Is There a Cure for Alcoholism?

Last Updated: September 22, 2023

While alcoholism doesn’t have a cure, there are treatment options available that can help people begin their recovery journey.

Technically, there is no cure for alcoholism. The good news is, however, that with treatment, someone with alcoholism can gain control over their alcohol use and achieve lasting sobriety.

Is There a Cure for Alcoholism?

Most medical professionals consider alcoholism to be a lifelong condition. This does not mean, however, that they believe someone with alcoholism is destined to always use alcohol. Alcoholism can be overcome, and it is possible to give up alcohol and stay sober for the rest of your life. They believe that recovery is a lifelong journey but that it can get easier and easier the further out you get from using alcohol.

Some healthcare professionals believe that someone with alcoholism can be cured; they ultimately believe someone with alcoholism who has been free from it for several years should not be considered in recovery. Because alcoholism is related to behaviors and brain functions that can’t be easily tested, there is some controversy. Most professionals, however, do hold alcoholism to be a lifelong condition.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Whether alcohol addiction can be cured or not, it can certainly be treated. It is important to understand that, like any other condition, getting the right treatment is key to succeeding. Professional detox and rehab programs are designed to help those with alcohol addiction get effective treatment that helps them achieve and maintain sobriety.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

The medical term for alcoholism is alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD can only be diagnosed by a licensed physician; however, there are several signs and symptoms that can indicate whether someone has AUD. Some of these may be specific to alcohol use, while others are more generally connected with addiction. Signs of AUD can include:

  • Struggling to stop using alcohol
  • Having legal or financial problems relating to alcohol use
  • Continuing to use alcohol even though it is causing problems
  • Having withdrawal symptoms after stopping alcohol 
  • Drinking enough alcohol to cause alcohol poisoning
  • Having memory blanks after drinking
  • Developing health problems relating to frequent alcohol use
  • Decreased performance in school or at work
  • Relationship problems due to your alcohol use
  • Being deceptive or secretive about your drinking habits

The main indicator that someone has AUD is that they often find it difficult to stop drinking or are drinking even though it is having some type of negative effect on their life.

Causes of Alcoholism

AUD is caused by changes in the brain. When you use alcohol, it releases chemicals that trigger the pleasure center in your brain in an artificially extreme way. This causes your brain to seek out alcohol again in the future due to the rewarding feeling it creates. Using alcohol again heightens the desire to use it again even more, leading to a positive feedback loop that makes alcohol use more and more irresistible.

While consistent, frequent alcohol use is the biggest risk factor for alcoholism, other risk factors can make it more likely to occur. These can include: 

  • Genetics
  • Environmental influences
  • Social triggers
  • Cultural practices
  • Sensitivity to the effects of alcohol

Ultimately, anyone who drinks alcohol is at some degree of risk for developing alcoholism.

Diagnosis and Testing for Alcoholism

AUD is only diagnosed one way. The American Psychiatric Association has a diagnostic reference that is updated periodically, with the current edition called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition, or the DSM-V. The DSM-V outlines the criteria that must be met for someone to be diagnosed with AUD. There are no other tests or ways of diagnosing AUD.

The DSM-V provides 11 different criteria, with AUD being diagnosed if a doctor believes you meet at least two of them. The more criteria that are met, the more severe AUD is considered to be.

The 11 criteria ask the person being tested, “In the past year have you ever:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

It is important to note that, while someone might get a feel for if they have AUD or not from these diagnostic criteria, this testing must be administered by a doctor familiar with using the tool to be considered valid.

Types of Alcohol Addiction Treatment

There are several different types of alcohol addiction treatments, with the ideal treatment options varying based on the individual and their circumstances. Treatment often starts with an initial detox, where someone stops using alcohol and gets through the withdrawal symptoms. Rehab then follows, helping them develop strategies to maintain long-term sobriety.

Detoxification Process

Detox is the first and most dangerous step in alcohol addiction treatment. During this step, the person being treated stops using alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms will typically occur, lasting for about a week to a week and a half. These symptoms are very uncomfortable and potentially deadly. In a medical detox, healthcare professionals will provide medications to help keep the person comfortable and will treat any potentially dangerous symptoms as soon as they develop.

Outpatient Rehab Programs

After detox has helped someone get off alcohol, rehab is typically necessary for staying off alcohol. Rehab teaches strategies for avoiding relapse and helps people identify the behaviors or thought processes that make them want to use alcohol in the first place. Rehab helps people overcome cravings and learn how to cope without using alcohol as they normally would. Outpatient rehab involves attending counseling and group therapy while still otherwise maintaining a normal daily schedule.

Inpatient Rehab Programs

Those who want a more intensive rehab or are at a higher risk should consider inpatient rehab programs. These programs involve checking into a rehab facility for several weeks or even a few months. This allows them the opportunity to focus more intensely on overcoming their alcoholism without distractions. Inpatient rehabs offer a constantly supportive environment and give people their best chance possible to maintain long-term sobriety.

Preventing Relapse After Treatment

Someone who has been through detox and a high-quality rehab program will still be at risk for relapse. Following up rehab with additional aftercare interventions can help someone better avoid the dangers of relapse and maintain their newfound sobriety.

Importance of Aftercare Programs and Support

Getting off of alcohol is difficult, but the entire detox and rehab process is relatively short. Ongoing recovery, however, lasts the rest of someone’s life. Maintaining sobriety over the long term can be easier if the right support groups and resources are in place.

Aftercare programs and support systems help provide the ongoing resources you need to stay on track with your recovery. They also provide you with the opportunity to give back to others who are where you have been, creating mutually beneficial support that promotes and encourages recovery.

The Role of AA and NA in Recovery

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a support group designed to help those recovering from alcoholism. This resource can be helpful as an aftercare resource, helping people recovering from alcoholism to maintain sobriety. The sense of community and shared purpose can be encouraging and support you in your recovery. Some people recovering from alcoholism may attend a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) instead of an AA due to convenience, as both programs follow very similar principles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is alcoholism considered a disease?

Alcoholism is considered a disease. This is because it actually has a physical impact on the body, leading to changes in how the brain is structured and how it functions. While it may not be as visible as many other diseases, it is still considered to be a disease by the medical community.

Are there any support groups or resources available for individuals struggling with alcoholism?

There are several good resources and support groups for people struggling with alcoholism. Most of these groups are designed to support people after the initial steps of recovery, not to replace professional recovery. Professional treatment at a reputable addiction treatment facility should be your first step in recovery. Someone wanting to be part of a support group or to obtain additional resources should consult with their doctor to find the resources best suited for their particular situation.

Can a person fully recover from alcoholism and lead a sober life?

While some medical professionals will say that alcoholism can never be “cured,” everyone in the medical profession agrees that it is possible to fully overcome alcoholism and lead a sober life without relapse. Achieving and maintaining sobriety may be difficult; however, it is certainly possible and well worth the effort.


MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed June 27, 2023.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2023. Accessed June 27, 2023.

Dugdale, David C. “Alcohol withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, January 17, 2021. Accessed June 27, 2023.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” April 2021. Accessed June 27, 2023.

Witkiewitz, K.; Litten,  R. Z.; & Leggio,  L. “Advances in the science and treatment of alcohol use disorder.” Science Advances, September 25, 2019. Accessed June 27, 2023.

Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.