Is ‘drinking your way sober’ the cure for alcoholism?

This week’s People’s Pharmacy column mentions an alternative treatment for alcoholism that has had great success in other parts of the world but is not widely used in the U.S. yet.

Rich Mahan/AJC Special

Rich Mahan/AJC Special

Called the Sinclair Method, patients take a prescription drug, naltrexone, that help block the receptors for endorphins. This in turn reduces the patient’s craving for alcohol and the enjoyment he/she gets from drinking. In the book that discusses this form of treatment in detail, “The Cure for Alcoholism: Drink Your Way Sober Without Willpower, Abstinence or Discomfort,” the author explores studies and research on the Sinclair Method, which claims to have up to a 75% cure rate. (This is not an exact comparison because the methods are so different, but a 1992 study conducted by Alcoholics Anonymous indicated a 35% sober rate after 5 years in their program.)

There’s one element of the Sinclair Method that may surprise some people. The patient must continue drinking alcohol for the treatment to be successful. The drug naltrexone must be taken in conjunction with alcohol in order to be effective. While the drug may reduce the desire for alcohol so much that a patient eventually ends up giving up alcohol completely, abstaining from alcohol on a permanent basis is not a requirement of this treatment. One of the main goals is to get destructive, problem drinking under control so that a person can live a normal life.

With most Americans associating Alcoholics Anonymous with alcohol treatment, where abstaining from alcohol for life is a mandate, this is a very different way of looking at a problem that almost 18 million people in this country suffer from. Those critical of the Sinclair Method point out that it does not reduce the cravings for other drugs like marijuana and methamphetamine, so a poly-addict may just switch drugs to still get their fix. Critics also point out that there are often underlying reasons why people have problems with alcohol, whether it be childhood trauma, low self-esteem, etc. The Sinclair Method, which is designed to be a low-cost treatment, doesn’t have extensive psychological counseling or therapy built into the program. Social Work Today offers their pros and cons on the Sinclair Method.

What do you think about the Sinclair Method? Should alcoholics still be allowed to drink if they do so at what is deemed medically safe limits? Does the focus on abstinence-only treatment set alcoholics up for failure and repeated relapses?

If you are a former or recovering alcoholic, please let us know what methods of treatment worked or didn’t work for you.

66 comments Add your comment

[...] note: A deeper discussion about the pros and cons of naltrexone can be found in the entry linked above on the Better Health [...]


February 24th, 2010
11:57 am



February 24th, 2010
12:07 pm

I am a alcoholic and if the Sinclair Method works for other alcoholics then good for them. Anything that can help an alcoholic drank successfully is wonderful. I want to say that Alcoholic Anonymous is my method. The ONLY requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. AA is also “anonymous” . There are no membership rosters. I do not know if I can not drink for the rest of my life, but I do know I don’t have to drink TODAY. I wish the best to Alcoholics who try the Sinclair Method but this Alcoholic abstaining just one day at a time has kept me sober for a while now.

mystery poster

February 24th, 2010
12:10 pm

Sounds like snake oil to me.


February 24th, 2010
12:41 pm

how can one get hoked up to the sinclair method?


February 24th, 2010
2:28 pm

Isn’t the WHOLE POINT in trying to get alchoholics to stop drinking is because of the damage alcohol does to the body. Well then, how does this method help anything?


February 24th, 2010
2:50 pm

Rehabs for quiters!


February 24th, 2010
2:58 pm

Question…is AA a religious experience? Do they bring religion into the mix?

Almost but not quite....

February 24th, 2010
3:01 pm

Usually , getting people to stop drinking is to stop damaging not just the body, but the ones they love as well as their lives in general. Anything that might help, people should try.


February 24th, 2010
3:05 pm

Where do I sign up ?????


February 24th, 2010
3:34 pm

Also see Rational Recovery as a viable alternative to AA.

She standing in that doorway like a dream , cause she knows that it kills me

February 24th, 2010
3:36 pm

Decided to quit drinkin four days ago. 48 years old , drinkin hard since 1980. No kids, never miss a day of work, but this 4 day dry spell is a record for me. Love craft beer- love whiskey more.

