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Medications used to treat alcohol abuse

The Partnership at www.DrugFree.org recently discussed the underutilization of medications used to treat alcohol abuse. The medications studied were naltrexone and acamprosate, which are believed to reduce alcohol cravings.

The article states that many providers are unaware of the efficacy of the medications or are not convinced they will benefit their patient. Personally, I have yet to see a client discontinue their alcohol use because of these medications. However, I’m not sure if this is because they are under-prescribed or just ineffective.

Two predictors commonly used to assess someone’s ability to recover from substance abuse are: 1) the importance they place on sobriety and 2) how confident they are in their ability to achieve sobriety. If someone places high value on their recovery and is fairly confident he or she can be successful, their odds of recovery increase. These predictors contribute to an individual’s motivation to change, which is essential in recovery.

In American society, we have a pill for everything. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that a pill for alcohol abuse is the key to recovery. By taking a pill for substance abuse, without doing other essential recovery tasks, you are essentially saying ‘I can’t quit this drug without using another drug,’ which is not very empowering. Also, using medication as your main tool is not placing the importance on the issue that is needed. Addiction recovery requires a lot of difficult and consistent work; a medication is not going to cut it. It appears that using medication to decrease cravings may interfere with the importance and confidence someone places on his or her recovery, therefore limiting the chances of success.

Lastly, any addiction, in my opinion, is a symptom of something else going on. Antidepressants and antianxiety medications can be very beneficial and I often recommend clients look into them. However, taking a medication rarely eliminates the problem. Once someone discontinues a medication, symptoms will likely reappear. The exception to this is the combination of medications and effective counseling. If someone is able to uncover and work through the issues that lead to depression, anxiety or substance abuse, he or she then has much better odds of finding peace and balance in life without the reliance of medications.

Medications that help decrease alcohol cravings may be a useful addition to someone’s recovery plan, but they are far from a solution. I hypothesize that these medications are being “underutilized” because people take them hoping for a “cure” or quick fix but discontinue their use once they learn otherwise. Substance abuse, along with other mental health issues, requires commitment, dedication and long term behavioral changes that cannot be provided in pill form.

Teal Bohrer is a psychotherapist specializing in addiction treatment. Bohrer was raised in Lake Oswego and now has a local private practice where she sees adolescents and adult for a variety of issues.



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