A Pill for Alcoholism?
Have you ever heard of “diseases of despair” and the unfortunate counterparts, “deaths of despair?” There are three main categories: suicide, drug overdose, and liver disease from alcoholism.
As discussed in a previous blog, diseases of despair have been a huge problem since the start of the Covid pandemic. As people’s social lives and the economy took massive hits it effective peoples’ wellbeing profoundly, leading to coping mechanisms that in many cases were unhealthy.
In this blog, we’ll be talking specifically about alcohol abuse and the effective way we’ve been treating it at my practice in South Florida.
The problem with an alcohol abuse disorder
Alcoholism is a medical condition. Sufferers are unable to stop even though it hurts them socially (family and relationships are strained), occupationally (work performance suffers), and physically (alcoholism affects the liver, kidneys, brain, and countless other parts of the body).
Doctors might look for elevated liver enzymes, decreased kidney function, and sleep disruptions among other telltale signs that the alcohol problem is getting severe. Often alcohol abuse disorder is comorbid (combined) with other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
For a lot of alcohol abuse patients, the only coping method they have is the most dysfunctional one: denial. They just can’t come to terms with the problem, so they can’t stop drinking even if in the back of their mind they know it’s destroying them. This is where medication becomes particularly effective.
What is Naltrexone?
When it comes to alcoholism and addiction, there’s a medication that hasn’t been talked about much in the mainstream medical dialogue - when it’s discussed it’s usually in relation to the opiate pandemic. It’s called Naltrexone, and it works on receptors in the brain to reduce the desire to drink.
Naltrexone has been around since 1963, first developed to treat opiate addicts hooked on drugs like morphine, oxycontin, and heroin. It wasn’t long before the medicine was being studied for treating alcoholism too. From what I’ve seen in my practice there’s nothing quite like it. As long as there is no liver problem already from drinking, Naltrexone can be safely used.
Some patients with severe alcohol abuse disorder just can’t stop or even cut down when they want to. For them this drug is almost a miracle - the urge to drink is nullified.
Not just medication management
Like with most other disorders it doesn’t just come down to the medicine. When Naltrexone is prescribed it’s also prudent to get some sort of sobriety coaching and psychotherapy. Alcoholics Anonymous is a good idea for many patients. The family should even get involved encouraging a sufferer not to drink. The social, therapeutic, and medical elements all work together creating a stronger treatment than one thing alone.
Some people think quitting drinking means the end of life as they know it. This can actually add an obstacle to quitting. It makes quitting feel sad, lonely, and dull. Don’t abandon your old routine or friends! It’s important to remember you can have fun without booze - friends meeting at happy hour? Order ginger ale instead, or water. Real friends will understand you can’t drink.
When to seek help and inquire about naltrexone
You should seek help for alcohol abuse disorder if you just can’t stop drinking although it’s ruining your life and even doctors' orders can’t be followed when warned about consequences.
Generally, the doctors that do your yearly checkup don’t have the training to deal with alcoholism. Ideally, they will refer you to a licensed mental health professional that handles addiction disorders.
For those with a friend or family member with alcohol problems, it all starts with awareness of signs and symptoms. Is your loved one ruining relationships or their career with alcohol? Educate yourself on what to do and how to talk to those with a drinking problem.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse disorder, please reach out for help. Medication or no, you consent to the treatment you receive. Bregman Medical Group has experience treating alcohol abuse disorder and others such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We offer online psychiatric and therapeutic treatment right to your device - simply schedule online at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.