Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment in Women

Treatment plans for alcohol use disorder

There are several evidence-based treatments available for AUD. Your health care team works together with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your condition and needs. Personalized plans are important because one treatment approach may work for some people with AUD, but not for others.

“Women often cite lack of child care or financial resources as barriers and obstacles to their getting treatment,” Dr. Greenfield notes. “Family members, such as children and other loved ones, also can be powerful motivators for seeking treatment and getting well.”

AUD treatment plans may include one or more of these approaches in outpatient and/or inpatient settings:

  • Medications
  • Behavioral treatments (also called alcohol counseling or talk therapy) including group therapies, such as gender-responsive therapies or family group therapy
  • Mutual-support groups

People in treatment for AUD can experience setbacks to their recovery. Seeking professional help earlier can prevent return to drinking and facilitate longer-term recovery.

Medication treatment for alcohol use disorder

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medications to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. These medications may be used alone or combined with behavior treatments including group therapies and mutual-support groups.

Some people with AUD who decide to stop drinking require medications to help manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms safely. In some instances, alcohol withdrawal can be a life-threatening process if not appropriately treated and managed. This can happen when someone who has been drinking heavily for a prolonged period of time suddenly stops drinking.

Behavioral treatments: Individual and group therapies

Licensed therapists offer these treatments to help people change their drinking behavior. Behavioral treatments may include:

  • Brief interventions and reinforcement approaches
  • Group therapies including gender-responsive treatments or family group therapy
  • Treatments that build motivation and teach skills for coping and preventing relapse
  • Mindfulness-based therapies

“For many women, gender-responsive therapies will be helpful and effective,” says Dr. Greenfield. “At McLean and Mass General Brigham, with the support of funding through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, we have developed a gender-responsive group therapy for women with alcohol use and other substance use disorders called the Women’s Recovery Group or the WRG. This women’s recovery group is based on research that shows that it’s an effective approach for treating women with alcohol use and other substance problems.”

Gender-responsive group therapies for women use content focused on women’s unique experiences and needs. Group members may have a variety of substance use challenges, co-occurring mental health conditions, or be in different stages of life.

Family group therapy is another treatment option that may involve spouses, partners, caregivers, children, siblings, and even friends. These types of programs can help improve relationships and provide additional support for the person in treatment or recovery.

Mutual-support groups

In mutual-support group meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), participants provide peer support for stopping or reducing drinking. Group meetings are available in most communities, at no cost. They may meet up in person at convenient locations or virtually. Support from others with similar experiences can be especially helpful to people at risk for relapse to drinking.

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