Memorial Regional Health: Alcohol intake, when more has become too much |

Memorial Regional Health: Alcohol intake, when more has become too much

Memorial Regional Health

If you’re trying to drink less alcohol or maybe quit altogether, reaching your goals can be tough.

“I feel like the holidays can be really hard for people,” said Elise Sullivan, a family doctor at Memorial Regional Health’s medical clinic. “For patients who are trying to control their alcohol intake, we see a cycle. The holidays are often a trigger. Drinking is part of a lot of celebrations, and there’s increased social pressure to drink.”

So, while the holidays are behind us, it is easy to continue a higher level of intake into the new year. Dr. Sullivan wants the Craig-area community to know that MRH offers effective tools to help patients who want to moderate or end their alcohol use.


Dr. Sullivan and the other primary care providers at MRH can prescribe medication that helps patients drink less or not drink, depending on their goal.

Acamprosate is a medication that reduces alcohol cravings. It can also help alleviate anxiety and restlessness. It’s a capsule taken orally, usually three times a day. “Another good thing about acamprosate is that people don’t have to stop drinking before they start taking it,” Dr. Sullivan said.

Naltrexone is another commonly prescribed medication that supports alcohol cessation. It can also reduce cravings, but it works primarily by suppressing the pleasurable sensations created by alcohol in the body. In other words, you no longer feel buzzed or drunk if you’re taking naltrexone.

“People on naltrexone may still have a drink, but they tend to stop at one or two drinks because they don’t feel the effects,” said Dr. Sullivan. “It reduces binge drinking.”

Naltrexone is available as a daily pill or as an injection taken once every six months. The injection is often more effective because patients don’t have to remember to keep up with a daily pill.


Dr. Aaron Stewart, also an MRH family doctor, offers acupuncture to patients who are trying to reduce their use of alcohol or other substances, including tobacco. The treatment can lessen cravings as well any anxiety caused by cutting back.

“There’s been a lot of research into the effectiveness of acupuncture,” Dr. Stewart said. “I’ve personally used it with patients to help them with quitting smoking, reducing the use of alcohol and other drugs, and easing anxiety. I’ve seen it have good results.”

To reduce alcohol dependence, Stewart places five acupuncture needles in specific points around the patient’s ear. The needles stay in for 10 to 15 minutes. Patients may see benefits after just one or two acupuncture sessions. Some patients continue the treatment weekly or biweekly for a longer duration because they find it helps them keep cravings and anxiety in check.

“Some people are surprised at how much it helps,” Dr. Stewart said.


In addition to medication and acupuncture, talk therapy is a third effective tool to support reduced alcohol use or abstinence. Adding therapy to medication and/or acupuncture enhances overall effectiveness.

The behavioral health team at MRH offers individual counseling and group therapy. They also assess patients for substance use disorders and help set up treatment plans.

A community issue

Dr. Sullivan has been alarmed to see that many young people are finding themselves with liver damage from too much alcohol consumption.

“With the rise of the craft beer industry, people are drinking stronger beer than they used to,” she said. “They often don’t realize what’s it doing to their livers until it’s too late.”

If you or those who care about you are concerned that you might be drinking too much, the best place to start is with a visit to your primary-care provider at MRH. A simple blood test can help determine if your liver is healthy or has begun to sustain damage, also called cirrhosis. Early diagnosis and treatment leads to the best outcomes.

If your liver is doing fine but you still want to cut back on or stop alcohol use for overall wellness, your MRH provider will talk to you about your goals and the possibility of supporting them with medication, acupuncture, and/or therapy.

“Getting started on a plan to reduce drinking or sustain abstinence as we start the new year is a great idea,” Dr. Sullivan said. “We can help patients get ahead of this.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.