22 Aug 2022

Understanding alcohol dependency and how it can be treated


Alcohol consumption is seen by most people as an essential part of their social life, lubricating conversation, reducing social shyness, and making the party a success. But what if you are one of those people who, once you have started, cannot stop drinking? You may have been there.

Struggling to remember what happened last night? To be accepted in society, you have to avoid certain social situations, and make excuses why you can't attend someone's leaving party at work, or attend a friend's family wedding.

Now, what if your alcohol problem was not your fault? What if it was a medical condition that you didn't cause? You just drink, the same as all of your friends, but they get away with it and you don't. They still drink in a controlled way, they even get drunk occasionally, but they can stop when they want to. You, on the other hand, have one glass and you are in serious trouble. How is that fair? How is that your fault?

Alcohol dependence is a medical condition. You did not cause it. Almost everyone tries alcohol at some point, and a large number overdo it, particularly when they are young. You just did what everyone else did, but you got into trouble. Conventional treatments involve abstention, detoxification, regular meetings, and the use of drugs with unpleasant side effects. The failure rate is high.

The Sinclair Method is a modern method of treatment for alcohol addiction which is being used with very high success rates, particularly in Finland, where clinics are reporting that up to 78 per cent of clients are either stopping drinking altogether, or returning to controlled drinking. Our experience with patients at the practice supports these figures.

The method works by a process called Pharmacological Extinction. When alcohol is consumed, pleasure hormones called ‘endorphins' are released, which attach to opioid receptors in the brain, giving sensory reward to the individual. These endorphins are released during many activities, including eating sweet and spicy foods, vigorous exercise, sex, placing bets, and taking part in high-risk activities.

The problem with alcohol is that, after getting initial rewards from it, the urge to drink is reinforced, even when the person drinking is no longer getting any positive effects from their indulgence. The Sinclair Method involves the use of a drug called naltrexone, which blocks the opioid receptors, so that the endorphins cannot attach to them. Thus, the drinker experiences no reward. Over time, excessive drinking behaviour is ‘unlearned', until the drinker is no longer addicted to alcohol.

Using the Sinclair Method, contrary to conventional expectations, it is necessary to drink alcohol along with the medication, otherwise pharmacological extinction cannot occur. Drinking ceases or reduces to a healthy level after three-to-four months. While the Sinclair Method is a medical approach to treating alcohol dependence, pre-treatment education and ongoing medical support is necessary in order to help the patient understand the process fully, and to ensure success of the treatment.

Find out more about The Oakley Partnership: PrivateGP | Oakley Partnership | England (topmedicalpractice.co.uk)