I can finsh a half gallon of Beame in three-four days. Thats bad. Just decided I was too old and tired of beer belly, and worried about liver.

Gave up drugs in the eightys, pot in the 90s, cigs three years ago. This one is gonna hurt tho , DANG I love booze .

Enough life story, the best way for me-and most- is to completley quit. Not even a little yellow beer water on Friday night-just quit.

Watch This.

ga peach

February 24th, 2010
3:40 pm

@JoeV yes they do talk and pray to God, but they are not trying to drill it into that you must believe what they believe. check out

anonymous coward

February 24th, 2010
3:44 pm

AA requires a belief in a higher power. That higher power can be anything – for some it’s a god of their choosing, for others it’s the group itself. The idea is that it’s not you. That being said, the AA groups I’ve attended in the area are very religious and say the lord’s prayer after the meeting, something I find a bit off-putting. In fact I’ve been asked not to voice my atheism at meetings, which is actually against AA principals in general.

As for the Naltrexone, it can be a very good treatment and I know several people for which that has worked well. The AA mantra is that a pill won’t cure you of alchoholism, and for those with severe underlying issues for which they are “self medicating” that’s probably true, but many people only hear the words.

For myself, AA was there for me and it worked for 12 years, but the real work was with a counselor and that was where it really happened for me. I relapsed but AA didn’t work for me any longer because really I just made a decision to start drinking, it got out of hand, I went back to AA but realized that I just made a bad decision and stopped. That’s about it. Problem solved. Your mileage may vary.

sane jane

February 24th, 2010
3:45 pm

This treatment sounds an awful lot like Antabuse, which has been around forever and is effective on other substances besides alcohol. How exactly this Sinclair Method different or better?


February 24th, 2010
3:47 pm

More details about how to get started and where…


February 24th, 2010
4:31 pm

No, AA is *not* a religious program. It’s a spiritual program. Hence the inclusion of “as we understood him” after the mention of God in the third step. “God” is different for different people. i choose Higher Power. Some people have religious connotations associated with their interpretation of “God”, others do not. And when the Lords Prayer is used at the end of the meeting I have never once said it. No one ever looked at me sideways – AA and Alanon (based on AA) are not about religion or about judgment, they’re about getting healthy, finding a balance – in all aspects of your life. I don’t think a pill can help you with your unhappiness. I don’t think a pill can help you with WHAT you’re covering in your life with alcohol – anxiety, depression, selfishness, defects of character. My ex thought just being sober was enough, he was incredibly unhappy – worse, because he wasn’t learning the tools to be able to DEAL with the emotions and stressors of every day life that he used to cover up with booze. Stopping drinking is just the beginning.
From the Big Book:
“We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, “Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?”

If it helps even one person, great. But I don’t see how taking a drug to deal with taking another drug could equal Recovery.


February 24th, 2010
4:32 pm

Like anonymous coward said, reliance on a higher power is stressed but you are free to define that higher power however you want. Since our society is predominantly Christian, most people around here go with the obvious choice. Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, etc are welcome and can be found in 12 step meetings.

As far as naltrexone goes, my experience has been that it’s nearly impossible to get an active alcoholic to take a pill 3 times a day consistently. Especially if the pill is responsible for killing your buzz. A while back there was talk of making a slow release implant that would last for 30 days or more. I could see that working much better than the pills.

Michael W

February 24th, 2010
4:53 pm

I am a recovering alcoholic on my 69th day sober. I drank almost a quart of vodka every day for the past two years and less heavily before that. I had become so dependant on alcohol that I had to drink 4 “normal” sized drinks in the morning just to stop shaking enough that I could feed myself. I’ll spare you the rest of the details.

I went to a 6 day detox to have medical professionals manage my physical withdrawal with medication…Suddenly stopping years of heavy drinking can lead to seisures, delerium tremens, and death, it is not like giving up chocolate…it can kill you so it has to be done right.

I then went to 3 weeks of rehab which is a mix of being secluded from the “real” world so that there are no temptations or opportunities to drink, medical management including medications as required, and AA meetings.

