Previous Next
New drugs might be the answer to alcoholism and over-the-top backpackers. Or are they?

Photo: David Boyle

Looks like the next wave of treatment for alcoholism is here. Pretty darn soon, one can use a drug to deal with their drinking problem.

Well, it seems this treatment has been around for some time, but is only now beginning to get some heat behind it. According to an article in New Scientist magazine, Markus Heilig of the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) stated:

The dogma has been that you can’t treat a chemical addiction with another chemical…It’s well-meaning but naive, and in the end very destructive.

Clinical trials are happening, big pharma is very interested in getting treatment meds on the market (shocking, I know), and Heilig and his colleagues are hoping for alcoholism’s “Prozac moment” (i.e. the depression therapy “revolution” caused by the release of Prozac).

We’ve already debated at BNT whether alcohol is necessary to connect on the road, which prompted varied responses (some find it completely unnecessary, while others feel it is quite helpful in breaking down barriers and getting to know the locals).

Of course there is a big difference between having a couple of pints and being an alcoholic. But what might this type of pill mean for those travelers who need it, or even more importantly, don’t realize they need it?

Drinking, Drugs, and Travel

Sure, the loudmouth backpacker making slightly insulting comments at the other end of the bar can be funny…for the first hour. But what happens when you start seeing this guy drunk all the time during your week in Dehli – including daytime? Guy’s got an issue.

Worse yet, what if you are traveling with someone who has to have a drink to enjoy herself, even during a hiking breather in Munich or to check out the Uffizi in Florence? Sure, having a glass of wine during lunch is like feeling the European flava, but c’mon now, we have to be sober for some part of the trip, right?

I do wonder sometimes how much alcohol ends up changing the travel experience.

I do wonder sometimes how much alcohol ends up changing the travel experience. I know it can be a good thing, giving you lasting memories of “that crazy night we had in Madrid.” But there is an unfortunate amount of over-doing it that occurs, as with any drug, and it might be impacting us more negatively than we realize at the time.

The Answer?

Yet…I know this may seem out of character (har har), but I’m not so psyched at the idea of using a pill to treat alcoholism. Yes, I understand that medication could help save people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to recover.

On the other hand, as even the New Scientist article notes, some experts believe the benefits of SSRIs like Prozac have been greatly over-exaggerated, and in fact, have even been shown to cause suicidal thoughts.

I can’t help but wonder what the side effects of these alcohol drugs might be, and if they will give people the chance to look deeply inside to figure out where the problem stems from in the first place.

Still, that guy in Dehli seriously needs some help.

What do you think about the use of drugs to cure alcoholism? Share your thoughts below.



About The Author

Christine Garvin

Christine Garvin is a certified Nutrition Educator and holds a MA in Holistic Health Education. She is the founder/editor of Living Holistically...with a sense of humor and co-founder of Confronting Love. When she is not out traveling the world, she is busy writing, doing yoga, and performing hip-hop and bhangra. She also likes to pretend living in her hippie town of Fairfax, CA is like being on vacation.

  • Michelle

    Man. I was just having a conversation the other day with someone about losing weight, healthy eating, and exercise versus pills and surgery. Some people will do ANYTHING to avoid the simplest and best solution – a lifestyle change.

  • Kate

    Interesting. I’ve been alcohol free more than 5 years now.

    Not all alcoholism stems from something more profound than a gene that predisposes someone to alcoholism, but I do think that what one does while drinking might require some reflection.

    And I have to say that after quitting smoking 8 months ago, I can’t let go of the nicotine gum and I’d hate to be on a pill to stay off alcohol!

  • Pedro

    For a long time I’ve felt that if they invented a pill that would allow me to drink like a normal person I wouldn’t want it. I like sobriety and reality the way it is.

    However, this pill sounds like just substituting on kind of intoxication for another. I suppose some people who can’t otherwise get sober would consider exchanging drunkenness for being stoned on a muscle relaxant or whatever, a fair trade; however, I don’t.

  • Heather

    I currently work at a facility that does substance abuse and mental health counseling. They used to use suboxone maintenance therapy and an anti-alcohol drug that made you sick when you drank for some clients but they no longer do that as the counselors felt similarly about it as you do. Instead they rely on intensive outpatient therapy and random drug testing. However, the psychiatrist will prescribe medication for depression, etc. They found that simply having the clients come to group therapy 4 times a week in the 1st phase of treatment and regularly testing for alcohol use (which is a rather new invention in drug testing) in addition to drug use is a better way of dealing with it. You simply can’t take a pill for everything – true change requires lots of hard work.

  • Scott

    A timely article, as I contemplate – and have plans for – my own pursuit of abstinence. “Alcoholic” itself is such a loaded word. As I read the responses above it reminds me how many ways there are through alcoholism. My sister is a year sober, and takes meds. Her boyfriend, sober for 13 years, takes/and took, nothing. They maintain their sobriety in different ways. My sister, and I, have a preexisting genetic glitsch – she takes the same meds now as she did while an alcoholic, and before; her depression, perhaps like my own, is that preexisting glitsch. She and I are both convinced – by looking back several generations – that depression is the disease, and alcohol – in a way – the symptom. My own Way through it will initially involve lifestyle change as well as alternative/drug-free options. I do agree that imagining there is a pill for everything is erroneous, at the very least, not for me. As I read the warning labels on many drugs, especially psychiatric/mood ‘stabilizers’, I often find that the side effects are worse than the malady it’s trying to remedy.

