Sobriety shot: The injection that takes away the craving

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by SHELLY SLATER / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on November 15, 2012 at 9:07 AM

VAN ALSTYNE — It's a place to escape, where quiet afternoons are coveted.

But the work going on inside at Enterhealth Ranch is everything but the easy life.

“It's just a way to release whatever is in your mind... you let it free,” explained Jonathan Marquez, a recovering alcoholic who was taking part in art therapy at the addiction treatment center.

“You drink so you can get peace of mind, so you can forget after awhile... but eventually you end up in a worse place," Marquez said. "This was literally my last hope.”

Dr. Hal Urschel with Enterhealth believes addiction injures the brain. He says it’s a chronic disease like, for example, diabetes.

Much like many diabetics need insulin, he believes many alcoholics need Vivitrol.

It's an FDA-approved injection that stops alcohol cravings for a full month. So once the shot is administered, the user has no choice but to be sober for 30 days.

Previously, the drug only came in pill form, giving patients the choice to take their medicine every day and plan a relapse.

“You know who loves the shot the most?" Dr. Urschel asked. "The families, because they know for the next month their loved one can't get drunk, can't get intoxicated.”

If Marquez tries to get drunk after Vivitrol injection, it won't work. He'll feel nothing — no high, no rewards.

Although his body can still physically get drunk — staggering and slurring words — the incentive to drink is no longer there.

“There is not an alcoholic out there that drinks so he can get his next DWI,” Dr. Urschel explained.

“Within a week, I just wasn't even having thoughts about drinking,” Marquez said.

Dr. Urschel emphasized that the shot alone isn't enough. Patients have to want to change, not just through medicine, but using tools like therapy, good nutrition, and coping skills.

“I'd go to the gas station, and, of course, there was beer right by the front door," Marquez said. "I would go by and not even think twice. That was a big step for me."

Vivitrol doesn't work for everybody. It only controls cravings up to 90 percent. That's where the coping mechanisms have to come into place.

At Caron Texas, a different treatment center, the injection is not as readily used. Patients there go through the therapy program first; then — if there is a concern about relapse upon release — the drug is prescribed.

“Recovery one day at a time is more important than the shot itself,” said Caron Texas medical director Stephen Garrison.

Dr. Garrison said while Vivitrol is safe, he is concerned too many people will try to use it alone — as if it were a magic cure.

“We believe coping skills help with the cravings more than the medicine itself,” Dr. Garrison said.

Enterhealth doctors believe in coping skills, too, but typically include the shot as part of the treatment plan early on.

“I am terrified as a physician that the patient's next relapse is lethal — for them or someone else," Dr. Urschel said. "I’m not going to take that chance."

Marquez is now one year sober using Vivitrol. Although he's had no side effects, he's been warned not to try and out-drink the drug.

“If you take it and you're not in treatment and you try and drink so much alcohol to get an effect, you'll kill yourself,” Dr. Urschel said.

But with no cravings, Marquez said that desire isn't even there. He just wants his life back.

“It’s hard to admit, but you're in your mid-40s and you have to learn who you are all over, because you've been in a fog for two-and-a-half decades,” he said.

The anti-drinking injections are administered by professionals monthly. Each one costs about $1,300 if your insurance doesn't cover it.

E-mail sslater@wfaa.com

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