Doctors Say Monthly Shot Could Help Fight Alcohol Addiction
January 07, 2008
Nearly 20 million people across the country are dependent on alcohol or abuse it. And nearly two million are in treatment each year.
Now there is something some doctors say may help those in recovery have a better shot at succeeding. NY1 Health & Fitness reporter Kafi Drexel explains in the following report.
It's an uphill battle many alcoholics struggle with: resisting the craving to drink. While it's certainly no cure, some doctors say a monthly shot could help more alcohol-dependent patients fight the urge.
"Vivitrol is an injectable form of a medicine known as Naltrexone. Naltrexone is available in oral form, but this is an injectable form, which is given to the patient once-a-month for several reasons: to increase compliance, so patients don't have to worry about taking the pill; and it delivers a level of drug, which is really very adequate for dealing with alcohol issues," says Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU Dr. Steven Lamm.
Using a drug to treat addiction may seem ironic, but doctors say it can work. How? The drug blocks the brain receptor that may associate reward benefits with drinking. There are other drugs to help with alcohol addiction, but they have to be taken daily, and often with pretty harsh side effects like sweating, vomiting, and rapid heart beat.
Doctors say the once-a-month injectable cuts down on that. One patient says she wouldn't call the shot a miracle drug, but it's the only thing that's helped her with 15 years of addiction.
"It's been very helpful. I haven't been drinking as much. I don't drink every day. I used to before I took Vivitrol and when I do drink, I drink a lot less than I used to," says the recovery alcoholic, who asked to remain anonymous.
While the shot doesn't necessarily stop alcoholics from drinking, doctors say being able to dramatically reduce the amount of heavy drinking days for patients has a huge impact on physical and emotional health.
"Our belief has been that abstinence is the goal for alcoholism and I believe that myself, but at this point I am at least satisfied my patients are drinking significantly less," says Dr. Lamm. "When they are drinking less there quality of life and their family's quality of life is dramatically improved and these people can then maintain and hold a job."
However doctors and addiction experts alike make it clear, the shot is no magic bullet.
"We need to continue to look at this medication and others to determine their efficacy," says substance abuse treatment program Odyssey House president Dr. Peter Provet. "Ultimately, such medications, though, need to be combined with psychosocial treatment for a broad range of addicts and alcoholics."