The Medical Treatment of Alcoholism

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  • If you think you are addicted to alcohol, you can get help from your family physician.
  • When combined with brief counseling, the prescription medication naltrexone can be highly effective in treating alcoholism.
  • Treatment is more successful early in alcoholism's development than when the illness has been allowed to progress for years. Early treatment can reduce alcoholism's destructive impact.

Recent medical advances in the treatment of alcohol dependence (alcoholism) suggest that effective treatment may soon become much easier to obtain. Patients now have more choice, and health professionals have more tools to help them.

The first treatments for alcoholism involved group counseling and referral to community support groups, and took place in specialized treatment centers. Although this type of treatment is effective, and is necessary for some people, researchers have developed new behavioral treatments (talk therapy) and new medications that people can get in many locations. The National Institutes of Health found through a recent extensive study that a medication, naltrexone, when combined with brief counseling from a doctor or nurse, was as effective as up to 20 sessions of specialized alcohol counseling. The best news of all was that most people improved a lot, and many were able to stop drinking completely.

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If you would like a referral to a specialist, ask for one. You are more likely to stick with a treatment that you like. Since there are several research-proven ways to help people recover (such as different counseling approaches, medications and support groups), you can select one that has the most appeal.