My Little Miracle: the drug that freed me from a lifelong alcohol addiction
To the neighbours, Clare looked like she had it all: a job she loved, four healthy, thriving sons, and a charming successful husband. However, if any of Claire’s neighbours looked closer, they would have noticed periods when the upstairs bedroom blinds were drawn for days on end. Ensuring her blinds are open is a signal to her sons, her little way of telling them: Mam is ok, Mam is fine today. Clare explains: ‘If my sons drive by and see the curtains pulled, they’ll worry and think: “Oh Jesus – Mam is back on the drink again”. It’s been six months since Clare picked up a glass of wine or a bottle of vodka and drank herself into oblivion. This Christmas period is the first one, for as long, as she can remember, when she isn’t living with the crippling fear of picking up a drink and not knowing when she will stop.
Six months ago, Clare, who’s in her fifties, was drinking at least a bottle of wine and vodka a day. After years of battling chronic alcoholism and trying every treatment option available, from rehab clinics to counselling, one of her sons suggested she try a drug called Naltrexone. He’d read an article about how middle-aged women in Ireland were turning to surgery to combat their problem drinking. Naltrexone is surgically implanted into the patient’s’ lower abdomens in a 15-minute procedure- a treatment traditionally used by heroin addicts. Pellet-like implants slowly release controlled daily doses of Naltrexone into the bloodstream, the effects of which last three months. The drug works by blocking any ‘high’ when the alcohol or opiates such as heroin or codeine are taken. Dr Hugh Gallagher who has treated hundreds of patients with the drug since he started prescribing it at the One Step Clinic in Dublin last year, explains; ‘It’s an opiate receptor blocker, acting on receptors stimulated by alcohol or opiates – as a drug it’s been around for more than 50 years. ‘Alcohol partly works by stimulating these receptors. Blocking the dopamine acts on the receptors and reduces the pleasure but more importantly it reduces the craving effect.
A desperate Clare made an appointment with Dr Gallagher and six months later, she declares ‘For the first time in my life I feel free – I went from being totally unreachable, so far down in the hole of addiction to now, where the cravings are gone – the panic and fear is gone, I’m no longer trying to run away from Clare. It is my little miracle,’ she smiles. ‘I don’t wake anymore with the fear and panic.’
Dr Gallagher says he has seen a marked increase in the number of women in their 30s, 40s and 50s seeking help for alcohol addiction, many who are keen to try Naltrexone. After the three-month implant, Clare felt confident enough to switch to a Naltrexone tablet, which she takes every day. ‘Being an alcoholic, I’d describe the need to drink as like needing to go the toilet, it’s as strong as the urge to catch your breath. I never knew it would hit me. ‘In my early 40s, I’d gone from daily drinking while making the dinner to being a binge drinker.
To the outside world, Clare lived an idyllic life but behind the facade, she was enduring a living nightmare. Her marriage was an unhappy and violent one, which she vowed to leave when her youngest son was grown up. Once my husband left, I went into self-destruct mode. ‘I’d drink for three or four days, bingeing on and off’. Throughout her twenties and thirties, Clare, appeared to be in control of her drinking, enjoying a few glasses of wine while making the dinner but inwardly she was struggling. After work I would open the wine and cook the dinner. I’d always had a cutoff point of 8pm and then I’d go to bed as the didn’t want to open another bottle – the fear was always there. I dreaded as I knew inside I wouldn’t be able to stop. I’d put off making the dinner until later, so the temptation wouldn’t be there, I’m not sure where I crossed the line but I knew it was becoming an issue. I’d wake up in the morning and plot my days out so I wouldn’t be tempted to hit the bottle.’
Clare was in her early 40s when her mother confronted her about her drinking. One Sunday my mam called over, it was after a rough weekend in the holiday home with my husband. I was drinking a lot more by then. My mother asked me: “We can never get you on the phone in the evenings, do you have a drinking problem?” ‘I knew if I said it out loud, I was done. I said “yes”. I remember feeling a massive release and then an awful panic of, “what do I do now?”
For the next three years, Clare didn’t touch a drop of alcohol. She went cold turkey and started attending AA. She joined the gym, and became a fitness fanatic but when she relapsed, her drinking was worse than ever. She could go without a drop for weeks, sometimes months, but she always fell off the wagon. ‘I’d go on a binge, then I’d give up, and go back to AA for six months, and not touch one, then I was back on it. ‘The craving, was always there, and it was a daily battle. I never knew what day it would take control. I could be coming home from a meeting or work, and the craving would take hold of me, coming up from my toes, it came out of nowhere and I’d stop off at the off-licence. ‘I would just go on a bender. It could be one day or I could start and be there the next week. I did untold damage to the people I loved most in the world. Clare continues: ‘One of my sons fell out with me. The youngest just went away. He couldn’t cope with me.
However, Clare’s family and friends were unrelentingly supportive and encouraged her to try every treatment option available. She was prescribed Disulfiram or Antabuse, a tablet taken daily that produces unpleasant side effects such as vomiting, when combined with alcohol. ‘It worked in that I never drank alcohol while I was on it, as I didn’t want to be sick, but it was very easy for me to talk myself out of taking a tablet, I did that a lot.
For Clare, having the Naltrexone surgically implanted which cost €1,150 and lasts three months was the best option, it removed the element of choice and most importantly it stopped her cravings. For Clare, at least, Naltrexone has been a miracle pill. Dr Hugh Gallagher reports a success rate of 80% since he started prescribing it last year, ‘When someone is addicted they get locked up in a life of chaos. Being free of the cravings frees the mind and the cessation of any addictive behavior reduces anxiety, depression and low mood. ‘We always encourage people not to see this as the total solution but to look at psychological work and behavioral change and to engage with an addiction counselor, we also provide this service. It’s an aid to treatment rather than a complete treatment.
For Clare, it’s proved a miracle, and she’s telling her story in the hope it may help others. ‘It doesn’t work for everyone but for me it has changed my life and my family’s life. My children have their mam back, my mother has her daughter back, my friends have me back. I’m not running away from Clare anymore.
This is article taken from the Irish Daily Mail and features Clare a patient of One Step Clinic and our own Doctor Gallagher. One Step Clinic is the only clinic Ireland which currently offers Naltrexone therapy to help those suffering with alcohol and opiate addictions. You can read more about Naltrexone Therapy here or call our office more information on 01 6991369.