Recently, the co-founder of the Amsterdam Institute for Addiction Research, Wim van den Brink, suggested a change to the way we think about alcoholism. Unlike what we’ve been told for years, van den Brink suggested that alcoholics should not abstain from alcohol completely.
What did he say?
While the majority of us curiously tipped our heads to the side, wondering what would come next, van den Brink presented his solution: a pill designed to help alcoholics drink like normal people; nalmefene.
The nalmefene pill acts as an alcohol antagonist, binding to the opiate receptors in your brain. This doesn’t stop you from drinking, but it takes the pleasure of drinking away. Does it completely eliminate your desire to drink? No, but because it makes alcohol less pleasurable, the end result is that most individuals drink less than they originally would. It doesn’t, however, help eliminate drinking altogether.
The Amsterdam Institute for Addiction Research studied 604 people in a double-blind trial to see whether or not the pill was successful. The trial carried on for six months, and at the end, van den Brink discovered that those who drank alcohol heavily had cut their drinking days down each month from 19 to eight. While the placebo group saw a reduction in drinking as well, those that took the nalmefene tablet experienced better results. Two other studies were published later in the Journal of Psychopharmacology and the European Neuropsychopharmacology. Some believe, however, that these pharma-backed studies are weak, and that independent studies are needed.
Is Cutting Back the Right Choice?
The pill is said to help a person cut back, but not stop drinking altogether. While this may sound appealing to some, others feel much differently. Some feel it’s ridiculous and just another attempt for Big Pharma to get into our lives somehow.
“Why do we need another excuse to keep drinking? I can’t play with that much fire,” said one Gracious Care Recovery Solutions staff member.
Nalmefene Use for Alcoholism in the United States
Nalmefene, in pill form, is available in Europe (and online) and has been since March 2013. It was first sold in Scotland. England followed close behind. By November 2014, the National Health Service in Britain had named nalmefene a successful treatment for reducing alcohol consumption in those with alcoholism. However, the UK does have certain rules for practitioners wishing to prescribe the tablet. Patients must display symptoms of alcohol dependency and agree to participate in counseling. Because of these rules, most individuals aren’t sure which part is working- the therapy or the pill. According to the University of Stirling lecturer, Dr. Niamh Fitzgerald, there’s no way of knowing without more studies.
Are we ready to bring nalmefene to the United States?
Do we want to be able to be “normal drinkers?”
A blog post on Vivatrol, very similar to nalmefene, and widely used in the United States, will be up this week.