The traditional approach to alcoholism is detoxification (removing alcohol from the bodily system), abstinence (complete avoidance of alcoholic substances), and maintenance (support in abstaining from alcohol permanently). However, another approach is gaining interest. This approach, called the Sinclair Method, has been around for about 20 years.
The Sinclair Method uses pharmacological substances (medications) to treat the physical problem of alcoholism by blocking the opioid receptors and thereby preventing the person from experiencing the effects of alcohol. In this approach, the person continues to drink while taking a medication such as naltrexone or nalmefene one hour before consumption of alcohol. The goal is that over time the person will crave alcohol less. In essence, it interrupts the behavior-reward cycle.
Proponents of the Sinclair method tout its 78% success rate and offer many advantages over other methods of alcohol recovery. One advantage is that there is no need for detoxification because it happens more naturally and gradually. Over time, the alcoholic does not feel the same pleasure reward from drinking and therefore is less likely to crave alcohol over time and will drink less over time. Detoxification can be very hard physically and mentally because it is so abrupt. Many times medical care is needed to properly and safely detoxify. This can be costly as well.
Another advantage is that this method is much easier. The person simply takes a pill before drinking each time. Outside of this new medication, their day-to-day life activities remain the same. They do not have to take time off work, go to counseling, be hospitalized, go to meetings, fight cravings, etc.
Due to the simplicity of the method as well as the ability for the alcoholic to remain in control of it, a person may be more likely to try this route. In other words, an alcoholic may be more likely to attempt to sobriety if offered this method as opposed to one which seems difficult, overwhelming, and out of their control.
There are many critics of this method as well. One disadvantage is the need to take a synthetic, pharmacological medication. Many people do not like the idea of taking prescription medications which interfere with their body’s normal processes.
In addition, there is no accountability on the part of the alcoholic. They are free to miss a dose whenever they like. So, non-compliance can become a big issue. Critics state that it is difficult to get some who thrives on the feeling that alcohol provides to willingly give up the feeling. They may decide that they want that feeling again to experience pleasure, have a good time, escape negative feelings, or self-medicate for anxiety. Going along with this idea, is the fact that one missed dose results in a hyper-arousal of the opioid receptors because the brain creates more of them to compensate for the effects of the medication. This will cause the alcoholic to have a more pleasurable effect than usual and may reinforce their drinking rather than causing aversion to it.
The greatest disadvantage of the method is that it only addresses the physical side of alcoholism. It does nothing to address why the person drinks. Do they feel that they need it to be social and likeable? Do they use it to escape negative emotions and avoid dealing with things? Are they self-medicating for anxiety? Additionally, it doesn’t address the triggers that causes the person to abuse alcohol or the effects that their alcoholism has had on their loved ones, their careers, their reputation, etc. The Sinclair Method does not help the person handle these things which are all inherent problems in the life of an alcoholic. Without addressing the psychological aspects of alcoholism, the person could be vulnerable to other addictions such as pornography, gambling, or drugs. They are likely to find some other avenue to get pleasure or escape.
This is a personal choice. It’s important for you to know what your options are when it comes to treating alcoholism. Educate yourself on the pros and cons of each treatment modality and then carefully make the best decision for you.
Sinclair Method - A cure for alcoholism