Image of woman counseling alcohol addiction

For the first time, a medication-assisted Outpatient Alcohol Use Disorder Program is now available here in the Bronx.

This month, the Addiction Medicine department at SBH Health System (St. Barnabas Hospital) began treating patients with alcohol use disorder.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. Approximately 7.2 percent or 17 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older have an AUD, as do an estimated 855,000 adolescents.

“Alcohol use disorder continues to be a major problem in the United States, as well as in the Bronx,” said Dr. Jonathan Samuels, medical director of the Addiction Medicine department at SBH. “While the focus in recent years has been on drug abuse, many forget that alcohol consumption remains the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. When people drink excessively, it increases their chances of getting hurt or hurting others by car crashes, violence, sexual assaults, falls and suicide.”

In addition, said Dr. Samuels, excessive alcohol use is linked to many health problems including cancer, high blood pressure, mental health conditions, birth defects, sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies, and associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS and progression of the disease.

According to the Partnership for a Healthier Bronx, it has been shown that among adults in the Bronx who drink over a third (36.4%) report binge drinking (defined as a man drinking five or more drinks or a woman drinking four or more within a couple of hours).

“Alcohol addiction causes changes in your behavior and body that can take time to reverse,” said Dr. Samuels. “Medication can help re-balance your brain and decrease your cravings for alcohol. These medications have been found to work well in combination with individual and group counseling sessions to manage cravings and daily triggers that make you drink.”

At SBH, a physician evaluation is conducted to see if medication is right to help the patient stop or reduce drinking (known as Harm Reduction). Medicines include gabapentin (Neurontin), naltrexone (Revia and Depade), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and others. This is combined with individual and group therapy sessions on such topics as relapse prevention, and stress and anger management.

Criteria for an AUD

To be diagnosed with an AUD, individuals must meet certain criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Anyone meeting any two of the 11 criteria during the same 12-month period receives a diagnosis of AUD. The severity of an AUD – mild, moderate, or severe – is based on the number of criteria met.

To assess whether you or loved one may have an AUD, here are some questions to ask:

  • Have you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended?
  • More than once did you want to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Have you spent a lot of time drinking (or being sick or getting over the aftereffects)?
  • Have you experienced a craving to drink?
  • Do you find drinking — or being sick from drinking — has interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Have you continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Have you given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • Have you gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Have you continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Do you drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or have you found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Have you found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

The intake center at 4535 Third Avenue is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. For more information, call 718-960-6214.


Steve Clark