I currently use Naltrexone and have for two months now, no alcohol cravings at all for me and no drinking. I also regularly attend AA meetings which is the biggest suprise to me. I actually like them. We’re just a bunch of former drunks being there for each other and helping each other stay sober Today…We’ll deal with tomorrow when and if it gets here.

I am strongly anti formal religion. I grew up in Atlanta in a Southern Baptist Evangelical household, and to my mind hate filled condeming and condecending environment, so I was VERY leery of AA’s “higher power” schtick. It ain’t there. The thrust of it is you aren’t alone and don’t have to deal with this can use “god” if that works for you, you can rely on the group if that works for you, you can use the company of your animals if that works for you…what you use doesn’t matter, and noone will ask you or judge you if you tell them what you rely on. You may get the occasional whack job who wants to “convert/save” you, but they snuk in..they in NO way represent the AA way.

As we say at the end of the meeting…Keep works if you work it!!

Be well


Michael W

February 24th, 2010
4:56 pm

Sane Jane…Antabuse makes you sick if you drink, Naltrexone just blocks the cravings for, and the buzz from booze. If you do drink on naltrexone you still get physically drunk..slower reactions, slurred speech, loss of balance, hangover etc, you just don’t enjoy it.


February 24th, 2010
5:13 pm

Until you are completely ready to stop drinking, drugging and wallowing in your own pile of crap, you will never change, no drug is the answer, freedom from alcohol and drugs comes from within, I know many a dry drunk who hasn’t changed anything but the alcohol. A whole new world awaits those who really want to change, and its free….It’s called the rooms of AA, NA, and CA


February 24th, 2010
5:15 pm

I don’t get a thrill from gambling or eating, but I get a thrill out of almost everything else that can ultimately lead to the slippery slope of obsession and the shaky hands and pounding pulse of addiction. At one time or another, I have put everything important to me second to following that high, and one after another, I’ve lost it all. I’ve given it up, thought I was cured and tried it again. One time went very well, two times were fun, three times I got a bit nervous, four times I knew I was in trouble, five times I was crying for help again. I’ve been clean, sober and honest for a few years now. I don’t take chances today. I hope I won’t tomorrow. I have a wonderful life and the love of my family back again. Nothing could be worth taking that chance again.


February 24th, 2010
5:18 pm

If this helps people make their lives manageable, great. I tend to think alcohol abuse, or any kind of self-abuse, is part of a larger problem from childhood, or stress, or any other challenge that is difficult. We all cope in different ways and boozers cope by boozing it up.

This drug may cure the boozing but it won’t cure the underlying problems. BUT at least it cures the boozing which often means the underlying problem can be healed. Boozing gets in the way of the healing.

Bottom line: Sounds like good stuff to me. To all those who are struggling with dependency, be of good cheer. There is always hope, particularly when you look for it rather than dwelling on the horror.

Art M

February 24th, 2010
5:20 pm

There was a lady some years ago in the Washington State area that preached MODIFICATION. I believe she was involved in an auto accident that resulted in the loss of life, while practicing MODIFICATION. I got help almost 18 years ago and still go to two or three meeting a week. Life sure is better and I am much happier. Good luck on the NEW drug……

Ex Friend of Bill W

February 24th, 2010
5:28 pm

I was in AA for more than 10 years and never had sobriety for more than a year at a time. One day I said to my self today I am not only going to quit AA and their ONE DAY AT A TIME motto…..I said to MYSELF, I am never going to drink again. Now I have never been happier and havent had a drink in 6 years. I dont need to sit around and listen to a bunch of moaning and groaning and listening to a bunch a drunk-a-logs. I used to drink because I chose to. I DIDNT have a disease; I wasnt in denial, I had a desire to drink and I drank because I CHOSE to. When I chose to stop, I did. I didnt need a sponsor, 12 steps, Promises, 12 traditions…or other cruthes

With that said, AA is great for those if it works for them…but as the Big Book wil tell you, it is not for everyone. I applaud anyone going to AA or thru any format of recovery. As long as you find what works for you. Dont let your mamma, daddy, wife or judge tell you how to stop drinking. If you want to drink, drink. If you WANT to stop YOU can stop. Only you can stop whether thru this method mentioned in this artcle, AA, Higher Power…etc…

Just remember….NO ONE but YOU is pouring the stuff down your throat.


