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Alcohol dependence-a Serious and Chronic Disease

Of the more than 18 million Americans who abuse or are dependent on alcohol,(1) approximately 2.2 million seek treatment for their alcohol problems.(2) Unfortunately, more than 75% of these patients relapse back to drinking within the first year of beginning treatment using most currently available treatment approaches.(3)

Vivitrol, a new treatment recently approved by the FDA for alcohol dependence, offers new hope. It is dispensed by once-a-month injections so you do not need to make a decision to take medication every day, thus helping to control cravings that lead to relapse. It works well for alcohol dependent patients who are able to abstain from drinking in an outpatient setting and are not actively drinking when initiating treatment.

What is alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence is a chronic disease with underlying neurological and genetic factors.

The four symptoms most commonly associated with alcohol dependence are:

  • Cravings
  • Loss of control over drinking
  • Withdrawal symptoms, including sweating, nausea, shakiness, and anxiety
  • Increased tolerance for alcohol

Not only does alcohol abuse and dependency wreck havoc with individual lives and families, it is an economic burden to U.S. society costing nearly $185 billion annually.(6) The traditional approach for treating alcohol dependence, which is psychosocial support, such as counseling and a 12 step program has a dismal failure rate. Now, many experts agree that the best programs should include a combination of medication and psychosocial support.(7)(8) At Gracer Behavioral Health Services, we use Vivitrol in combination with counseling and group therapy.

How does Vivitrol help decrease alcohol dependence?

Vivitrol, also know as naltrexone (nal-TREK-zone), works by binding to opioid receptors in your brain. Although the mechanism is not entirely understood, preclinical data suggests that binding to the opioid receptors blocks the neurotransmitters in the brain that are believed to be involved with alcohol dependence.

Vivitrol blocks the parts of your brain that “feel” pleasure when you use alcohol and narcotics. When these areas of the brain are blocked, you feel less need to drink alcohol, and you can stop drinking more easily. Unlike disulfiram (brand name: Antabuse), another medicine that is sometimes used to treat alcoholism, naltrexone does not make you feel sick if you drink alcohol while taking it.

Key Benefits of Vivitrol

  • Reduces alcohol cravings
  • Helps patients remain abstinent and avoid relapse
  • Decreases the tendency to drink more if a recovering patient slips and has a drink
  • Requires only a once-per-month injection instead of a daily pill

Learn more about how addiction is caused, read the article, Mechanisms of Addiction, by Richard Gracer, M.D.