With more studies supporting the use of anti-craving drugs, health professionals are now utilizing such medication to help those who normally do not have access to it.
A preliminary study, published in the journal Substance Abuse, looked into the effects of injectable naltrexone to treat chronically homeless and alcohol-dependent individuals.
According to a news article published by the University of Washington, participants of a 12-week pilot program in Seattle received monthly injection of extended-release naltrexone and met with physicians for counseling.
The counseling itself focused on setting goals for the treatment and learning how to safely use alcohol.
Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, has long been used to help treat alcohol abuse disorders because of its ability to curb cravings.
Lead researcher Susan Collins of the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences that they embarked on the study with the knowledge that it would be difficult to convince homeless people to give up alcohol immediately.
"Abstinence-based alcohol treatment has not been effective for or desirable to many homeless people with alcohol dependence," she said, adding that abstinence may also be dangerous if alcohol withdrawal progresses to delirium tremens, a lethal form of alcohol withdrawal.
"Suddenly stopping drinking can be a serious hazard for people with severe alcohol dependence. Often their bodies literally depend on alcohol to survive," Collins explained.
The study was designed to test their proposed new treatment and to measure how feasible it is in improving the people's lives. It specifically targets homeless patients who are not ready to abstain on alcohol. Homeless people who are alcohol-dependent face many health, social, economic and legal problems, in addition to costing the government much on public-funded services.
The physicians involved in the program noted that unlike other anti-abuse drugs, naltrexone has no negative reaction when it comes to alcohol. It does not make alcohol aversive, making it the perfect medication on those trying to slowly cutback on alcohol consumption.
Collins said naltrexone "acts as a pacifier to quiet brain receptors that are crying out for more alcohol." It works by blocking parts of the brain that feel pleasure with the consumption of alcohol and other addictive substances. Before becoming a known treatment for alcoholism, naltrexone was originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for opioid addiction treatment.
Counseling offered during the course of the program particularly addressed the patients in a non-judgmental and emphatic style. Collins and the other physicians asked them what they wanted to change and how they could kick the habit.
Of the 45 patients surveyed, many said the treatment was acceptable. Around 33 percent reported a decrease in alcohol cravings and around the same number experienced a drop in alcohol consumption. What was most promising is that 60 percent reported a decrease in problems associated with alcohol use.
"We think the initial results suggest that extended-release naltrexone and harm reduction counseling is a promising means of supporting reductions in alcohol use and in reducing alcohol-related harm among chronically homeless, alcohol-dependent individuals," the study's team of physicians were quoted saying.
However, they said the findings should not be over-interpreted, adding that larger-scale treatments should undergo other tests.
Of the participants, 38.7 percent were Caucasians, 35.5 percent identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native, 12.9 percent said they were multi-racial, 9.7 percent were African Americans and 3.2 percent were Pacific Islanders or Hawaiian Natives.
Also involved in the study were Mark H. Duncan, Brian F. Smart and Richard K. Ries, of the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, who also practice at Harborview Medical Center; Andrew J. Saxon of the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System; Daniel K. Malone of the Downtown Emergency Service Center; and T. Ron Jackson of the University of Washington School of Social Work and Evergreen Treatment Services.
The research was funded by grants from the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, the University of Washington Center for Healthcare Improvement for Addictions, Mental Illness and Medically Vulnerable Populations, and a Career Transition Award to Collins from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
In recent years, more patients and medical practitioners have been shifting to dual-approach treatments that utilize both counseling and the intake of anti-addiction drugs.
Naltrexone, one of the popular drugs that address alcohol cravings, come in different forms. Although mostly taken in pill form, many find it difficult to take regularly because of a number of factors - from simply forgetting to consciously deciding not to take it.
Extended-release naltrexone has become more effective in this regard.
It has mostly been administered through injection, which lasts for about a month, although technological innovations have resulted in other forms like implants.
BioCorRx Inc. (BICX) uses a proprietary naltrexone pellet that is implanted in the patient's body. The pellet's effect is said to last for at least six months. This greatly lowers the risk of relapse, especially since the program is designed so that the patient will only need to receive the medication once before undergoing life coaching sessions.
Brady Grainier, COO of BioCorRx said dealing with the physical addiction first is vital in increasing success rates when it comes to alcohol abuse treatment.
"Without the intrusive physical cravings, patients are better able to absorb the teachings of the life coaches. Medicines like Naltrexone are very effective in virtually eliminating those cravings and we have one of the longest lasting implants in the world to help address the cravings," he said.
Like Collins and her team's study, BioCorRx's Start Fresh Program features a forward-looking coaching.
What they call Life Coaching is composed of 15 sessions that must be taken in a span of six months. It focuses on helping the patient plan for a future that does not include alcohol or drug dependence.
"In those sessions, the life coach helps the patient to develop tools that will enable them to recognize and deal with triggers that would normally cause them to use or drink. The coaching program is focused on moving forward and not looking back. These sessions can take place face to face or via skype so that the person's recovery fits within the framework of their own lives," Grainier explained.