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Doctors Treating Alcohol Problems Neglect Proven-to-Be-Successful Drugs

In a recent article by Kaiser Health News, it was noted that public health officials have noticed that there are two drugs proven to be successful in the treatment of problems relating to alcohol, however doctors are neglecting to incorporate them into their treatment plans.

Some disturbing numbers noted in a federal study that was conducted last year show that of the 18 million people who suffer from alcohol-related issues, only 20 percent of them will ever receive any kind of treatment at all. This burden, however, cannot be attributed solely to the doctors treating them. A large part of the problem is that those who are suffering refuse to get help, with only about one million of those 18 million people seeking help from a counselor or doctor who can place them into the appropriate treatment program.

This doesn’t let doctors off of the hook either, though. Federal officials are looking to both increase awareness of drug treatments and to encourage physicians to be more proactive about identifying and treating alcohol problems, since those suffering may not have the courage to speak up and ask for the help they so desperately need. Those suffering may not even realize that they truly have a problem unless it is pointed out to them.

Interestingly, despite the common problem that exists in this country wherein doctors often over-prescribe medications, current evidence has proven that medications are hardly ever prescribed to those suffering with alcohol problems. Most who suffer with an alcohol use disorder aren’t even aware that medical treatment exists for such an issue.

George Koob, the director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, notes that two drugs in particular - naltrexone and acamprosate - are both effective and safe at helping alcoholics control their cravings for the drug. In fact, an analysis conducted in 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that both drugs were linked to a reduction in the amount of alcohol the patient drank after taking them.
Some patients have been to AA meetings and have spent thousands of dollars out of pocket on rehabilitation when their insurance policies wouldn’t cover the treatment - only to discover that they were no better off than when they started. For those individuals, these drugs could be the light in the darkness that they never knew existed.

There’s a third drug on the market as well - disulfiram (a.k.a. Antabuse) - but it does not curb alcohol cravings. Worse still, it actually makes those who take the drug violently ill. At that rate, one might as well suffer from withdrawals and go cold turkey, rather than to willingly take a drug that will make them just as sick - and that doesn’t even stave off their cravings.

Naltrexone, on the other hand, was originally used to treat opiate addiction until it was approved for alcohol addiction back in 1994, so it has a longer history of being tested in those suffering from drug abuse problems. It can be taken either orally or by injection, and it comes with few side effects. Since it has been approved for over 20 years for these purposes, it is downright tragic that this drug is not more widely used to treat such issues.

Acamprosate has been on the market for a while as well, being approved in 2004. It comes in a tablet form, and it has only ever been used to treat problems related to alcohol.