Alcohol consumption has been a problem since the dawn of humanity but has been on the rise since the onset of the pandemic. One in 20 adults in the US meets diagnostic criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder treatment (AUD); however, only a small fraction of these individuals receive treatment. Telehealth alcohol treatment now offers a variety of evidence-based interventions.
Telehealth Alcohol Treatment?
The 2020 mass shutdown of businesses and nonessential services led AUD providers to resort to virtual treatment methods to meet the needs of patients. There was a sense of urgency when providers and clients realized that face-to-face, non-emergency treatment would be unavailable for an unknown time. Telemedicine soon became the only option for a while, but studies later demonstrated the efficacy of virtual treatment, specifically for AUD.
This discovery has been enlightening and comforting for providers due to the long-standing and largely unresolved issues with in-person substance use treatment in traditional rehabs and facilities. These settings are often inaccessible for most clients in need due to high costs, waiting lists, the inconvenience of the extended-stay requirement requiring clients to take time off from work. The social stigma attached to being in “rehab” is also a significant deterrent.
Benefits of Telehealth Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment
Telehealth alcohol treatment has eliminated the many barriers and restrictions that have long kept millions of Americans from traditional in-person treatment. Virtual AUD interventions include many benefits:
- Provide privacy, as treatment is accessed from home computers or other devices
- Allow for the implementation of individually tailored treatment plans.
- Clients can receive medication-assisted treatment whereby they benefit from both medication and counseling or behavioral therapies.
- Have easy access to various evidence-based talk therapy and behavioral approaches (e.g., individual and group therapy, peer support, relapse prevention).
- Recent research has demonstrated that virtual AUD treatment interventions, such as chatbots can reduce substance use. These findings have come to the attention of health plans, leading to a growing interest in health insurance companies partnering with or investing in virtual addiction treatment programs, as virtual options aid in reducing costs of emergency room visits and inpatient treatment. Telemedicine is an excellent way to prevent severe consequences of untreated alcohol use and abuse from the client’s perspective.
Since substance use treatment is regulated at the state level, state regulators have already demonstrated interest in altering and updating laws and regulations to make room for virtual addiction treatment. Behavioral providers must be legally and ethically compliant with telehealth best practices and state and federal rules/regulations. In many cases, telehealth alcohol treatment could soon be the leading and preferred delivery mode of client care. Whether your clients are located rurally or remotely, have comorbid disorders, or cannot afford traditional, in-person treatment, telehealth is a highly inclusive, comprehensive, and effective option. See Telehealth.org’s previous articles Telehealth Addiction Treatment: Unexpected Benefits? and Telehealth for Addiction for more information.
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