Alcohol for Anxiety?

This section is dedicated to Clive, Marci, and thousands of others who have lost the battle with a killer disease.
by Stephen Cox MD

Many persons who suffer from anxiety discover that alcoholic beverages give them partial relief from their anxiety symptoms. Indeed alcohol has been used for centuries by anxious people to “settle their nerves”.

Alcohol treatment of anxiety disorders is a horrible treatment. Dependency upon alcohol can develop quickly and severely in persons with chronic anxiety disorders. Tolerance to alcohol develops as higher and higher doses of alcohol are required to achieve the same benefits in anxiety relief which were obtained in the beginning. If the person drinks large amounts of alcohol daily their body becomes physically dependent upon this level of alcohol so that alcohol cannot be stopped for even one or two days without the person experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms such as tremor, and even rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure alternating with falling blood pressure upon sudden standing from sitting or lying down, sweating and insomnia. In severe cases, sudden death can result from seizures induced by this alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Drinking alcohol in excess for months or years takes a hard toll on the body. Liver failure, heart problems, dementia, and peripheral neuropathy are but a few examples of alcohol related diseases, some of which can be fatal. Collapse of social and family relationships may result. Unemployment may be a consequence. Death from motor vehicle accidents may occur from alcohol use. Imprisonment may be a consequence of alcohol misuse.

Although alcohol problems are not anxiety disorders, due to the statistical risk of developing alcohol problems by persons suffering from anxiety disorders, the National Anxiety Foundation believes its website is not complete without educating the public about it.

A Medical Breakthrough in the Treatment of Alcoholism

The traditional method of AA and inpatient educational alcohol “rehab” has been extremely helpful to individuals who have been fortunate enough to respond to it. I am so glad that we have had it to help people all these decades.

The Sinclair Method of treating alcoholism is a new way of treating alcoholism that works in more than twice as many people as our traditional manner of dealing with alcoholism. It is named after its discoverer, Dr. David Sinclair a noted psychologist and researcher who worked in Finland for 30 years on this worldwide killer. Dr. Sinclair and his colleagues found from their experiments with alcoholic rats that if the alcoholic rats were given naltrexone before being given alcohol, over a period of many days the rats gradually consumed less and less alcohol…eventually an inconsequential amount!

As it turned out, the human clinical trials in Finland revealed that human alcoholics follow the same pattern as did the alcoholic rats…although it took the humans about 9 months instead of a few weeks to become inconsequential drinkers (Dr Sinclair quips, “Apparently alcoholic rats learn quicker than alcoholic people.”). I tell my patients that it takes 9 months, “Its like having a baby”, but results vary. Some people respond more quickly.

The largest US clinical trial to date, the Combine study (see the Anton, AMA publication reference at the end of this section) showed the same thing. 78% of alcoholics responded to the naltrexone treatment. Only 10 % dropped out of the study for any cause. That leaves only 12% that failed to respond to the treatment.

This is the most exciting breakthrough in addictive disease in my lifetime. Up until now the traditional manner of treating alcoholism seems to me to have a 1 year follow-up success rate of about 25-30%. Now we have a 78% successful treatment.

The trouble is that only a small minority of physicians know about this. Why? One reason might be explained by an additive disease specialist’s question, who after listening to Dr. Sinclair’s presentation of this treatment asked, “I just have one question. How am I to make a living after this gets out?” It is true that we will not need but a small fraction of the present multi-billion dollar corporate and government alcohol rehab institution as it presently exists.

By the way, what is naltrexone? It is not a narcotic (narcotics are addictive pain killers like “oxy”, oxycodone, heroin, etc). Naltexone actually blocks narcotics. It was a trade name drug called Revia. It went generic several years ago. American doctors were instructed to use Revia the wrong way it turns out. So it never made much of a splash back in its day. Now we know how to use it to its best advantage. Naltrexone also comes in a once-a-month shot which though not generic can be affordable since the manufacturer at this time is alleviating some of the financial burden for many of its customers. It is called Vivitrol™. I have had good success with it as well.
One may read about this in Dr. Roy Eskapa’s book, The Cure for Alcoholism, Benbella Books, Dallas Texas 2008.

Physicians may find the Anton scientific article illuminating as well : the peer reviewed American Medical Association publication, the Archives of General Psychiatry: Vol. 65 No 2, Feb 2008.”An Evaluation of Mu-Opiod Receptor (OPRM1) as a Predictor of Naltrexone Response in the Treatment of Alcohol Dependence. Ramond Anton MD, et al.

View The Sinclair Method website.

Thank you reading about this exciting new option for those with alcohol trouble. It is so important.

A few months ago, I had the tearful experience of attending the memorial service of one of my former panic disorder patients, a beautiful and spiritual young woman, who subsequently became afflicted with alcoholism and tragically died from liver failure at only 36 years of age.

If you or your loved one has an alcohol problem, please, get help before it is too late.