Health Team

Medication + Counseling Can Help Alcoholics

Posted October 4, 2007

Most college students are now settled into their campus lifestyle - one that may involve what many students look upon as a rite of passage: binge drinking.

College isn't necessarily the starting point for alcohol abuse. A recent U.S. government survey found hard liquor is the choice of 40 percent of teens who try alcohol, many of whom are in middle school.

It's no wonder that one out of three Americans has had a problem with alcohol at some point in their life. Many will tell you there's a heavy price to pay.

There are 25,000 deaths every year in the U.S. from highway crashes. Sixty percent of them are alcohol related.

Alcohol abuse is a major cause of family violence, child abuse and criminal action. It can lead to liver damage, heart disease, high blood pressure and increased risk of breast cancer in women.

Dr. James Garbutt, a UNC psychiatrist and research scientist for alcohol studies, said chronic alcohol use also kills brain cells. He said it can actually shrink the brain. That's something adolescents can't afford since their brains are still developing.

"Particularly in that region of the brain that are associated with planning, judgment and sort of figuring out your life and which way it should go," Garbutt said.

Programs like SafeTeens offered to drivers’ education programs across the state teach about the risks of alcohol and drugs on driving. Education is the key, Garbutt said, to stopping a lifelong dependence and the toll that it takes.

"If we can delay the age of drinking and delay a heavy drinking problem, then we may reduce alcohol dependence,” Garbutt said.

Garbutt said if alcoholics can first acknowledge their dependency and seek help, they can begin a process of recovery.

First, he said, alcoholics need to detoxify their body by getting the alcohol out of their system. That typically involves three to four days, most often done in a hospital. Then comes counseling, either in a group support program like Alcoholics Anonymous or private counseling.

New drugs are available such as Naltrexone, an opiate blocking medication that comes in pill form or a longer lasting once a month injection called Vivatrol. Alcohol stimulates a pleasure center in the brain and releases beta-endorphins that create that buzz or high.

Naltrexone blocks the endorphin receptors in the brain so the person doesn't get the same pleasure from drinking. There are other drug options to help cut craving. Garbutt said medication plus counseling can be very effective.

For more information on recovery from alcohol dependency, visit


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  • gopanthers Oct 6, 2007

    One other thing - Intervention is not always a safety net for one that drinks to much. The first step is "they" must admit they have a problem and ask for help. If they don't admit they have a problem and ask for that help then intervention alot of times will be useless. They must and have to make that first step.

  • gopanthers Oct 6, 2007

    Shag. don't know why but I could not type your whole Golo ID. I was flagged and not permitted to post. - I Liked your post but we all have to remember some people can't cope with everyday life situations as most can. Therefore they try and drown their feelings and emotional Pain with the bottle. Not all are drinking to Socialize. Alcoholic is an additive drug and they don't realize what they are doing until its to late. And then by then they can't stop drinking unless someone intervenes. They either die or kill someone. Alcohol Abuse is just a symptom of the real problems/issues with one that drinks to much in alot of cases.

  • Shagger Oct 6, 2007

    It seems that the buzz goes away quickly and that's when the down feeling and abuse starts - verbal and/or physical. There is so much talk about tobacco abuse but the alcoholic beverage companies somehow manage to keep this type of abuse out of the legislature and court system. I really feel sorry for the people who think they have to drink to relax or socialize.

  • blackdog Oct 5, 2007

    ...the political expenses paid by Gallo and Seagram's would curl your toes...

  • jeebk04 Oct 5, 2007

    It sure would. Unfortunately, too many people would have "hissy fit" about their "rights" being infringed upon. Shows you where priorities are in this country.

  • blackdog Oct 5, 2007

    ...outlawing fortified wines and beers would help the country ALOT...