Although deaths from opioids have gained a lion’s share of attention lately, at least 80,000 deaths a year are attributed to alcohol use, and half of those are from binge drinking.
Even without causing death, the toll alcohol use disorder takes is staggering.
In addition to counseling and other behavioral therapies, there are times certain medications can be helpful to people with an alcohol use disorder. They are not a substitute for counseling, but they can go a long way to encouraging sobriety in some cases.
Now, a local addiction medicine specialist is encouraging people to ask their doctors about a severely underused therapy to help them.
“Naltrexone is an opioid blocker, so it blocks opiate receptors in the brain. It’s helpful for opioid use disorder,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bulat at Henry Ford Health.
While it helps with opioid use disorer, the doctor explains that Naltrexone is also one of the FDA-approved medications for alcohol use disorder. It is not something to be taken to detox off alcohol, but rather to maintain sobriety or help curb cravings.
The medication blocks the euphoria or reward people feel from drinking. A recent study found participants who took the pill before they expected to drink consumed less alcohol after 12 weeks.
“It’s one pill once a day. It is called Riia or Naltrexone, and it’s 50 mg. You take it first thing in the morning. I tell people sort of to take it like a multivitamin for their recovery, you know. You start the day off with ‘I’m not going to drink today’ and maybe the serenity prayer and kind of go from there,” said Bulat.
Another commonly used medication to manage alcohol use disorder is Antabuse, but instead of just blocking the pleasure of drinking, it actively causes discomfort.
One of the reasons Naltrexone is probably so underused is that there is a misperception that only certain specialists can prescribe it. Any doctor can prescribe it, and it is overall very safe.