The Different Challenges of Quitting Alcohol Versus Drugs

Posted in Drugs and Alcohol

We often hear the words ‘drugs and alcohol’ grouped into sentences and recovery program advertisements as if they are nearly the same things. True, they go hand in hand, and there is no doubt that those who are affected with an addiction to the one are more at risk to fall victim to another. Some would even define alcohol as a drug itself and make no clear distinction between the two. An array of substances both legal and illegal, fall into the category of drugs so it is hard to keep track sometimes. Regardless of how you define substances, according to research, nearly 9 percent of the United States population is estimated to need treatment for an alcohol or drug problem and has not received it.1 Clearly many individuals need help to overcome both alcohol and drug abuse, and each recovery process presents its own challenges and complications.

Similar Principles of Effective Treatment

The Different Challenges of Quitting Alcohol Versus Drugs

Drug and alcohol addictions carry different chemical and social complications but follow the same principles of treatment

Every drug must be treated differently, as each includes a unique set of withdrawal symptoms, addictive characteristics, and so forth. Alcohol is the same in that it must be treated differently from any other drug. However, addiction to either substance is treatable. Both require an adequate amount of time for treatment. Alcohol and drug counseling are both necessary for addiction recovery from their respective substances. Both can require medications as part of an effective treatment program. Assessment and evaluation of such a treatment plan ought to be performed regularly regardless of whether drugs or alcohol has been abused. Both drug and alcohol addiction are frequently accompanied by mental disorders such as severe anxiety or depression, and in either case, these will need to be simultaneously addressed. Addicts, regardless of substance used, may need to overcome a record and lifestyle of criminal activity, although the consequences will vary. 2

What Differentiates the Dangers of Alcohol and Drugs?

Alcohol and drug abuse are both dangerous and potentially deadly. Some would argue that one drug is more ‘innocent’ than another. One study compared the destructive effects of alcohol and a long list of drug substances that are commonly abused, such as cocaine and heroin. Comparing the averages of sixteen harmful social, community, family and economic issues of abuse, alcohol ranked as the most destructive drug on a society and the fourth most dangerous substance to an individual. We recognize readily that alcohol is linked commonly to traffic accidents, foolish behavior and domestic violence, and research points out that it is tied directly to more than 60 diseases. The CDC reports fewer deaths from alcohol than drugs, however, with alcohol abuse reaping about 88,000 deaths annually.

Challenges of Alcohol Addiction Control

American Dietary Guidelines list one or two drinks for women and up to two drinks a day for men as moderate use of alcohol. This means that alcohol is widely socially acceptable. Although the US legal drinking age for alcoholic beverages is 21, many youths prematurely experiment with alcohol, sometimes even with their own parents’ supervision, assistance, and/or approval. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2014 reported that more than half of Americans ages 12 and up regularly consume alcohol. The report continues that roughly 1 in 10 of those users abuses alcohol chronically, and those numbers include 64% of the nation’s high school students.

Addiction to alcohol includes craving alcohol, continuing use despite obvious negative outcome, and withdrawal symptoms (including hangovers).3 Alcohol is unique in that many do not consider addiction when they offer drinks socially, and someone who has suffered from these addictive tendencies and recovered successfully may find it awkward to reject what is considered for others to be a moderate amount.

Treating Drug Abuse

Drugs do not typically present the challenge of being legally available to all, as medically prescribed drugs can be considered by the doctor and patient together in privacy and accepted or rejected, or rejected outright on the basis that they are illegal if they are offered in any other setting.

Prescription opioid drugs led to about 17,000 deaths in the United States in 2011. One special challenge about these drugs is that many who are addicted to them simply believe that they are following a prescription. However, if use becomes a craving and a user finds herself using more than prescribed, a problem has developed and will need to be medically evaluated and addressed.

Many who abuse alcohol get involved in criminal activity as a result of impaired judgment and functioning while under the influence. Those who become addicted to drugs often find themselves getting involved in criminal activity to sustain their drug use. Both may have certain legal repercussions that will have to be handled with the treatment program. Alcohol abuse recovery may carry a unique stigma from drug abuse, as many who abuse alcohol are thought to be grouped into a dirty or irresponsible class, illicit drug abusers may be associated with crime, and prescription abusers may be seen as less culpable. However, addiction is a disease and social stigma or inaccurate fear of receiving help should not hinder you from seeking treatment.

Treatment Options for Drugs Versus Alcohol

Alcohol is commonly treated medically with four different drugs—acamprosate, disulfiram, naltrexone, and topiramate. Each of these functions in a unique way, and naltrexone is now also used with FDA approval to treat opioid drug addiction. Methadone and buprenorphine are also used to treat opioid dependency and addiction.4

But using medications to treat addiction and substance use disorder is not always the best option. There are ways to overcome addictions without using additional substances, which may be addictive in and of themselves.

Find the Help You Need Today

We offer callers assistance to find treatment programs that meet individual needs. Each substance and each individual presents the treatment staff a new combination of circumstance and challenges. With a good attitude and the right guidance, your addiction concerns can be addressed and alleviated. Our toll-free helpline is provided just for that purpose. We are available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day! Call us now.


1 http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf SAMHSA, Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Retrieved 12/22/15.

2 http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction#references National Institute on Drug Abuse, Drug Facts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction; Revised Sept 2009, Retrieved 12/22/15.

3 http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20101101/alcohol-more-harmful-than-crack-or-heroin Tim Lock & Laura J. Martin, MD; “Alcohol More Harmful than Crack or Heroin” Published 11/1/10, Retrieved 12/22/15.

4 http://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/substance-use SAMHSA, Substance Use Disorders, Last updated 10/27/15, Retrieved 12/22/15.