If you want to understand how to undergo alcohol rehab, the first thing you need to know is that detox and rehabilitation require more than sheer willpower. Alcohol actually changes your brain and the brain must be retained in order to eliminate alcohol cravings. This requires a medical approach.
Alcohol Changes Your Brain
According to health.com, alcohol use causes both short and long-term changes in the brain. In the short term, alcohol use slows down the neurotransmitter GABA, which is what induces the sluggish movement, slurred speech and slower reaction time in someone who is intoxicated. At the same time, alcohol speeds up the neurotransmitter, glutamate, which generates feelings of pleasure and well-being.1
This is part of the reason why alcohol rehabilitation is difficult to do alone. It is one thing to detox, but permanent rehabilitation requires eliminating these positive memories and feelings that your brain associated with alcohol.
The long-term effects on your brain include memory loss, cognitive decline, and altered behavior. When people initially began drinking alcohol, it is usually to feel good. However, they come to rely on alcohol overtime to help them avoid feeling bad.
Alcohol Rehab Requires A Medical Approach that Retrains the Brain
Schick Shadel’s aversion therapy treatment, a form of counterconditioning, is the most successful program in the U.S. for helping patients “retrain” their brain to avoid alcohol and remove the cravings. An independent study conducted by the University of Washington showed that 69% of patients were sober 12 months after treatment.2 Drug and alcohol rehabilitation have a higher success rate when a patient utilizes a medical approach such as counter conditioning. It works because it targets the signals for those memories with an adverse response. This stops the cravings.
Environmental stimuli, such as taste, smell, sight, and setting, cause the brain to associate pleasurable feelings with the use of drugs or alcohol. This is the root of a craving. These stimuli are used with a medically supervised stimulus to create an aversion, or an unpleasant motor response such as nausea. The patient’s brain will automatically associate addictive substances with unpleasant feelings, thus eliminating the craving for alcohol.3
1 https://www.health.com. (2018). Health. Retrieved 9 October 2018, from https://www.health.com/alcoholism/effects-of-alcohol-on-the-brain
2 Elkins, R., Richards, T., Nielsen, R., Repass, R., Stahlbrandt, H., & Hoffman, H. (2017). The Neurobiological Mechanism of Chemical Aversion (Emetic) Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder: An fMRI Study. Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00182
3 Elkins, R., Richards, T., Nielsen, R., Repass, R., Stahlbrandt, H., & Hoffman, H. (2017). The Neurobiological Mechanism of Chemical Aversion (Emetic) Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder: An fMRI Study. Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00182