Few Alcoholics Get Meds to Treat Addiction

Few Alcoholics Get Meds to Treat Addiction

Few Alcoholics Get Meds to Treat Addiction

Few Alcoholics Get Meds to Treat AddictionFor decades, alcoholics have largely been treated through 12-step programs and support groups. While these still play an important role in recovery, more modern treatment advances, including medications, are not being fully utilized. Research tells us that addiction is a chronic medical condition, yet very few addicts get quality treatment when compared to other chronic illnesses. The medications naltrexone and acamprosate have been proven to help addicts get clean, yet only 10 percent take them. If we can make changes in how alcoholics get care, more people will be able to get sober and stay sober. 

Medications for Alcoholism

Advances in treatment techniques for alcoholism and addiction have come a long way since Alcoholics Anonymous was the only option. Support groups such as AA are still an important component of treatment for many addicts, as are counseling sessions, group therapy, stays in rehab and other types of care; however, today we know that there are medications that can be one part of a comprehensive treatment plan and that can help addicts stay clean.

For alcoholics, naltrexone and acamprosate have been approved to be used as part of a comprehensive treatment program. The medications are designed to be just one element in the toolbox for care that includes therapy and social support groups. Naltrexone is a medication that decreases cravings for alcohol. It also helps people addicted to opioids like heroin and narcotic painkillers by blocking the high those drugs produce.

Acamprosate, which is also intended to be used as part of a complete treatment plan, can also be used to treat alcohol addiction. When taken by someone who has already quit drinking, acamprosate can relieve the symptoms that lead many alcoholics to start drinking again: sweating, nausea, anxiety, insomnia and others. It does not help people who are still drinking and it does not relieve the withdrawal symptoms experienced immediately after giving up drinking. It is intended for those who have been sober for several weeks.

Few Alcoholics Get Medications

Although research has shown that naltrexone and acamprosate can help alcoholics resist the urge to start drinking again, not many have access to these medications. According to a recent study, only one-third of alcoholics get any kind of treatment at all. Of those, only 30 percent get medications. This means that only 10 percent of alcoholics have access to these medications.

There is clearly a missed opportunity and if naltrexone and acamprosate have been proven to be effective tools for recovery, more addicts should be given these prescriptions. Many addiction experts have become frustrated at the lack of awareness about the medications and the fact that alcoholics are being undertreated. Both medications are generics, so cost is not a big barrier. What is preventing so many alcoholics from getting them is not fully understood. It is likely due to a combination of cultural beliefs about addiction and how to treat it, ignorance about the medications among primary care physicians and the stigma associated with asking for help for addiction.

The authors of the recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association hope that by bringing the information to light, more people will begin to talk about it. They also hope that experts will remember that medications are not a cure, but that they can be used with success when combined with therapy and support. When alcoholics and other addicts are given the treatments that we know can work for them, many more people will be helped.

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