“It’s like a little kid wanting a piece of candy. You see it, you want the taste of it.” He closes his eyes and sniffs the air, remembering the feeling. “You can be by yourself, and all of a sudden get even a hint of alcohol, just the smell of it, and say, ‘Oh, I need a drink.’ That sensation is not something you can get rid of.”
But today, Kent isn’t tempted in the least. He says the credit goes to a prescription medication — a pill called naltrexone. It’s part of a new generation of anti-addiction drugs that may turn the world of rehab on its head.
Dr. Mark Willenbring, who oversees scientific research at the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, says alcoholism has reached a point similar to one depression reached 30 years ago — when the development of Prozac and other antidepressants took mental health care out of the asylum and put it in homes and doctors’ offices.
… findings highlight what’s become increasingly clear: Addiction is a brain disease, not just a failure of willpower. Naltrexone and topiramate have slightly different mechanisms, but both seem to block the release of brain chemicals that are linked to pleasure and excitement. Unlike earlier drugs used to treat alcoholics, neither is addictive or carries significant side effects. It does appear that each might work better in certain subgroups — topiramate for repeat relapsers, and naltrexone in people with a strong family history of alcoholism.
… in the United States only one addict in 10 has even heard about medication options. “In most cases, the treatment is entirely nonmedical. Most people are not even told about the medications that are available for treating alcohol dependence, and I think that’s a crime.”
Still, medication is slowly creeping into mainstream addiction therapy. One big advocate is Percy Menzies, a pharmacist and former sales representative for DuPont, which developed naltrexone. His St. Louis, Missouri-based Recovery Centers for America treats patients in an on-site hospital, then refers them to outside physicians for follow-up treatment. Along with therapy, virtually every patient is given Vivitrol, a long-lasting form of naltrexone that’s given monthly by injection.
Kent says naltrexone saved his life.