Over 15 million Americans in the United States (over 6 percent of the total population) struggle with Alcohol Use Disorder. It's no secret that alcohol abuse is associated with a variety of devastating consequences. From motor vehicle accidents to medical ailments to relationship problems, drinking is responsible for wrecking the lives of many. While rehab, Alcoholics Anonymous, and a total commitment to abstinence have been the gold standard for treatment, it's not the only method available. Here we review and unpack the Sinclair Method for treating alcohol use disorder.
What Is The Sinclair Method?
In the 1960s, a scientist named John Sinclair started examining how alcohol impacted rats. He theorized that when giving rats alcohol for a designated time—followed by cutting them off completely—they would lose interest in alcohol's effects.
The opposite effect happened. The removal of alcohol made the rats want it more once it was reintroduced. He hypothesized that humans had a similar pattern.
Sinclair then started looking into naltrexone, a narcotic agonist that blocks opioid receptors in the brain. In 1994, after discovering that the drug could prevent alcohol cravings and inhibit alcohol's effects, the FDA approved it for treating alcohol use disorder.
Naltrexone blocks the pleasurable effects of alcohol. Thus, Sinclair assumed that, if these effects were blocked, people would lose interest in drinking.
The Sinclair Method is, therefore, a simple one. Take Naltrexone an hour before drinking—while you may still feel alcohol's desired effects, they are far less pleasurable.
Treating Alcohol Use Disorder
Is this method effective? It certainly can be.
Sinclair's method is a radical one. He suggests that people only take naltrexone when drinking. If the person is abstinent, he or she should not take naltrexone during that time.
Sinclair postulated that the brain would naturally lose interest in alcohol in about 3-4 months. Research supports that this theory may work, with up to a 78 percent long-term success rate over 120+ clinical trials.
That said, it is not a very common method in the United States. Therefore, it is hard to ascertain the continued effectiveness of this model.
Downsides Of The Sinclair Method
The Sinclair Method, like all recovery methods, requires effort and work. The individual must be committed to adhering to the plan's guidelines.
That said, this can be challenging. Alcohol is addictive, and people who abuse it enjoy the feeling of intoxication. They crave the escape and relief. Naltrexone, of course, blocks those 'positive' feelings.
As a result, many people may justify or rationalize against taking naltrexone. It may only take one or two experiences of heavy drinking to reinforce the pleasurable effects. Unfortunately, the individual may quickly return back to old habits.
Some may use this method as a 'crutch' to continue drinking problematically. Many people use alcohol to self-medicate uncomfortable feelings or underlying issues related to mental illness. Failing to address these concerns may only lead to more problems later.
The Sinclair Method has several pros and cons. You should consult with your physician or mental health professional to weigh your options and determine the best treatment for you.
Remember that recovery can be a process of trial-and-error. Stay patient and be kind to yourself during this time!