The idea that alcohol addiction may one day be cured by simply taking a pill is extremely appealing. There have been so many lives destroyed because of alcoholism, as well as it having had a hugely negative impact on society as a whole. There are now many treatments available, but it still seems to be a case of what works for one person might not work for somebody else. If there were one pill that could cure every addiction, it would be the biggest news stories of the century. It is obvious that we have not yet reached this point, but are there any promising drugs out there that can be used for treating alcohol addiction?
Naltrexone for Treating Alcoholism
There is some evidence that Naltrexone can lower the likelihood of relapse, and it may help to reduce heavy drinking. It is not entirely known how this drug works, but it does seem to have the ability to reduce cravings. It is these obsessive thoughts about drinking that can cause people to struggle in recovery, while these cravings can easily lead to relapse (especially during the first few months of sobriety).
If Naltrexone were capable of reducing this desire to drink, it would make it easier to remain sober. It is now clear from the research into this substance that it does not reduce cravings for everyone, and there can be some unpleasant side effects such as anxiety, drowsiness, and confusion. This drug also fails to reduce the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Antabuse (Disulfiram) is not as popular as it used to be (back in the sixties and seventies). This drug works by making those who drink alcohol while taking it extremely sick. The hope is that by using the substance the person will have a good reason not to drink. The problem is that this treatment only works for as long as the person is taking Antabuse, and there have been individuals who have died because they drank while taking the medication. The effects of drinking while using Disulfiram can be intense because it leads to shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat, visual disturbances, anxiety, severe headache, nausea, and vomiting – it could even cause circulatory collapse. Antabuse works by preventing the body from converting acetaldehyde dehydrogenase into a harmless substance.
Antabuse has been in use for fifty years and the research into this drug is not particularly compelling. There is also the concern that this type of treatment is unethical. Some people have suffered very severe reactions after mistakenly consuming something that contained alcohol. Antabuse may give people an initial motivation to stay sober, but it is certainly not any type of long-term solution.
A few years ago, Topamax was being touted as a new wonder drug for treating addiction. It works by decreasing the ‘rewarding effects’ of alcohol in the brain. The idea is that this means the person will have less need to drink alcohol, allowing them to be better able to live a normal life. Initial research was encouraging because it suggested that those using this drug were six times more likely to remain sober. Further research suggested that it was only really an effective treatment in the first few weeks of recovery, working best when combined with therapy.
Baclofen was also being touted in recent years as a miracle cure because it was so effective at reducing cravings. There is some evidence that this substance could reduce cravings for some people, but there have not yet been enough studies to reach any firm conclusions.
The available drugs for treating alcoholism do seem to bring some benefits for those trying to break away from addiction. We are a long way off from one pill to cure addiction, but these substances definitely seem to have a part to play in recovery.