Alcohol News: Women Over 50 Drinking and What the Future Holds for Treatment
There’s always something new about alcohol. We’ve heard for awhile that drinking in moderation (one to two drinks a day) helps protect against heart attacks, for example. Now a new study of women in their 50’s and early 60’s indicates that it may also help prevent bone loss, according to an NPR segment this month.
Women lose bone during menopause (it’s dissolved), after which new bone is formed. But put simply, more bone is lost than is formed. For this study, researchers measured the amount of bone that was reformed in 40 women and then told them to stop drinking for two weeks. They found that bone was lost during the period of abstinence, but once the women started drinking again the levels went back to what they were previously. Or, “…alcohol seemed to slow the bone turnover rate.” That doesn’t mean that young women who are still building bone mass should think it’s OK to binge drink, however. The one or two drinks a day — for older women — should be spread over 7 days.
For women like me who simply hate the idea of osteoporosis medications like Actonel, Boniva or Fosomax because of the possible side effects, that’s good news indeed. (Men weren’t studied, by the way, and would you believe there’s actually a journal called Menopause, in which the study was reported?)
There is other news on the alcohol front that I found interesting. In May, the New York Times had an article titled Drugs Help Tailor Alcoholism Treatment that mentioned the medications which “combined with therapy, help alcoholics break the cycle of addiction.” I know this is a controversial subject. Some people say medication is a crutch and counseling and other methods are the only path to recovery. But some alcoholics, like the woman mentioned in the article, say they don’t think they could have stayed sober without help from drugs like naltrexone to help control the cravings. Even the CMO of Hazleden was quoted as saying that the relapse rate is high during the first 12 to 18 months of sobriety, so anything that can be done to help during that period affect people’s progress.
Acamprosate (also called Campral) also helps reduce cravings, and gabapentin, an epilepsy drug, shows promise, the article said. Topiramate, used to treat seizure disorders, is occasionally prescribed to alcoholics, as well as ondansetron, an anti-nausea medication. I love statistics, because while they can be dismal, they can also hold out hope. More than one clinical trial has shown that for people taking naltrexone or acomprosate, about one in seven alcoholics has been helped. Is that depressing? I prefer to think about the one person for whom the drugs have been life-changing. Addiction is an insidious disease once it takes hold. And one doctor said that naltrexone “is supposed to work better in patients with a family history.”
What stayed with me from the article was the thought that in the future, treatment for alcoholism may become like that for depression. We’ll have a range of drugs to choose from, that can be added to “therapy and other tools to achieve long-term recovery.” Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, said, “Just as breast cancer isn’t just one type…alcoholism is heterogeneous as a disorder, so there’s clearly not one drug that is going to work for everybody.”