Medication Plus Counseling: Why Two Heads Are Better Than One

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A popular saying states that it “takes a village” to raise a child. After all, it would be tough for a single person—even a parent—to muster all the patience, energy, and resources required for the task. So what makes other Herculean efforts—such as reducing alcohol—any different?

When it comes to building healthier drinking habits, some people are tempted to rely on medications alone. The mentality is understandable, since they are often viewed as cheaper and less complicated than comprehensive treatment programs, especially for those who haven’t had much luck with traditional approaches in the past.

The Ria Health team agrees that medications can have a profoundly positive impact on patients’ drinking habits. However, pairing medications (such as naltrexone) with other supportive influences—including coaches, therapists, doctors, and nurses—not only enhances the effects, but may help problem drinkers rejuvenate their lives in novel ways.

Keeping On Track with Medication

There are plenty of reasons why some people have trouble sticking to medications. Some abandon their prescriptions as soon as they start to feel better; others become discouraged by a perceived lack of progress; and others still fall out of a routine after forgetting to take their daily dosages [1]. Yet, as with any drug treatment, it’s crucial to stay on track. According to research, problem drinkers who adhere to their prescriptions often drink less and take longer to relapse than those who don’t [2-5].

That’s where doctors come into play. A supportive and knowledgeable medical team can help patients by brainstorming individualized treatment plans, answering questions, discussing affordability, and scheduling regular check-ins. In the end, these proactive measures have been shown to substantially improve patients’ ability to stick with their plan—along with all the associated benefits [6,7]. So keep your apple of the day—you might want to keep the doctor, too!

Providing Moral Support

As one of Ria Health’s coaches, Laura Vincent, puts it: “[Drinking] feels really good, but it’s actually making you more depressed…and it’s putting you in this negative cycle.” In this sense, living with an alcohol problem is a bit like maintaining a toxic relationship: it’s easy to overlook even your partner’s most glaring flaws by reflecting on the few joyful moments you spent together.

And just like abandoning a failed relationship, becoming less dependent on alcohol can feel disarming and scary, as if a rug were being pulled out from under your feet. Faced with a gaping emotional void, many former problem drinkers must find new ways of coping with hardships, passing the time, and bonding with friends (without needing to drink) [8]. In other words, there’s a whole lot more to overcoming problem drinking than simply reducing cravings.

Most of us wouldn’t want to undergo a messy separation alone. In this case, you have partners and guides. Along with doctors, a supportive group of therapists or coaches can help recovering problem drinkers repair marred relationships, process their thoughts, and maintain non-judgmental optimism in response to setbacks. Ultimately this team approach gives people the tools they need to combat the emotional challenges of changing their relationship with alcohol.

Curbing Cravings (in More Ways Than One)

When it comes to treating the urge to drink, both medication and psychotherapy can have a synergistic effect. And to save you time skimming through a sea of addiction therapies, we’ll let you in on a helpful tidbit: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) seems to be a good fit for the job [9,10]. Some scholars believe this is because both CBT and medications are aligned toward the same goals—namely, curbing urges and preventing relapse [11].

If you’re still unsure, let research do the talking. For starters, plenty of evidence suggests medication can improve the efficacy of therapy [12-14]. Though some studies indicate that medications alone can do the job, other health professionals believe (as we do) they are even more effective when combined with therapy [7,15,16]. Either way, there’s no telling whether you’ll respond best to medications, therapy, or both—and it can’t hurt to test out a mixture.

If you’re wondering how to get the most out of medications, Ria Health is here to help. Our team believes that combining them with interpersonal support (CBT and motivational interviewing techniques) generates the best likelihood for success. So far, our method is achieving results four times greater than with medication alone. Visit our website to learn more on Ria Health’s unique strategy.

Kimberly Nielsen writes about health issues, and has written for various scientific newspapers and blogs. She is currently studying biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and plans to pursue a graduate degree in Public Health.

















Written By:
Bruce Hodges
New York-based writer, editor, and fundraising consultant with over three decades of experience.
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