmos | Licensed since 2010
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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According to a report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 15 million adults in America show symptoms of alcohol use disorder and approximately 88,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes. Perhaps the easiest way to define alcoholism (also called alcohol use disorder), according to the Mayo Clinic, is a pattern of unhealthy drinking that may include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Being unable to control the amount of alcohol you drink; unsuccessful attempts to cut down on your drinking.
  • Feeling a strong physical craving to drink, even suffering symptoms of withdrawal (sweating, nausea, tremors) between periods of drinking
  • Binge drinking (five or more drinks in two hours for men, four or more drinks in the same period for females)
  • Continuing to drink even when alcohol is causing problems at home or work
  • Consuming alcohol in unsafe situations, such as when driving or swimming

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that an alcoholic, or person with alcohol addiction, develops tolerance over time, requiring more drinks to feel alcohol’s physical effects.

No one knows for sure what causes alcoholism, although the NIH cites research from 2012 suggesting there is a genetic factor that makes some people more likely to develop the disease than others. However, lifestyle choices and environmental factors may also play a significant role in determining whether you will develop alcohol addiction.

What are the health risks associated with alcoholism?

In addition to the short-term risks of alcohol poisoning or injury and death from driving while intoxicated, alcoholism has potentially life-threatening complications over the long term. According to the NIH, an alcoholic has a higher risk of developing health disorders including any of these (and possibly others):

  • High blood pressure, stroke, and heart arrhythmias
  • Alcoholichepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver

What are some alcohol addiction treatment options?

The NIH suggests that your first step if you suspect you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol abuse is to visit the doctor for screening tests to determine the extent of the problem. From there, your doctor may recommend alcoholism treatment options such as:

  • Alcohol abuse counselingin both group and individual settings
  • Behavioral therapy in both group and individual settings
  • Prescription drug therapy to reduce withdrawal symptoms, manage alcohol cravings during recovery, and maintain abstinence
  • Inpatient treatment in a hospital or residential recovery facility
  • Intensive outpatient alcohol addiction treatment
  • Participation in a mutual support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or other program

Does Medicare cover treatment for alcoholism?

Under Medicare Part B (medical insurance), you may be entitled to alcohol abuse screening once per year if your health-care provider accepts Medicare assignment. If your doctor determines you may be abusing alcohol, you might be eligible for up to four face-to-face alcohol abuse counseling sessions per year at no cost to you. Part B may also cover costs associated with individual and group psychotherapy sessions and other alcohol abuse counseling sessions with a clinical social worker or other behavioral health provider.

In some cases, Part B may cover partial hospitalization in an intensive outpatient alcohol addiction treatment program. Part B may cover any medically necessary tests, outpatient procedures, and doctor visits required to treat medical conditions and diseases associated with alcohol abuse.

Part A, the hospital insurance portion, may cover certain costs associated with inpatient hospitalization for treatment of alcoholism and related disorders; lifetime maximum benefits may apply. If you develop a disease or medical condition as a result of alcoholism, and require inpatient treatment in the hospital, Part A may cover medically necessary expenses. Of course, you may be required to pay copayments, coinsurance, and/or deductibles when you use your Part A and Part B benefits.

If you have a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, your plan may cover some medications associated with your treatment. Consult you plan formulary, or list of approved medications and benefits, to see if your prescription drug is covered. Plans may change their formularies at any time, but will notify you when necessary.

If you have questions about Medicare coverage for alcohol addiction treatment, I’m happy to help you. You can get information via email or schedule a phone call by clicking the appropriate link below. To view a list of plans in your area, click the “Compare Plan” button on this page.

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