Alcoholism, which is also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease that many people face — even those about to undergo surgery for another condition. Going under the knife can present a person suffering from alcoholism with withdrawal problems, complicating both the procedure and the course of recovery. So what is the answer? According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, injections of, you guessed it — alcohol — could help.
Before we look at the study, let’s discuss the condition so as to dispel a few myths. Alcoholism causes four serious symptoms, which pose a threat to a person undergoing surgery: cravings (a strong desire to drink), physical dependence (withdrawal symptoms can happen, such as shaking, nausea, and anxiety), a loss of control, and a high tolerance to drinking larger amounts of alcohol in order to get intoxicated.
It’s a chronic disease that can take over a person’s life and there’s no cure — only complete abstinence for life can help. It’s also influenced by both hereditary factors (such as a family history of the disease) and by lifestyle factors as well.
What about quitting drinking — is it a cure for alcoholism? Unfortunately, no, as people who think they can cut back almost never cure their alcoholism by doing so. Only quitting completely can help if you are alcohol dependent, but, again, you have to do it for life.
While it can’t be cured, alcoholism can be treated with the help of some medications, such as benzodiazepines (valium, librium), which make withdrawal a bit easier during the first few days, and naltrexone to help people stay sober. However, keep in mind that they are only supplemental medications and may not always work.
This is why the study is so interesting — and controversial. It pinpoints the cause as being part of the cure — alcohol. Since the above-mentioned drugs are not a solution, researchers are continuously looking for advancements in treatment. This study focuses on a limited use of alcohol injections solely to prevent withdrawal symptoms in surgery candidates.
Alcohol withdrawal can lead to serious complications and prolonged stays in the hospital, which is both costly and difficult on the patient. The researchers note that this therapy does not apply to all drinkers — the rate of alcohol withdrawal syndrome is about 16% for individuals who are facing a non-emergency operation. Also, only surgeons or specialists would administer the injections; it doesn’t mean a patient gets to kick back with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer before going into the operating room.
In the study, 68 patients were treated with a protocol version of the therapy for over the course of a year. The therapy was given intravenously, not orally. The results from the 68 participants were compared to 92 individuals who went through preventive therapy for their alcoholism before they were started on the protocol therapy.
Comparing the two groups, the group of 68 people given the protocol saw the length of required therapy drop from seven days to three. And, their failure rate also dropped, thanks to the injections, from 20 to seven percent. The researchers noted that the findings showed the new injection therapy was a safe way to help prevent the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
The therapy doesn’t involve any set guidelines; it varies in dosage and length depending on each individual case. It is meant to act as a preventive in order to curb withdrawal symptoms and is given “in a controlled and monitored fashion,” the researchers pointed out.