I was looking for information regarding, recent changes in the Affordable Care act, and I found an interesting video. It is titled Modern Treatment for Alcoholism. If you don’t have a spare hour to watch it, the short summary is: there is a drug called Naltrexone, that helps people who are suffering from alcoholism.
The description is as follows:
Alcoholism is a common, chronic disease with strong genetic influence. Modern neuroscience has uncovered much about the underlying mechanisms of this devastating condition, but few physicians are aware that effective treatments are available. Thus, relapse-prevention medications are rarely prescribed and affected families are not told that such treatments exist. In reality, modern medications and traditional talk therapy work well together once the anti-medication bias is relieved. Effective treatment saves not only pain and suffering, but also reduces costs to the health care system. The Affordable Care Act requires that all health insurance cover substance use disorders and this may lead to more citizens with alcoholism receiving modern treatment.
I knew about this medication, but I associated it more drug addiction, because I know it blocks the effects of narcotics. So, how does it work for alcoholics? Good question, because no one really knows. However, when they tested the drug on patients with Alcoholism, they saw three kinds of effects.
- Naltrexone can reduce a patient’s urge or desire to drink.
- Naltrexone helps patients remain abstinent.
- Naltrexone can interfere with the patient’s desire to continue drinking more if he/she slips and has a drink.
That sounds good, but what if you become addicted to the medication? Well, the study found that the drug is not physically or psychologically addictive. In other words, none of the patients found it habit-forming. Like most drugs, there are some side effects and the most common ones are nausea, headaches and depression. I don’t mean to be glib, but that pretty much describes how I felt every time I drank.
These side effects were usually mild and in short duration. Patients usually report that they are largely unaware of being on Naltrexone. Naltrexone usually has no psychological effects, and users do not feel either “high” or “down.” One thing to be cautious of: Naltrexone can have a toxic effect on the liver. Obviously, this can be a problem for drinkers that have already beat up their liver. To deal with that, doctors who prescribe the drug, make their patients get a liver test before the treatment starts. If your doctor prescribes the drug and does not order a live auction test – ask him why!
This is still sounding good to me, so my obvious next question is: what happens you drink alcohol while taking Naltrexone (after all, I am from the Antabuse era)? Naltrexone may reduce the feeling of intoxication and the desire to drink more, but it will not cause a severe physical response to drinking.
First Important Tip
Since this drug blocks the effectiveness of narcotics, people taking this medication should carry a card, in case of an emergency. Naltrexone does not reduce the effectiveness of anesthesia (that is the kind used with surgery). But it does block pain relief from opiate medications. So if you know you are having a surgery, stop taking the drug 3 days beforehand.
Important Tip #2
People taking this drug are not cured from alcoholism or drug addiction. It helps the problem, but does not fix it. The research studies show that the treatment is most effective when it is combined with treatment from professionals and/or mutual-support groups. There is no contradiction between participating in a support group and taking Naltrexone. In fact, one multi-site study showed that Naltrexone-taking subjects who attended mutual-support groups, such as AA, had better outcomes. It is most likely to be effective for patients whose goal is to stop drinking altogether.
If other mutual-support group members caution against taking any medications, patients should refer them to the pamphlet “The AA Member—Medications and Other Drugs”. This free booklet clearly states that AA members should not “play doctor” and advise others on medication provided by legitimate, informed medical practitioners or treatment programs. I can not stress this enough only take medical advice from a medical professional.
Last Important Tip
The Affordable Care Act requires that all health insurance cover substance use disorders and this may lead to more citizens with alcoholism receiving modern treatment. This means that people suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction will get the same level of care they would receive if they had a disease like diabetes or cancer. Wow, we have come a long way.