February 24th, 2010
5:36 pm

Good luck with whatever leads you to sobriety and a joyous, free life. Myself, I have been in AA for 17+ yrs. and have no desire at all to go back to the hell I used to live in. Modern methods may work for some folks, but good old-fashioned AA works if you want it. I stress the “want it” part. Half-measures will not work. AA is not, I repeat, not a religous program. It is based on spiritual enlightnment and helping others. Not very exciting for some modern thinkers, but I can guarantee you it works if you work it.


February 24th, 2010
6:18 pm

AA is absolutely religious and is based on Christianity. It was inspired by the Oxford Group (google this for sources). Now, AA fundamentalists will say your higher power “could be a doorknob”. How can an artifact be any sort of power? Your higher power should be God, I think they cite him in their steps.

The best description of AA is that it is a cult. Notice how AA members often say the same things, almost verbatim.

The 35% success rate is off-mark, it is closer to 5% which is less than cold turkey.

Avoid curing something by cult.


February 24th, 2010
6:49 pm

…I’ve been sober since ‘79 and have seen a lot of this kind of thing come and go…mostly go….good luck to the Sinclair Method enthusiasts…. but as for me I’m putting my money on AA.

Michael B. Denial

February 24th, 2010
7:39 pm

All else in the article notwithstanding, there is no study, AA or otherwise, from 1992 or any other year, that gives AA a 35% 5-year efficacy. All indications are that after five years, about 2.5% of all those who begin attending AA will still be present, sober or otherwise. AA apologists and revisionists have reviled, denied, and tried to re-interpret AA retention rates, but its own surveys, and membership claims, indicate very low retention rates. As for naltrexone, sub-q one year implants are available. Google it.


February 24th, 2010
7:42 pm

I was in AA for 7 years and was very naive/depedent at first. I never got the God (Higher Power) thing down. I has been my AA experience YOU HAVE TO HAVE FAITH and work the (again me) nonsensical steps. There seems to be a lie or misspeak when they say take what you want and leave the rest within AA-there is definite pressure (at lest I felt) to be a prayerful Christian. And that’s okay – it works very well for some…but in my experience again it is more like a 5% rate of success (and I went to a lot of mtg in 7 yrs!).

Also, a few more points I’d like to make. And I am not “ranting” nor “bashing” AA.

AA seems to require lifelong membership. But for me AA is not an alternative to drinking (for me) because it made me just as dependent on mtgs and AA, as I was on drugs and alcohol, and that is unacceptable.

The article brushes the topic of mental/physical health- if i were newly in seeking a solution to a drinking problem I would FIRST thing go t a medical professional (well verse in the field of addiction) and get a complete mental/physical evaluation!

That’s what I did and that almost required me to leave AA-my AA sponsor had me shred my dentist prescription for pain killer even though i told him I wasn’t going to fill it. This is something i felt in AA to “work the steps, read the Big Book and get on your knees (pray) in the morning and at night.” My doctor basically gave me a prescription for anxiety and trazadone and that’s were i’m at now. I was told not to mention these thing at mtgs.

Working with online and trained professionals, read some at and that’s where I am at now. Basically i believe its a choice and not a spiritual disease as AA puts it, IMHO. And there’s basically no steps other than don’t drink.

I say find what works for you and stick with, after years of effort otherwise…LOL

But mainly be AWARE of the choices, there’s good and bad people in AA and everywhere-be AWARE especially if you’re a female i would suggest attending a Women’s Only mtg.
AA was sorta great at first but I have seen statistic (harvard) which suggest one is more likely to binge drink if you fall outta AA. Been there-done-that.

Best of luck to all and thanks for hearing my input…rant on me all you like too- find tat amusing and sometimes enlightening.



February 24th, 2010
7:55 pm

Oh and there’s some other really good online groups on how to recover or stop this behavior;
yahoo groups
12 step free
…again good luck.


