Claudia Christian shares her personal advice on sticking with medication-based alcohol treatment for the long term.
Let’s face it, we’re all very different animals when it comes to compliance, planning, or just plain remembering to take medication. We range from super-focused, A-type people who chart, graph, and set alarms for everything, to stressed out, busy moms or dads who ‘remember’ to take their medication perhaps 50 percent of the time.
That said, compliance is the number one most important thing when your recovery includes medication. As difficult as it can seem, finding a system that helps you stay consistent is essential. Below are some personal tips for sticking with medication-assisted treatment—from my own experience, and from years of helping others on the Sinclair Method.
Tips for Getting Started on Naltrexone
Both the blessing and the challenge of naltrexone therapy is that it’s designed to change your habits over time. This can be hard for some people, who might continue to drink through the medication, despite not receiving the same reinforcement or reward they did when drinking without it. These people may wonder if it’s really doing them any good, and be tempted to skip doses.
I try to assure these individuals that they will relearn how to drink over time, and that it’s important to stay motivated and hopeful. Instead of focusing on what you are losing (an instant, but temporary endorphin rush), try to focus on what you are gaining by relearning how to drink normally and safely with naltrexone:
- You are improving your health and your relationships
- You can still enjoy a drink sometimes, as opposed to with abstinence-based treatment methods
- There’s no need to attend rehab or meetings
- You can start to enjoy the taste of wine and craft beers, instead of pounding them to numb yourself out
- You can begin working through personal trauma and improving your emotional health, without the distraction and numbing of excess alcohol.
Remember: “normal” people don’t drink to get wasted. They drink because they like having a beer after work or with dinner, and they usually stop at one or two. This can be hard to imagine for those of us who drink compulsively, or who have used alcohol to self-medicate. But believe me, over time this change is possible. Stick with the medication, and you’ll eventually experience a shift you never thought possible.
Remembering to Take Your Medication
Aside from issues of motivation, there is just plain old organization. Finding a way to stay consistent with your medication is crucial to success on the Sinclair Method, or any naltrexone-based therapy.
One strategy, if you’re the planning type or an avid smartphone user, is to set alarms or use a drink log. There are a number of useful apps on the market that can help you keep track of your drinking, and when you’ve taken your medication.
Some people also choose to plan their drinking nights ahead of time. If this strategy helps you stay in control, then go for it! Put those nights in your calendar, and set notifications reminding you to take your pills.
Whether you’re a diligent planner or not, here are some good general rules of thumb:
- If you know you’ll be around people who may trigger you to drink, take your medication beforehand to be safe—even if you aren’t planning on drinking any alcohol.
- For events like weddings where it’s unclear when alcohol is going to be served, take the medication at home first. Wait an hour, then have a very small amount of alcohol (half a beer or a quarter of a glass of wine). This will allow you to be spontaneous when the champagne starts flowing.
- Make sure you have your medication on you at all times. This can mean a keychain pill holder, or a small change purse in your car with a few pills inside. You could also store some at the home of your parents or your significant other. Perhaps your spouse can keep a spare pill in their wallet or purse in case you forget yours one night.
- Be careful around vacations. I’ve worked with at least a half-dozen people who forgot to bring their naltrexone on their holiday, and then relapsed because of it. Nobody wants to have to come home and start all over from the beginning. Remember: preparation is the key to success!
Tips for Other Medications
No matter which medication for alcoholism you’re taking, it’s important to stay on top of your doses.
If you are taking Acamprosate (Campral) three times a day to stave off cravings and remain abstinent, the simplest strategy is to take it with meals. If you prefer other times, or don’t eat on a regular schedule, you’ll need to find a different routine. Once again, setting notifications or reminders can be a big help.
For those using baclofen or gabapentin to ease withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to keep track of exactly how much you are taking so that you don’t take too much. Detox can be a difficult, confusing, and physically painful time. Having someone help you with the medication at the beginning might be a good idea. If that is not possible, try keeping a pad of paper in your bathroom with your pills. Log every dose you take.
Abusing any medication when your body is detoxing is incredibly dangerous, so be sure to keep your doctor’s instructions handy. Consider keeping it on the same pad of paper you use to track your doses. This can also allow others to see your dosage plan, and help you keep to it.
Sticking with Medication for the Long Haul
Although staying compliant can pose some challenges, it’s well worth it. In my experience, and in that of many others I’ve known, medication is among the most powerful ways to overcome alcohol addiction.
You need to think of your medication as your “freedom pill.” Every time you take it, you are offering yourself freedom from the chains of addiction, freedom to reinvent yourself and begin a new life, and the freedom of knowing your alcohol dependence lies behind you. Every time you struggle to stay compliant, remind yourself of this.
Your pill is also your “life saving medication.” View it as a diabetic would view their insulin: They wouldn’t partake in a sugary dessert without checking their blood sugar levels and having insulin on hand. In the same sense, you should not entertain the idea of drinking alcohol unless you’re protected by your life-saving naltrexone.
I thank God for science and medication every day of my life. Without it, I would still be perpetually binging, or perhaps even dead. Medication is a truly miraculous, shame-free, and humane way to deal with alcohol misuse. Commit to it, stick it out, and do what it takes to never miss a dose.
Claudia Christian is a successful film and television actress. She is also founder of the C Three Foundation, and a passionate advocate for the Sinclair Method to treat alcohol dependence. Christian is currently a member of Ria Health‘s Advisory Board.