Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Is alcoholism a disease?
Yes. Most experts agree that alcoholism is a
disease just as high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis are diseases. Like
these other diseases, alcoholism tends to run in families. Alcoholism is a
chronic disease. “Chronic” means that it lasts for a long time or
comes back often. The main treatment for alcoholism is to stop drinking alcohol.
This can be difficult, because most people who are alcoholics feel a strong
desire for alcohol when they stop drinking.
How is naltrexone used to treat
Naltrexone (brand names: ReVia, Depade) is a
medicine that reduces your desire for alcohol when you stop drinking. Naltrexone
may help you stay sober for a long time. Although your doctor has prescribed
naltrexone to help you stop drinking, this medicine is not a complete cure for
alcoholism. It can help you stop drinking while you get other treatments that
your doctor will talk about with you.
How does naltrexone work?
Naltrexone blocks the parts of your brain that
“feel” pleasure when you use alcohol and narcotics. When these areas
of the brain are blocked, you feel less need to drink alcohol, and you can stop
drinking more easily. Unlike disulfiram (brand name: Antabuse), another medicine
that is sometimes used to treat alcoholism, naltrexone does not make you feel
sick if you drink alcohol while taking it.
What should I do when I take
Because naltrexone blocks the brain areas where
narcotics and alcohol work, you should be careful not to take any narcotics,
such as codeine, morphine or heroin, while you are taking naltrexone.
Don’t even take any cough medicine with codeine in it while you are taking
naltrexone. You must stop taking all narcotics 7 to 10 days before you start
taking naltrexone. If you don’t, you could get withdrawal symptoms.
You shouldn’t take naltrexone if
you’re pregnant, so talk about birth control options with your doctor.
It’s not known if naltrexone goes into breast milk, so it’s best not
to breast-feed while you’re taking it.
What are the side effects of
Some people have side effects like nausea,
headache, constipation, dizziness, nervousness, insomnia, drowsiness, or pain in
their arms and legs or stomach. Up to 10% of people who take naltrexone have
nausea, but most of the possible side effects don’t happen very often. If
you get any of these side effects, tell your doctor. He or she may change your
treatment or suggest ways you can deal with the side effects.
How long will I take naltrexone?
You and your doctor will decide this. Most
people take the medicine for 12 weeks or more. Be sure to take naltrexone just
the way your doctor tells you to. Don’t take extra pills, don’t skip
pills and don’t stop taking the pills until you talk to your doctor.
Will I need other treatments for
Like many other diseases, alcoholism affects you
physically and mentally. Both your body and your mind have to be treated. In
addition to medicine, your doctor will probably recommend some psychosocial
treatments. These treatments can help you change your behavior and cope with
your problems without using alcohol. Examples of psychosocial treatments include
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, counseling, family therapy, group therapy,
hospital treatment and other similar programs. There may be special centers in
your area that offer this kind of treatment. Your doctor can refer you to the
psychosocial treatment that is right for you.