Without treatment, alcohol abuse can develop into alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence is often progressive and fatal. This means that without treatment it continues to get worse and can lead to death. Death can occur through overdose or by health problems, accidents, or suicide caused by excessive drinking.
Many people who are not dependent on alcohol can recover from an alcohol problem on their own or with the help of a support group. But some people do need the assistance of a treatment program.
People who are dependent on alcohol almost always need help to recover – both professional help and extensive support from family and friends. Since there is no cure for alcohol dependence, recovery means withdrawing from alcohol and managing the disease on a long-term basis. For most alcoholics this involves complete abstinence from alcohol. If the person stops drinking, alcohol-induced health problems can often be brought under control or prevented.
Recovering from alcohol dependence can be a long process and often requires several rounds of treatment. Relapse occurs in about 50 percent of cases within the first year of treatment. However, relapses are usually temporary setbacks in the recovery process, just like flare-ups of other chronic diseases. They are not a failure of the person or treatment. What is important is that the person learns from the experience, tries again to stop drinking, and gets additional support to keep from drinking.
Do not be afraid to ask for help for an alcohol problem. Remember that an alcohol problem is not a personal or moral weakness. It is an illness that deserves treatment like any other medical condition. The earlier you get help, the better your chance of avoiding or reducing the harmful problems that can be caused by misuse of alcohol. You will also have a better chance of successful recovery.
If you think you have an alcohol problem, talk with your health care provider or a mental health or substance abuse professional, or call any of the organizations listed in the section "Additional Sources of Information."