Treatment With Medication

Research is under way that focuses on the possible treatment of alcohol dependence with medications. Since 1995, scientists have focused on the development of new drugs to treat alcoholism—drugs that focus on the molecular level of the brain processes that promote and maintain addiction.

Studies have shown that the multiple chemical messenger systems in the brain, called neurotransmitter systems, are involved in cases of problem drinking. Treatment options involving medication focus on these different neurotrans-mitter systems.

One of these is a group of drugs called opiate antagonists.

This diagram of a nerve cell (neuron) shows the major neurochemical systems affected by alcohol. Alcohol slows down the electrical activity of a nerve cell by enhancing a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) known as GABA; GABA inhibits electrical activity. Alcohol also inhibits another neurotransmitter known as glutamate. Glutamate slows the flow of calcium (Ca) into cells, which is essential for normal cell function. Without calcium, neurotransmitters at the end of the neuron (on the right side of this diagram) will not be released normally, and the electrical impulse that should travel from this neuron to the next neuron will be slowed. This process is part of a chain of events in the brain that creates the behaviors associated with alcohol intoxication.

These medications interfere with neurotransmitter systems that produce feelings of pleasure when alcohol is used. Patients taking opiate antagonists do not get the expected pleasant "high" from alcohol. Two of these medications, naltrexone and nalmefene, may prove to be promising in treating alcohol dependence.

Other research has focused on medications that affect different neurotransmitter systems—those involved in maintaining a dependence on alcohol. The hope is that these may help break the cycle of dependence that often causes alcoholics to relapse after they have stopped drinking for a period of time. Additional research concentrates on the effects of a combination of these two types of medications in an effort to reduce both the risk of heavy drinking and the risk of relapse.

Other medications may treat not only alcoholism itself, but some of the conditions that may have sparked it in the first place. Antidepressants make up one class of drugs that has proved helpful in combating the depression that often leads to alcohol abuse or follows period of heavy drinking.

While medication offers great promise, most experts believe that psychological treatment is equally critical for alcohol-related problems. A combination of the two may prove helpful to people suffering from severe alcoholism.

Alcohol No More

Alcohol No More

Do you love a drink from time to time? A lot of us do, often when socializing with acquaintances and loved ones. Drinking may be beneficial or harmful, depending upon your age and health status, and, naturally, how much you drink.

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