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.
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.