Alcoholism Facts (cont.)
However, even individuals who are
determined to stay sober may suffer one or several "slips,"
or relapses, before achieving long-term sobriety. Relapses
are very common and do not mean that a person has failed or
cannot recover from alcoholism. Keep in mind, too, that
every day that a recovering alcoholic has stayed sober prior
to a relapse is extremely valuable time, both to the
individual and to his or her family. If a relapse occurs, it
is very important to try to stop drinking once again and to
get whatever additional support you need to abstain from
Help for Alcohol Abuse
If your health care provider
determines that you are not alcohol dependent but are
nonetheless involved in a pattern of alcohol abuse, he or
she can help you to:
- Examine the benefits of stopping an unhealthy
- Set a drinking goal for yourself. Some people choose
to abstain from alcohol. Others prefer to limit the amount they drink.
- Examine the situations that trigger your unhealthy drinking patterns, and develop new ways of handling those situations so that you can maintain your drinking goal.
Some individuals who have stopped drinking after experiencing alcohol-related problems choose to attend AA meetings for information and support, even though they have not been diagnosed as alcoholic.
With NIAAA's support, scientists
at medical centers and universities throughout the country
are studying alcoholism. The goal of this research is to
develop better ways of treating and preventing alcohol
problems. Today, NIAAA funds approximately 90 percent of all
alcoholism research in the United States. Some of the more
exciting investigations focus on the causes, consequences,
treatment, and prevention of alcoholism:
- Genetics: Alcoholism is a
complex disease. Therefore, there are likely to be many genes involved in
increasing a person's risk for alcoholism. Scientists are searching for these
genes, and have found areas on chromosomes where they are probably located.
Powerful new techniques may permit researchers to identify and measure the
specific contribution of each gene to the complex behaviors associated with
heavy drinking. This research will provide the basis for new medications to
treat alcohol-related problems.
NIAAA-supported researchers have made considerable progress in evaluating
commonly used therapies and in developing new types of therapies to treat
alcohol-related problems. One large-scale study sponsored by NIAAA found that
each of three commonly used behavioral treatments for alcohol abuse and
alcoholism-motivation enhancement therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and
12-step facilitation therapy-significantly reduced drinking in the year
following treatment. This study also found that approximately one-third of the
study participants who were followed up either were still abstinent or were
drinking without serious problems 3 years after the study ended. Other
therapies that have been evaluated and found effective in reducing alcohol
problems include brief intervention for alcohol abusers (individuals who are
not dependent on alcohol) and behavioral marital therapy for married
- Medications development:
NIAAA has made developing medications to treat alcoholism a high priority. We
believe that a range of new medications will be developed based on the results
of genetic and neuroscience research. In fact, neuroscience research has
already led to studies of one medication-naltrexone (ReVia™)-as an anticraving
medication. NIAAA-supported researchers found that this drug, in combination
with behavioral therapy, was effective in treating alcoholism. Naltrexone,
which targets the brain's reward circuits, is the first medication approved to
help maintain sobriety after detoxification from alcohol since the approval of
disulfiram (Antabuse®) in 1949. The use of acamprosate, an anticraving
medication that is widely used in Europe, is based on neuroscience research.
Researchers believe that acamprosate works on different brain circuits to ease
the physical discomfort that occurs when an alcoholic stops drinking.
Acamprosate should be approved for use in the United States in the near
future, and other medications are being studied as well.
- Combined medications/behavioral therapies: NIAAA-supported researchers have found that available medications work best with behavioral therapy. Thus, NIAAA has initiated a large-scale clinical trial to determine which of the currently available medications and which behavioral therapies work best together. Naltrexone and acamprosate will each be tested separately with different behavioral therapies. These medications will also be used together to determine if there is some interaction between the two that makes the combination more effective than the use of either one alone.
In addition to these efforts,
NIAAA is sponsoring promising research in other vital areas,
such as fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol's effects on the
brain and other organs, aspects of drinkers' environments
that may contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism,
strategies to reduce alcohol-related problems, and new
treatment techniques. Together, these investigations will
help prevent alcohol problems; identify alcohol abuse and
alcoholism at earlier stages; and make available new, more
effective treatment approaches for individuals and families.
Locate a Substance Abuse Treatment Facility
Source: National Institute on
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (www.niaaa.nih.gov)
Last Editorial Review: 8/29/2005