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Medical treatment for alcoholism follows three stages. Stage one involves detoxification during which alcohol is stopped completely and any nutritional deficiencies and other disorders are treated. Valium or other anti-anxiety drugs may be given to reduce tremor, hallucinations and other withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification usually takes place in a clinic, hospital or residential facility that specializes in drug dependency.

In stage two, the patient begins psychological counseling, which often entails joining the12-step groups of Alcoholics Anonymous or some other support group. Long-term abstinence and rehabilitation, which often involve the co-operation of family members, form the focus of stage three. Depending upon severity of drinking problem and patient's overall health, counseling and rehabilitation may be carried out in a residential program or on an outpatient basis.

In the past, drug disulfiram (Antabuse) was widely prescribed as a deterrent to drinking. Antabuse produces severe nausea, palpitations and other very unpleasant physical reactions when combined with even a minute amount of alcohol. But it is not a cure for alcoholism and most treatment programmes have abandoned its use.

Cocaine and crack cocaine

Treatment for cocaine abuse usually follows same three-step program as for alcoholism, with one important difference. Because cocaine withdrawal can result in severe depression, anti-depressant drugs are often prescribed for early stages of detoxification.


Substitution of methadone, a comparatively harmless addictive drug for heroin continues to be the treatment of choice for this addiction. Although methadone itself is addictive, people taking it can hold a job and live a normal life if they are disciplined enough to use the drug exactly as recommended. Major disadvantage is that, methadone must be taken daily to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Prescription drugs

People who abuse tranquilizers, narcotic painkillers, amphetamines and other prescription drugs should not stop taking them without medical supervision. Because withdrawal symptoms can pose a serious danger, gradual detoxification is usually necessary.