In recent years, understanding alcohol addiction and the need for treatment have both become more common and acceptable. As awareness has grown, treating addiction as an illness, rather than a character flaw, personal weakness, or an issue of self-control, has become the norm. However, treatment options in the US are often limited to 12-step programs, like AA, or other abstinence-only treatment methods.
But, what happens when traditional methods don’t work? And why do they work for some people and not others? These questions and have led addiction experts and scientists to look further into alternatives for more effective methods of treating or even curing addiction altogether.
In 1994, their efforts gained a promising boost forward with the development of a drug called Naltrexone. An FDA-approved prescription medication for alcohol dependence, Naltrexone is the primary treatment used in the Sinclair Method.
So, What is the Sinclair Method for Alcoholism and how does it work? To answer these questions and others, here is everything you need to know about the Sinclair Method, Naltrexone, and how treatment works:
What Is the Sinclair Method?
Simply put, the Sinclair Method is an alcohol-dependence treatment method designed by Dr. John Sinclair that focuses on ending addiction to alcohol through use of the prescription drug Naltrexone. The Sinclair Method uses Naltrexone to help regulate, or control alcohol consumption, rather than using an abstinence-only or 12-step approach to treating alcoholism.
What is Naltrexone & How Does it Work?
When a person consumes alcohol, it triggers the release of pleasure endorphins in the brain. These endorphins are what create the “buzz”, or intoxicated feeling we experience from drinking alcohol. For some people, this pleasureful intoxication can turn into a craving so strong, an addiction develops.
The more alcohol they consume, the more their brains crave the feeling the rush caused by endorphins when they drink. This craving, and the reliance on alcohol to achieve it, can lead to excessive drinking and ultimately, an addiction to alcohol that is difficult or even impossible to control.
Naltrexone is an FDA-approved prescription drug used to treat alcohol dependence. When taken at least one hour before consuming alcohol, Naltrexone blocks the “happy” endorphins, or pleasure receptacles in the brain normally released through alcohol. By blocking the pleasure endorphins, Naltrexone is able to retrain the brain to dissociate drinking alcohol with the pleasure felt from the endorphin-rush triggered by drinking.
Since the endorphins are blocked, the person no longer feels “buzzed” or the rush of pleasure and intoxication induced by consuming alcohol. Over time, the body stops making the connection between alcohol and feelings of pleasure, or intoxication altogether, and thus the craving for alcohol stops.
Free from the obsession for alcohol, a person can begin to regain control over when, how much, or even if they drink at all.
Abstinence-Only vs. The Sinclair Method
The difference between the Sinclair Method and Abstinence-only treatments, like AA or other 12-step programs, is that the Sinclair Method recognizes that not drinking doesn’t end addiction. In fact, according to recent studies on alcoholism, abstinence makes the brain more preoccupied with thoughts of drinking and will intensify cravings, even after years of sobriety.
No matter how long someone remains sober, they still have an addictive brain and must rely on attending meetings or avoiding situations where alcohol is present, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
Many people find they’re unable to sustain this type of sobriety long term. Relapse rates for alcoholics are high, even after a prolonged period of abstinence, or participation in AA or another 12-step program. Relapsing after a long stretch of abstinence can be very dangerous for an alcoholic. Often, it results in bouts of binge-drinking which can lead to alcohol poisoning, or other destructive behaviors that are life-threatening.
It is often even harder for an alcoholic to stop again after a slip when years of sobriety suddenly go up in flames. The realization that even after all their hard work staying sober, their addiction hasn’t improved and they’re right back where they started after just one drink can be difficult to come back from.
So, why does the Sinclair Method sometimes prove more successful at treating alcohol dependence than other traditionally-accepted, abstinence-only methods? The reason is simple–addiction is a neurological disorder based on the brain’s association between alcohol and pleasure. In order to be successful in ending an alcohol dependence, we need to successfully end our brain’s association with alcohol consumption and feelings of pleasure, which is what Naltrexone achieves over time.
Abstinence does not change this critical association.