Friday, October 12, 2007
I once worked with an alcoholic. Let's call him Jarred. A bright man, energetic, lots of fun. But he could never make it to work on time. He didn't keep appointments. Sometimes he would just disappear for days. Eventually we had to part ways. We just couldn't get any work done. I never saw him drink, but I knew he had an alcohol problem and there was nothing I could do to stop him. He had to do it himself.
So about six months ago, it was with great relief that I learned Jarred was now in therapy and taking a drug to curb his alcoholism. I had heard of therapy but not the drug. So as I did more research I found that there are drugs on the market being prescribed to alcoholics every day, helping them to curb or fight their cravings for a drink. Addiction experts say it's a baby step towards solving a big problem, but at least pharmaceutical companies are headed in the right direction.
Now a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that a drug usually prescribed to severe migraine sufferers or epileptics can actually help alcoholics curb their consumption within 14 weeks. (Link to CNN.com story)
The drug is Topamax. The study found that alcohol-dependent patients who received the medication had fewer heavy drinking days, fewer drinks per day and more days of continuous abstinence than those who received a placebo. In many cases patients on Topamax had a significantly higher rate of achieving 28 or more days of continuous non-heavy drinking and 28 or more days of continuous abstinence. But there were side effects.
Many patients had problems with concentration: They were very confused while taking the medication. Others complained of tingling, dizziness, itching. But a positive side effect was weight loss. Unlike the other drugs designed to treat alcoholism, Topamax actually caused the patients to lose weight. And that's important. Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Addiction Psychiatry Training Program and the Vanderbilt Addiction Center in Nashville, Tennessee, finds many of his alcohol-dependent patients are either overweight or diabetic because alcohol has a lot of calories. He feels any drug that can help them fight their addiction while keeping their weight down is a plus.
For now, Topamax has not been approved by the FDA for use in alcoholism, but that approval may be just around the corner. The manufacturer hopes the drug will help those heavy drinkers who would rather see their doctors to help them with their addiction, instead of going into expensive rehab centers. Physicians say these drugs bring new hope of fighting an addiction that at one time seemed hopeless.
I haven't heard how Jarred is doing since he acknowledged that he is an alcoholic. I can only wish that with therapy and the help of these new medications, he will be able to find peace and a new direction in his life.
Know of someone who's using therapy and prescribed drugs to help them fight their alcoholism? Tell us about it.
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