    • Christine Garvin

      Hi Scott,

      Your response reminded me of a good friend who was battled with alcohol on and off for years. Her father was an alcoholic, so were both of her brothers, so she too has the family connection. Something she found out through a treatment center (one that is not only for alcoholics, but people with eating disorders, drug addictions, etc.) that focuses on nutritional therapy is that she has something called pyroluria (not to be confused with h. pylori, a bacterial infection). Here’s a brief synopsis on it:

      Orthomolecular medicine is very intrigued with the connection between pyroluria and alcoholism, as alcohol alleviates (or balances) the stress caused in the body primarily by a lack of B6 and Zinc. The cure is simple, but life-long – depending on the level of pyrroles in the body, high levels of B6 and Zinc supplementation are required.

      The test is pretty inexpensive too – usually between $50 and $75.

      I think this will end up for alcoholism similar to celiac testing for stomach ailments – five years ago, it was never done, and now it’s a first line of defense.

      Good luck with whatever route you take…

  • Paul

    Most alcoholics would rather die than get sober.
    And they do. – Anon.

  • Michaeloff

    What I am going to say takes a bit of effort to understand, & a whole lot more to believe, but the more you do follow up research, the more sense it makes. But the really convincing part is that the therapy works in about one hour to definitely calm the urge to self medicate with Alcohol.
    The first thing to understand is why Alcoholics drink. They drink for the effect, to medicate their strong inner discomfort. The phrase often heard among Alcoholics, “I can’t get comfortable inside my own skin,” well describes these constant negative feelings.
    These feelings are rarely accurately diagnosed by counselors, therapists, or psychologists for what they so obviously are, Chronic Anxiety. This is a very common condition affecting about 25% of the population to some degree, but only a minority choose to self medicate with Alcohol. Other common responses to Chronic Anxiety are Sex & Gambling addictions, Type A personality, “workaholic” & “shopaholic” behavior, hoarding, escapist& thrill seeking behavior, & more.
    Chronic Anxiety is also the major driving force behind Panic attacks, Phobias, Insomnia, Obsessive behavior, ADD & more.
    But what causes the Chronic Anxiety?
    There are several causes & complications like low thyroid, but the major undiagnosed cause is Pyroluria, a medically unrecognized (ignored) but very real condition.
    It is ignored because the Medical & Pharmaceutical industries want to treat everyone for everything, but cure nothing. Rehab is a profitable industry. Cures lose them customers. None of these “health” industries have any interest in a cheap therapy, God forbid a cure, for anything. For example, do you believe they really want an inexpensive cure for Cancer like Baking Soda? (Google that.) The suffering & deaths of hundreds of thousands per year is of no importance to them. It’s all about careers, money, & lifestyle. Most Drs are ignorant of the entire picture, but most suspect something is wrong, & a few highly placed people know the truth.

    Every website you research for Pyroluria except mine says that it is genetic. They are wrong, it is a common multi-resistant infection, probably fungal in nature, originating with a diet contaminated by mold or that promotes fungus in the body. Pyroluria, which can be mild to severe, causes the body to urinate out B6 & Zinc which are critical for the manufacture & function of most neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitter deficiencies are the cause of the Anxiety & other problems. This information & the Pyroluria condition can be confirmed three ways.
    First do a Google search of each of the above mentioned psychological conditions along with B6, for example “ADD B6.” “Panic B6″ There is a high correlation.
    Second, see how many symptoms of Pyroluria the person has.
    Third, have the Alcoholic take 100mg of B6, & 500mg of Vit C every hour for 5 hours (no danger) & watch them calm down & be in less “need” of a drink. Must avoid caffeine & sugar. This is a partial & temporary therapy & not the complete “55Fix”. To slowly reverse Pyroluria takes more work.
    This is getting a bit long, but there is more information at
    Wishing you the best,

    • Christine Garvin

      Thanks Mike, for sharing all of that info — the word needs to get out on pyroluria. Glad you put together a site!

  • Brian Kelly

    Just one question.

    “what happens when you start seeing this guy drunk all the time during your week in Dehli – including daytime?”

    So why were you spending all day in the bar?

Warning: Imbibe in these ten forms of potent alcohol from around the world and you'll...
A staple of Sunday morning brunch, the Bloody Mary can help cure the worst of what's...
From the Afrikaans for "white lightning," witblits is a strong unaged grape brandy.
This is this is your basic illegal distilled moonshine, made from sugarcane. Straight...
Get f*cked up with these 59 national drinks.
Budweiser has, in this case, mixed Clamato with their patented brew to create this evil...
Drink responsibly and read on for eight Asian libations with the best buzz for your buck.
A new study found that people who don't drink are more likely to be depressed because...
Christine Garvin counts down the best ways to get high on travel without getting arrested.
Cultural immersion in China with a whole lot of alcohol.
The martini might be the most loosely defined drink in the world. Here are ten recipes...
If, in what may be the 11,000 years of beer making the world has seen, brewing a purely...