A self-described "chronic relapser," Jared, 25, found that after being in and out of rehab, treatment and meetings dozens of times for the last 10 years, something had to change.
He tried everything, with little success, until he came upon a monthly shot that has kept him sober since the first injection four months ago. Rather than making him sick, the medication simply eliminated, or drastically reduced, his cravings.
"It honestly has been a life saver," he said with a hint of emotion in his voice. "Now I'm to the point where I don't even entertain the thought of using."
Jared's "live saver" is a drug called Vivitrol, used by many doctors today to treat serious addictions, including both alcohol and opioid addiction. Jared suffers from an opioid addiction, but the premise for alcohol addiction treatment is the same. Doctors are finding that drugs such as Vivitrol, when combined with other forms of therapy, can be tremendously successful in treating patients suffering from alcoholism. While these new developments are not intended to be a substitute for traditional rehab or therapy such as Alcoholics Anonymous and are not endorsed by all addicts, doctors say they can be a powerful adjunct to treat individual patients more effectively.
Treatment for alcoholism, as well as other addictions, has evolved dramatically over the last few years and ongoing research makes many doctors optimistic they may be able to substantially reduce the prevalence of alcoholism. Some 30 new clinical trials are aimed at developing more advanced treatment and knowledge. With the combination of traditional and advanced treatment, many patients are finding the path to sobriety and realizing a life free of addiction and constant fear of relapse, although no treatment method can be described as universally effective.
Imagine being placed in a "therapeutic community" where therapists hang shovels around your neck and spit demeaning curse words in your direction in conjunction with aggressive confrontation. Chuck Fenigstein, founder of the athlete addiction facility Healing Warriors and the former clinical director for Sundance Center at Journey Healing Centers, described this as an accepted and common way to treat alcoholics and addicts in society 50 or so years ago.
Dr. Ravi Chandiramani, Journey Healing Centers medical director, described past treatments as being very "punitive" and "judgmental" and said treatment today is vastly different.
"People suffering from chemical dependency are not treated as pariahs or outcasts as they used to be," he said. "The trend has been that chemical dependency is viewed as a chronic relapsing and remitting disease process and treatment requires a comprehensive structured approach with individuals requiring professionals that have specialized skill sets as well."
Fenigstein has been at the center of the changing treatment options over the years and said increased knowledge of alcoholism and addictions in general has fostered better treatment, including a shift in the way addicts and their conditions are viewed.
"Today we have such a wide variety of treatments," Fenigstein said. "In the old days we saw people that were addicts and alcoholics and the underlying precipitants that were driving those addictions were not dealt with as much as they are today with a dual diagnosis model. The research is pretty conclusive that when we deal with what is causing the addiction along with the actual disease we are doing a much better job of minimizing the risk of relapse."
Treatment started to change in the early 1970s when more psychiatrists became involved and the treatment field grew, Fenigstein said.
"It became more professionally oriented and licensed," he said. "Early on there were more addicts and alcoholics doing the treatment and the criteria and standards for professional credentials weren't as high."
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