February 24th, 2010
8:27 pm

How do they get statistics from a program that is pretty deeply rooted in anonymity?!

BIG difference between *religion* and *spiritual*. I am strongly anti-religion, definitely not Christian and have been blessed with a major positive life change by result of a 12 step program. Not because of the program itself but by making better choices from what i’ve learned about myself.

That said, if there’s another program out there that helps save people from addiction then please, let it be used! I’m a firm believer that there is no generic recipe for everyone, we all must walk our own paths. What works for me may not work for you. But if you’re an addict and self-will hasn’t kept you clean/sober… then it’s time to realize that you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that brought you to it in the first place.

GTBMED, AA is not a cult (see below) but, unfortunately, I have heard of a hardcore group that broke off and is like fundamentalist crazy people. They tried to get a friend of mine in with their group. Luckily he was smart enough to notice the fact that he was being “recruited” (AA does NOT recruit) and he called around, found out AA doesn’t even recognize them as an AA group. They are really out there and more Oxford Group, tell you not to go to any other meetings but theirs, tell you what to do, detox people (WHAT?!) and … bluntly, they’re nucking futs. But that is not indicative of a real AA group… As for the generalized “cult” label:

CULT: The group is focused on a living leader to whom members display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
AA: Come and go as you please with no one to answer to

CULT: The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members and/or making money.
AA: Tradition 11 states: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion” (i.e. ya don’t go out and recruit people). AND you’re never asked for money but can drop a buck in a basket to help pay for rent/literature if you *want* to.

CULT: Mind-numbing techniques (ex: meditation, chanting, denunciation sessions, or debilitating work routines) are used to suppress members’ doubts.
AA: None of the above

CULT: The group’s leadership dictates how members should think, act, and feel
AA: Uh…. NEVER. Sponsors don’t tell you what to do in your life! There are *suggested* steps. There are people there for years who don’t have a sponsor, don’t work the steps, etc. Although I will say, you don’t work the program and it’s not going to work for you. Kind of like if you don’t do the work in aviation school, you’re more than likely gonna crash the plane.

CULT: The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, it’s leader(s), and members.
AA: HA! (no). Though some in the rooms without recovery do think the world revolves around them. Hence part of the reason they’re in the rooms. lol

CULT: The group has a polarized we-they mentality that causes conflict with the wider society.
AA: Nope.

CULT: The group’s leader is not accountable to any authorities (ex: military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations).
AA: There is no “leader” and opinions of such things don’t come into play

CULT: The group teaches or implies that its “superior” ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group (ex: collecting $$ for bogus charities).
AA: Not even applicable.

CULT: The group’s leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them
AA: Acceptance, Non-judgement, detachment

CULT: Members’ subservience to the group causes them to give up previous personal goals and interests while devoting inordinate amounts of time to the groups.
AA: Again, you come and go as you please. Meetings last approximately one hour. There’s no roll call or guest list or attendance sheet. You work it the way you work it. Self care is supported.

CULT: Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
AA: Members are strongly encouraged to support ANONYMITY, so no.

AA is not a cult. It is not a religious program. It is what it is. Take what you want and leave the rest.


February 24th, 2010
8:54 pm

AA is a rigorous Christian program that tries to cure your addiction to alcohol. Often these cult members will ask if you are “in AA” or “around AA” which is this cult-speak for how serious are you about the “program”. These people are brain-washed morons. They might tell you that your brain might need a washing, I’m serious.

It is a deadly cult. You are better off cold turkey.

Sober 25 years in AA

February 24th, 2010
9:05 pm

Different nationalities / ethnicities break down alcohol differently. Broadly speaking this cure will be more likely to work with Asians, for example, than with North Americans. That said, why would alcoholics take this cure (and continue with it) if they want to drink? I wish there were a “magic bullet” that would work with this phenomenal success rate, but these things come along periodically and only AA is still around. Time will tell…

Don’t drink and go to meetings!

gtbmed reply

February 24th, 2010
9:06 pm

Wow! I feel sorry for you, man. You sound like someone who skimmed through it and left with the same disdainful attitude you came in with. Close your mouth and open your ears, babe.

spiritual, not religious

February 24th, 2010
9:08 pm

I’m a gay athiest, and AA works fine for me. I’ve put together many 24 hours!

poor gtbmed

February 24th, 2010
9:09 pm

So what works for you – what is your solution?


