Can medication help treat alcoholism?

by Charles

Many involved in the addiction treatment world have strong views on the use of medication when it comes to treating alcohol dependence. They can basically be split into three groups :

1. Those who believe that abstinence is the only way to arrest alcohol dependence but that if medication can help with symptoms such as cravings and can prolong abstinence then it should be used.

2. Those who believe that the ONLY way to halt an addiction to alcohol is to abstain from the substance AND all medication. Some are so ‘radical’ that they believe recovering alcoholics should not avail of anti-depressant medications or any other psychoactive pharmaceuticals. Usually the proponents of this belief are members of more radical support groups who believe that all that is needed to overcome addiction is belief in their method and attendance at their meetings.

3. Those who believe that medication can be used to tackle alcoholism without the need for abstinence or attendance at support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous).

It goes without saying that those in the first group are in the majority and it is the view taken by the mainstream addiction community.

Naltrexone: A Magic Pill?

Of particular interest are those who think they have found a cure for alcoholism. Many deride the idea that there can possibly be a ‘magic pill’ for a condition like alcoholism, a condition with complex environmental, genetic and psychosocial causes. However, it seems that, for a number of alcoholics at least, the medication Naltrexone has helped them to moderate their alcohol intake.

Naltrexone is licensed by the FDA as a treatment for the cravings associated with alcohol withdrawal (and as an opiate antagonist for those quitting heroin). It is only licensed to be given to alcoholics who have already quit alcohol. But those who believe it to be an effective cure for alcoholism state that if somebody takes Naltrexone BEFORE they drink alcohol then they will lose the urge to drink as much as they usually do. In essence they will gain a measure of control over their drinking. Ultimately, if they continue to take Naltrexone before they drink, over time they will be able to reduce their drinking to moderate levels or quit drinking altogether.

This way of tackling alcohol dependence, called The Sinclair Method after Dr. David Sinclair, has been around since the 1970s and is the mainstream addiction treatment regimen in Finland. It is claimed that it has a 78% success rate which compares very favorably with other forms of treatment.

As noted above there are a great many skeptics and this method is little known outside of the internet and Finland, however, it shows promise at least for a number of people. For the sake of the millions affected every year by alcoholism, any treatment that seems to have potential must be investigated further, no matter how much it may go against our own beliefs.

For more on medicine and the treatment of alcoholism, read

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