Alcoholism Treatment

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Three treatments for alcoholism equally effective, researchers say

A groundbreaking study of alcoholism treatment has reached the surprising conclusion that all three leading behavioral approaches work equally well for a wide variety of patients, regardless of sex, psychological condition, motivation or the extent of their drinking problem.

The findings undermine long-held beliefs about alcoholism. Treatment professionals have long thought that each of the three therapies was most effective on patients who showed certain traits.

For example, experts believed that individuals who demonstrated severe drinking problems, and who typically were under under heavy social pressure from friends and family to drink, responded better to a ``12-step'' program such as the one provided by Alcoholics Anonymous.

But an the ambitious eight-year study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism showed that such patients -- and others -- appeared to do equally well using any one of the three therapeutic approaches.

The results of the study can be reassuring because patients ``do not have to worry that something better might have been achieved with another treatment,'' said Dr. Enoch Gordis, director of the institute.

The findings appear in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

The research examined three types of 12-week programs: ``12-step'' therapy, cognitive therapy and motivational therapy.

The 12-step approach encourages patients to participate in traditional Alcoholics Anonymous activities, which promote fellowship among recovering alcoholics. The AA formula emphasizes 12 ``steps'' to recovery, beginning with ``acceptance'' and ``surrender.'' Those with the most severe drinking problems were thought to do better with the 12-step approach.

Cognitive therapy has been thought to work best for women and for those who suffer psychological problems, said Thomas Babor, a professor of psychology and a researcher on the study.

The cognitive approach is designed to help patients develop skills to control their thoughts about alcohol and deal with urges to drink. Patients are taught, for example, how to refuse a drink in high-risk situations and how to manage negative moods, which might lead them to drink.

Motivational therapy has been intended for those with ``low degrees of motivation,'' Babor said.

For the study, researchers recruited 1,726 patients and screened them for individual traits, such as the severity of their drinking problems, their level of motivation to overcome them, and the extent of their psychological problems.

The patients were then enrolled in two parallel arms of the study that matched them to various treatments. In addition, some patients received only outpatient care, while others received inpatient or day hospital treatment combined with after-care therapy.

All the participants showed ``significant and sustained'' improvement in the number of days they abstained from alcohol, and a decreased number of drinks on those days they drank.

Alternative treatments for alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction can be helped by many vitamins, minerals, herbs and amino acids.

Due to the depleting effects of alcohol on nutrient reserves, alcoholics usually suffer from a long list of deficiencies, especially B complex vitamins.

The ideal thing to do is see a natural health care practitioner for a comprehensive nutritional and biochemical assessment before starting on drastic diet changes and food supplements.

To prevent liver, kidney and brain damage, alcoholics should take a broad spectrum antioxidant combination product like Greens Plus (Harvest Greens) or Green Life (Bioquest). The usual adult dosage is one tablespoon (six capsules or tablets) taken twice daily.

Herbal combinations of milk thistle (silymarin), artichoke and tumeric are excellent for liver support.

For amino acids and B vitamins, I recommend a combination of bee pollen powder, Biostrath elixir, aloe vera juice and beet root powder. These all provide strong nutrient support protection against alcohol without any dangers of vitamin toxicity (especially vitamin A).

In addition, there are some safe and effective prescription drugs that can help an individual quit drinking more easily.

In particular, the drugs phentermine and fenfluramine (see The New Diet Pills by Larry S. Hobbs) have been reported to help with both obesity and alcohol addiction.

Natural hormones like melatonin and amino acids like tryptophan and GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) would also be effective therapy since many people drink in order to elevate their levels of these chemicals in the brain.

With alcohol problems, I have found that introducing one healthy thing into the lifestyle leads to further changes for the better.

Psychological counselling and 12 step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (minus the free coffee and doughnuts) can be very helpful but biochemical/nutritional imbalances must be attended to at the same time for lasting results.

Dr. Zoltan Rona is a practising Toronto physician and author of Return To The Joy Of Health, and his latest book Childhood Illness and the Allergy Connection.