Is there medication to stop alcoholism and addiction?
Many people wish there was a magic pill that they could take to cure them of their addiction; other people think that going to an alcohol clinic or a drug addiction treatment centre will provide a cure. The truth is that there is no cure or pill in tablet form that we can take to fix our addiction (although there is a solution if we are willing to put the work in). It could be argued that the pill we need to take is actually the AA or another addiction affiliated 12 Step programme which really does “work if you work it.” The only time it doesn’t, or we relapse, is when we stop doing the simple things we have been asked to do. It is a simple programme for complicated people and, sadly, the people that we are now admitting to The Haynes Clinic are now generally a much younger age group than, for example, 10 years ago.
The impact of the pandemic on alcoholism and addiction
There is no doubt that Covid, and the fact that this led to more drinking at home, shortened the timeline for those with a predisposition for a dependency or addiction to seek residential help. People had more opportunity to drink (and / or to use) at home during the pandemic and measures poured at home tend to be considerably larger than those poured in a pub or on any other licensed premises.
Why younger people can be harder to treat for alcoholism and drug addiction
One of the problems is that the younger age group have difficulty accepting the need for ongoing daily change and feel that they can manage their recovery their own way. That is where it tends to go wrong.
How an alcohol addiction treatment centre or drug rehab clinic can help
The Haynes Clinic offers a structured daily therapy programme and also gives everyone an understanding around the 12 Steps of AA, whose methodology has also been incorporated by Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous etc.
Therapy is one of the key components to Recovery and the start of a willingness to share with others in a non-judgemental environment. For those that have completed a 28-day residential addiction programme, The Haynes Clinic also offers ongoing support in the form of Aftercare which takes place one day a week, at the clinic, for as long as you wish to access it (generally up to a year) and it is free of charge. This support actively helps with strengthening our ongoing change in our addictive thinking and behaviour.
What medications are available to help with alcoholism and drug addiction?
Disulfiram and Antabuse
There are several medications, that are still prescribed today, that can be an aid to help stopping drinking alcohol and a medication, in the case of heroin, that can save a life in the event of an overdose.
The oldest is Disulfiram, which is also known as Antabuse. Thiswas discovered around the early 1900’s when it was used in the industrial process of vulcanisation of rubber. A doctor in a rubber producing factory reported that workers in the factory who were exposed to the fumes of disulfiram had negative reactions to alcohol. However, it took research until 1951 for it to be medically approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for alcoholism.
Disulfiram or Antabuse should only be prescribed following a detox and in conjunction with counselling and therapy. The drug works by the body developing an acute sensitivity to ethanol, that is any form of alcohol, in drink. Even a small amount of alcohol usually produces the effect which is similar to a hangover, but worse with nausea and copious vomiting. So, it is not a medication that will stop us relapsing, but it is a medication that is meant to deter a relapse. Due to the severity of the symptoms that can be caused by drinking alcohol with Disulfiram, there is a very real health risk to prescribing the drug. Therefore these days only a low dose is generally prescribed so the deterrent effects are more minimal and not as effective – but safe for the individual.
The second drug, that was approved by the FDA in 1994, to be able to be medically prescribed is Naltrexone. This is a drug that can be used for both alcohol and drug addiction. It comes in pill form as ReVia or Depade and usually is prescribed as 50mg to be taken once a day. With alcohol it works in two ways: first, should a person relapse, then it nullifies the effects of alcohol in the body, namely we don’t get any of the effects of drinking alcohol. Secondly it can be used to decrease cravings or urges to drink alcohol and thus it can help to maintain abstinence. Again, this medication should only be prescribed following a detox and in conjunction with therapy.
Naltrexone is also commonly associated with Heroin addiction. It is an opioid antagonist which means it works by blocking the receptors in the brain that heroin will attach to. Should a person relapse then, as with alcohol, they will not get high and get little or no effect from the drug.
A derivative of Naltrexone is Naloxone, that was medically approved in 1961 and is a drug that will counter the effects of an overdose and probably save a life. It is, for example, given to prisoners who have been released, that are known heroin users, as relapsing back on heroin can produce an overdose from which they can go into a coma or die. Naloxone can be in the form of an EpiPen, that can be pushed into a muscle,or nasal spray and it works by very quickly reversing the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system caused by opioids. An overdose can be caused by someone taking an amount of heroin that their body is not used to or a purer batch that has not been cut as much as normal.
Thirdly, a more recently approved drug Acamprosate was approved for use in Europe from 1989, as an aid for alcoholism, but it took until 2004 to be approved by the FDA. Acamprosate is prescribed under the brand name Campral and can also be prescribed following a detox or even introduced during the detox. It is prescribed to reduce cravings and thoughts of drinking. However it must be used in conjunction with therapy as it certainly isn’t that magic pill that we might think we need to take to effect a cure for our drinking. This drug is not addictive and can be stopped at any time. Certainly if a relapse occurs it should be stopped immediately.
So, although these drugs have been medically approved to help with stopping drinking and preventing a relapse from happening, it has to be strongly emphasised that they are only an aid and that on their own they are not 100% effective. They should only be considered useful alongside ongoing therapy. They are not, on their own, the answer to getting well.