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Stop drinking now - is there a drug to help me stop drinking?

Published 22/11/2009

With the Chief Medical Officer's recent warning of the dangers of alcohol for under-15's hitting all the national headlines, alcohol is being moved higher up the government agenda.  A committee is already working on placing pressure on the government to use price controls to curb drinking, suggesting this measure could save up to 3,000 lives a year.  However, for many, these measures are too little too late.  What can be done if you or a loved one is already struggling with an alcohol dependency issue?  What medical treatment for alcoholism is out there and is there a ‘magic pill' that will help?

Sue Allchurch, director at The Linwood Group, explains further:  "To begin with, how do you know if you or a loved one has a drink problem that needs medical help?  Well, you can always look at our traffic light system for guidance on what is and isn't appropriate.  However, if the symptoms in the ‘red light' section seem familiar to you, then you will need professional help to stop drinking.  Alcohol dependence is characterised in a person by their increased tolerance to the effects of alcohol, the presence of characteristic withdrawal signs and symptoms, and impaired control over the quantity and frequency of their drinking.  For those who have become dependent on alcohol professional help is required.   This could be in the form of detoxification, alcohol medication, counselling and/or a self-help group support.

"Unfortunately there is no ‘magic pill' that can help you or a loved one stop drinking instantly, but there are very effective treatment programmes available that can combine alcohol medication and counselling and can be tailored to suit an individual's physical and emotional requirements.  In the first instance, it is important if you are struggling with a drinking problem to seek medical help.  If you have become dependent on alcohol, you will need medical supervision to manage the withdrawal process and cravings.  In addition, withdrawal from alcohol also brings up and out the underlying problems that began the whole drinking pattern in the first place.  When a person begins to seek help for a drinking related problem, it is important that they don't just become fixated on finding a ‘wonder-pill' that will help them stop drinking now, but see their decision as a journey to getting well emotionally as well as physically."

Here is an overview of the types of alcohol medication available that, when used alongside a structured rehabilitation programme, can be play a specific role on the road to recovery.  Obviously a medical practitioner will need to be involved in this process, as other underlying medical or emotional conditions will impact on the effectiveness of the medications highlighted below:

  • Tranquillisers - such as chlordiazepoxide may be useful to help a person cope with the effects of withdrawal when they first stop drinking alcohol.  Tranquilisers are useful for the first week or so of detoxification to help managed the intense anxiety, cravings, shakes and tremors that some people experience.
  • Thiamine - it is one of the group of B vitamins that is not absorbed well by those struggling with alcohol dependency.  A lack of this will lead to memory disturbance, confusion, double vision, poor coordination and unsteadiness.  It is useful to receive an injection of this supplement at the start of a time of recovery.
  • Drugs to fight the cravings - drugs such as acamprosate have been developed specifically to help people deal with the intense craving for alcohol that may be experienced after giving up.  
  • Drugs to put you off of alcohol - Drugs such as disulfiram are used to help people stop drinking.  If a person chooses to drink whilst taking this they will feel extremely unwell.

Although there is a range of alcohol medication available to help those struggling with a drinking addiction, the key to success is choosing the right type of treatment that best suits the individual.  Alongside a supervised medical treatment procedure a person dependent on alcohol will need emotional support and counsel such as a time in a rehabilitation programme and then continued involvement with a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

It is vital that someone struggling with alcohol dependency doesn't have unrealistic expectations. Change takes time and commitment and however much we would like it, is not available in the form of a magic, cure-all, pill.   

If you or a loved one need advice on beginning to seek professional help to stop drinking now, then why not call the Linwood Group for confidential advice?   To take those first steps on the road to recovery, call Freephone 0800 066 4173 or if you are calling from a mobile phone or from overseas, call 01226 698 054.

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