The Different Challenges of Quitting Alcohol Versus Drugs

Breaking any addiction is challenging, but the initiative needed for alcoholism can be different than the skills needed for drug addiction. Finding the techniques that work on an individual level mean the difference between white-knuckling it on a dark road versus feeling peace about the situation.

Unique Struggles With Alcoholism

The Different Challenges of Quitting Alcohol Versus Drugs

Alcohol is more common and more accepted than other drugs, bringing unique challenges for people maintaining sobriety

For anyone 21 and older, alcohol is legal and easily available. Combine the commonality of alcohol with its widespread association with social occasions, and the substance is tricky to avoid. A person with an addiction to an illicit drug like cocaine or heroin has a more difficult time finding the drug. It’s not common to have it offered at the office Christmas party or be passed around at a dinner with family. The availability of alcohol is one reason it is the most common addictive substance, with one in every 12 adults suffering from alcohol abuse or dependence and millions more participating in risky binge drinking patterns that could lead to abuse in the future.[1]

Treatment for alcoholism also may require more levels of care, depending on an individual’s needs. A person must learn to handle frequent temptations to use. Alcohol is so ubiquitous even strangers may urge someone to drink on occasion. Since alcoholism is common and often passes down from generation to generation, family counseling may be needed to address childhood traumas or other emotional needs brought on by dysfunctional relationships and addiction.

Fortunately, alcoholism may be treated with several evidence-based treatments. Well-researched behavioral treatments along with medications are available. There are currently three drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration including the following. They are all non-addictive and may be used along with other medications:

  • Naltrexone – Helps people reduce heavy drinking
  • Acamprosate – Makes it easier to maintain abstinence
  • Disulfiram – Prevents the body from metabolizing alcohol leading to unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and flushing of the skin

Other drugs also show promise for managing disease symptoms and more drugs are in development. For example, certain epilepsy drugs are especially promising for people who have a certain genetic makeup and are more prone to alcoholism.[2]

Therapies Tied to Certain Substances

Currently, medications are only available to treat addictions to alcohol, tobacco and opioids. Medications are being developed for addictions to stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine) and cannabis (marijuana). Still many people with addictions are polydrug users and abuse more than one substance. For people in this category, behavioral strategies are the most important form of treatment. Evidence-based therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), multidimensional family therapy and motivational enhancements offer good outcomes. CBT, for example, teaches a person to identify thoughts that lead to destructive thinking patterns and offers strategies that help a person manage stress and work through temptations to use.[3]

Denial Is Easier With Alcohol

While the stigma and shame associated with drug abuse is unhealthy and unnecessary, it can be worse for drug use than alcohol use. Society’s acceptance of alcohol makes it harder for many people to see a problem with their drinking patterns, and excessive and binge drinking are difficult for some people to identify. Binge drinking is commonly defined as five or more drinks consumed on a single occasion, and excessive drinking is 15 or more drinks in a week for men and 8 or more drinks in a week for women.[4]

Familiarity with drinking also makes it less likely people will seek treatment. The majority of people with an alcohol use disorder aren’t getting any treatment, and only 10 percent of people in treatment are using medication along with behavioral therapies.[5] Fortunately, many people with problem drinking patterns and alcoholism successfully learn to manage symptoms with treatment. Being prepared for the challenges associated with alcohol abuse gives a person another important tool to handle the disease.

Need Help Finding Addiction Treatment?

A well-organized and thoughtfully designed addiction treatment program provides needed support for a person struggling with alcoholism. Addiction treatment programs that incorporate structure into all aspects of care—from day-to-day living to counseling groups—better meet the psychological and physical needs of a person in treatment.

If you or a loved one is looking for addiction treatment services, please call our toll-free helpline. Our admissions coordinators help individuals find tailored treatment options with emotional and physical support. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Do not hesitate to reach out for more information. Call us today.


[1] National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Facts About Alcohol. Retrieved Dec. 27, 2015 from

[2] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. Retrieved Dec. 27, 2015 from

[3] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009). DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Alcohol and Public Health. Retrieved Dec. 27, 2015 from

[5] Reinberg, Steven. (2014). Several Meds Can Help People Quit Drinking: Study. HealthDay. Retrieved Dec. 27, 2015 from