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Can a Pill Cure Alcoholism?
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Apr 20, 2009 - 2:14:55 PM

(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Can a pill cure alcohol addiction? The answer is yes. There is a drug called naltrexone, which has been approved by the FDA, has few side effects, is inexpensive, and has been shown in more than 70 clinical studies to be effective for about 80 percent of those who use it. It reduces alcohol cravings to such a negligible degree that the person has no desire to drink, or can drink moderate amounts occasionally without deleterious physical and social side effects.

Unlike other drugs used to treat alcoholism, naltrexone (and the related compound nalmefene, currently being tested) only works when taken together with alcohol. Although that fact has made some doctors skeptical about prescribing it, those who are initially wary become believers when they witness desperate and seemingly hopeless alcoholic patients regain their lives, health, and dignity in a matter of weeks.

Naltrexone is a drug that is changing—and saving—people's lives around the world. In the US, doctors are just becoming familiar with it, and I hope that is about to change.

How "The Cure" Works

Several years ago, I was fortunate to work with Dr. David Sinclair, the pioneering researcher who discovered a way to physically remove addictive pathways in the brain. His work led to the development of The Sinclair Method, a five-step de-addiction program using naltrexone.

In the simplest terms, Dr. Sinclair found that every time a person engages in a behavior such as drinking that releases endorphins—these are substances that act like local hormones and produce a feeling of pleasure—it strengthens or reinforces the neural pathways in the brain associated with that behavior. Over time, these super-strengthened pathways lead to habitual behavior—or what scientists know as addiction.

Dr. Sinclair hypothesized that if he could find a way to block the endorphin receptors in the brain—thus removing the reinforcement—the super-strong neural pathways in the brain associated with the addictive behavior would gradually weaken over time, and cravings would cease. He discovered naltrexone does just that.

Unlike previous drugs for treating alcoholism that require the patient to abstain, naltrexone is only effective if taken in combination with ongoing drinking. When the alcoholic takes a pill one hour before imbibing, naltrexone blocks the endorphin receptors in the brain, eliminating the effect that reinforces the addictive behavior. Over several weeks, the brain "unlearns" the craving, and most people, even the most serious alcoholics, find they have no desire to drink, can abstain completely, or can drink occasionally or socially—so long as they always take naltrexone before drinking. Clinical trials prove that naltrexone has no anti-craving properties of its own and is completely ineffective if prescribed with instructions to abstain.

To maximize the effectiveness of using the medication, Dr. Sinclair developed a de-addiction program that has become the mainstream method of treatment for alcoholism in Finland, where it has been used by more than 100,000 patients. The Sinclair Method enjoys the highest success rate of any treatment for alcoholism—including rehab programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, and medications that enforce abstinence, such as Antabuse. Naltrexone is used in Europe and Asia, and is becoming better known in the US, where it is now beginning to be used—but only by about 2 percent of doctors who treat alcoholism. Unfortunately, most doctors still prescribe naltrexone with instructions to abstain—a worthless endeavor, as studies prove—but that is beginning to change as they learn more about the medication and clinical studies demonstrating how the treatment works.

The Sinclair Method At-a-Glance

The Sinclair Method works with all kinds of drinkers—weekend drinkers, occasional binge drinkers, and daily excessive alcohol abusers. You don't have to be an alcoholic to benefit from naltrexone and The Sinclair Method; you just have to want more control over your drinking. It is particularly effective for people who have tried other programs and treatments, but failed. What's more, over the course of three months, The Sinclair Method enables the drinker to avoid agonizing withdrawal symptoms and obsessive thoughts that accompany abstinence programs. The alcohol cravings simply diminish over time to a minimal level or none at all.

The five steps of The Sinclair Method equip you with a blueprint to break free of compulsive drinking. Curing your addiction and regaining control over alcohol is not complicated. It does not require abstinence. But it does require meticulous preparation before and during treatment. The five steps of The Sinclair Method do not demand complex psychosocial therapy or an examination of your past to find out why you lost control over alcohol, or white-knuckling it through arduous abstinence for the rest of your life.

Here are the five steps of The Sinclair Method that guide you through the de-addiction process.

Step One: The first step toward successful treatment involves profound shifts in thinking about excessive drinking and alcoholism. In step one, the drinker looks at common myths about alcoholism and comes to understand new truths about the disease.

Step Two: Step two provides you with self-assessment tools and questionnaires to help you check the severity of your problem and find out if you need help.

Step Three: Here you work with your doctor to obtain a prescription for naltrexone. If your doctor does not know about naltrexone, you will learn how to provide him or her with prescribing information and other support materials for medical professionals.

Step Four: Learn about alcoholic beverage measures. Begin taking naltrexone every time you drink. Keep a drinking diary and record craving levels. As you become de-addicted, your craving and drinking levels decline.

Step Five: After three to four months—in some cases up to six months—your need to drink will be gone and you are cured. If you do drink on occasion, you stay cured by never drinking alcohol without first taking naltrexone.

A Life of Dignity

As long as you take naltrexone every time you drink alcohol, you have an 80 percent chance of being cured. The golden rule is: Naltrexone + Drinking = Cure. If you have tried AA, rehab, or going cold turkey—and suffered through painful withdrawal, relapse, shame, and self-loathing—knowing about naltrexone and The Sinclair Method offers you help and hope. What's more, you will not have to endure the judgment of others or the self-criticism that comes from trying but failing to beat an addiction on your own. You can regain your dignity. Remember: Alcoholism is a disease. It's not your fault. Naltrexone together with The Sinclair Method is the cure.

Author Roy Eskapa, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has done pioneering research with naltrexone, uses it to treat patients in his private practice, and has worked closely with Dr. David Sinclair (The Sinclair Method) on research into the causes and treatments for addiction. He also consults for and speaks to NGOs, government, health, and education organizations on Sinclair's revolutionary cure for alcoholism and other addictions. He is author of a new book, The Cure for Alcoholism: Drink Your Way Sober without Willpower, Abstinence or Discomfort (BenBella Books, 2009, www.thecureforalcoholism.com).

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