Content and Editorial Director
Maybe it’s due to boredom. Or anxiety. Or because we were cooped up during quarantine. Whatever the reason, many of us have become a little too friendly with the bottle lately. And that can be a problem.
Excess alcohol consumption can dramatically increase anxiety and depression, and can create problems in relationships that, due to recent circumstances, are already being pressure tested. Overindulgence also weakens our immune systems, increases our chances of getting cancer and can even cause nerve damage and death.
So cutting back seems like a no-brainer. But for many of us, that’s easier said than done. That’s because as the alcohol we drink wears off, the brain has to stabilize again and produces cravings for yet more alcohol. Over time, these circuits can become ingrained, making cravings much more difficult, or even impossible, to resist.
If only there were a magic pill to make these maddening cravings disappear. It turns out, for some people, there actually is.
Available by prescription, Naltrexone was first formulated in 1961 and was approved for medical use in the U.S. in 1984. The once-daily pill greatly curbs cravings in some people struggling with alcohol abuse. It works by blocking the receptors in the brain that register pleasure from alcohol. So, there’s no “reward” for drinking, and cravings diminish.
For some people, the results of the medicine are amazing. One proponent was drinking an astonishing 300–400 drinks per month, and is now down to 12. Another Naltrexone user describes her experience this way: “Before, alcohol was in charge of me. Now, I’m fully in control, and I drink when and how much I wish. It’s given me an ‘off’ switch.” Many people taking the medication, who were previously heavy drinkers, say they simply don’t even think about alcohol anymore.
Naltrexone is one of the most effective pharmacological treatments for alcohol dependence. But it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people feel no change in their cravings or the alcohol high. Others continue drinking as much as they did before, even though the drinking-induced euphoria is greatly diminished. Some have such extreme side effects, including headache, dizziness and disorientation, that they are unable to continue taking the pill. But for some people, it’s life-changing.
If you’re curious about this “magic pill,” reach out to your primary care physician. Though she might refer you to an alcohol abuse specialist, Naltrexone can be prescribed by any healthcare provider who is licensed to prescribe medications. And who knows? With a bit of luck, and a little help, maybe you’ll be able to kick your cravings to the curb.
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