February 24th, 2010
9:16 pm

It’s commonly misperceived that addiction is a result of trauma or stress. Not true. There are chemical responses in the brain of an addict when exposed to mind-altering substances that are different. Many such people with happy “normal” childhoods have this disease and subsequent problems. Happily, addicts can also choose to stop, most successfully with the help of support groups.


February 24th, 2010
9:27 pm

Look at these posts and decide for yourself.


February 24th, 2010
9:28 pm

Losers, right? That’s what I thought, too


February 24th, 2010
10:30 pm

Roo: My father was an alcoholic and anything that could have curbed his cravings and, thus, his behavior would have been welcomed. Unfortunately, Antabuse, AA, rehab, two children (and a wife), and even a stint in jail (for non-payment of child support, one of my mom’s attempt to sober him) didn’t work. He died of a heart attack at 39. He drank himself to death but long before he died, he had no life — he’s lost his job, all of his friends, his family. I wonder if the increased understanding of addiction, use of antidepressants, openness of society and willingness of people to get help in combination with new medications like Naltexone and Vivitrol would have helped him get to a place where he could fight his demons?

Joop: Individuals who have difficulty maintaining their daily dose of Naltrexone now have the option of receiving a monthly injection of Vivitrol. The time-released formula works the same as the oral Naltrexone, and is simply another, more powerful safeguard against relapse.

Jed: Your doctor or employee assistance program may be a good place to start. If you’re not comfortable with those options, try calling 2-1-1, the United Way’s referral program. They should have a list of places where you can go anonymously to get started. Here are some hotlines in my area code:;Decatur;7633;39;N;0;526755;Alcoholism%20Hotlines;alcoholism


February 24th, 2010
10:49 pm

Somebody put GTBMED on meds. He’s talking to himself.


February 24th, 2010
10:50 pm

The AA life is a life of losers who cannot control their impulses.


February 24th, 2010
10:51 pm

And, GTBMED, congratulations on your success.

But please don’t insult people. It’s not nice. If you have a problem with a program or method, it’s cool to express your opinion, but it’s not necessary to kick people when they are down. You know what that feels like — we all do. It sucks.

And in this case, it may have stopped a conversation on a subject that affects more than 17.5 million people plus their families and friends. Actually, all of us are affected by alcoholism when one takes into account the effects of it on our national economy (productivity is down when you’re hung over or too drunk to work or you’ve been beaten by a drunk person and land in the hospital) and health care costs (it costs a lot of money to care for the damage caused to an alcoholic’s body and people who are involved in drunk driving incidents, fights, domestic violence, etc.).


February 24th, 2010
10:52 pm

Whack is probably Bill W, the largest bitch of them all. You praise a weak god.

SS is a drunk

February 24th, 2010
10:56 pm

You kill people, congratulations.


February 24th, 2010
11:00 pm

SS isn’t — my dad was. Why are you so mean?

Sucks to be you

February 24th, 2010
11:23 pm

GTB-headcase: So sad to be a bitter and hateful you. What do you believe in when you’re not spewing bitterness? Have you ever considered counseling for yourself? Life can be sweet.

Kelly C.

February 25th, 2010
7:26 am

My now ex-husband is an alcoholic. Everyone else sees it but he does not. My child lost her dad and I lost a husband due to his alcoholism and refusing to get help other than his “self help”. Its been a recovery process for me too to realize that life outside living with a alcoholic is “normal” and what I was living in was pure hell. Good luck with whatever drug or program is needed to fight the battle. As for me, I don’t have to live with that battle anymore and what a great life!!!

Ex Friend of Bill W

February 25th, 2010
7:35 am

Thats right Kelly C. You dont have to and should not. The people (as I used to be) who CHOOSE drink over family is doing just that…until they realize it…they will not stop. Stand firm and congrats on not raising your child in that environment.