This article provides an overview of the Sinclair Method for alcohol addiction. Unlike abstinence-based treatment, the Sinclair Method uses a prescription medicine called Naltrexone to extinguish alcohol cravings.
Like many people with life-threatening alcohol disorders, I sought professional help for alcohol detox.
I gradually got my life together by actively changing my body and mind through fitness and holistic techniques.
These are the main topics of this site, and they can enrich your life regardless of your recovery method.
It wasn’t until several months after I quit for good that I learned about a little known but highly effective treatment option called the Sinclair Method. I was astounded that no one I’d consulted – including numerous mental health professionals – mentioned this method to me when I was still actively trying to control my drinking.
[Please note that I’m not a doctor and none of the following constitutes medical advice. As always, consult your physician before starting any program to treat your addiction.]
What Is the Sinclair Method?
The Sinclair Method uses a pill called Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, to prevent opioids and endorphins from binding receptors to in the brain. Naltrexone is not addictive.
The method is named after the late Dr. John David Sinclair, a Finnish doctor who found that 80% of people he treated with Naltrexone either quit drinking or reduced their alcohol consumption to moderate levels after several months.
There have been 82 clinical trials that demonstrate the effectiveness of the Sinclair Method.
Since alcoholics experience an abnormal rush of endorphins upon consuming alcohol – leading them to drink more and more – taking Naltrexone before drinking rewires their brains to stop associating alcohol with pleasurable endorphin release.
This process is called pharmacological extinction.
A person with a drinking problem simply takes the pill (usually 50 mg) an hour before drinking, every time he or she plans to drink. The pill must be taken before every drinking session or the process will not work.
Although Naltrexone goes to work immediately, drinking levels usually taper off gradually. There is no need for professional detox with this method.
The Sinclair Method – Why Do AA and Treatment Centers Ignore It?
The Sinclair Method is controversial because in order for it to work, a person must continue to drink. There can be no blocking of endogenous opioids – and therefore no pharmacological extinction – if alcohol is not present along with the Naltrexone.
Studies in which Naltrexone was used to promote abstinence only found that it worked no better than a placebo. The 80% success rate was only for people who continued to drink, although about a quarter of people quit drinking for good after several months.
While I’m not in the business of trashing AA – I think it’s great that there’s a free support group for people with alcohol addiction – many of its members oppose the Sinclair Method because it bypasses the spiritual changes they champion.
(At the same time, I honestly see no conflict in principle between AA and the Sinclair Method. Both share the same stated goal – saving lives from alcohol addiction.)
The Sinclair Method treats physical addiction to alcohol; it doesn’t automatically make you a better person. Of course, for a lot of people (including myself) without underlying psychiatric disorders, treating physical addiction is kind of the point of recovering. I would have liked to know before I sought expensive help that the Sinclair Method has an 80% success rate, compared to 5-10% for AA.
As for treatment centers, it’s easy to see how a method that solves the problem of withdrawals and puts people back in charge of their lives might threaten the enormous addiction treatment industry. Most treatment centers utilize 12 step programs, and employ people in recovery who used these programs themselves to get sober.
To put it bluntly, human nature often causes us to avoid new things that threaten our sentimental, personalized attachments and narratives. In all things related to addiction, the 12 Step worldview is deeply ingrained in the American psyche.
The Sinclair Method – How To Get Naltrexone Prescribed
Since many addiction experts in the U.S. aren’t aware of the Sinclair Method, it can be difficult to get Naltrexone prescribed.
Ironically, it’s relatively easy to get it prescribed as part of an abstinence plan, despite the fact that studies show no benefits for doing this.
Some people get it prescribed to support abstinence, and then continue to drink. I think a better option is to find a doctor who is familiar with the Sinclair Method and supports its use.
The C Three Foundation provides a database that can be used to find a doctor willing to help patients who want to try the Sinclair Method.
“Did I Miss Out on Continuing to Drink?”
I’m not promoting the Sinclair Method for anyone who has already quit drinking without it.
To those of us who quit without his method, Sinclair had this to say: “Congratulations! Keep it up. You do not need our help, and we have nothing to offer you.”
My thinking on the matter is simple: Under no circumstance do I want to risk being part of the 20% who didn’t respond to Naltrexone.
If someday I find myself relapsing – say, because of a bad accident that leaves me paralyzed after a divorce amidst a nuclear World War III that wipes out my entire family – it’s nice to know that there’s a method I could probably use to help me regain my footing.
Until then, I’ll savor being mentally sharper and more clear-minded than 99% of people I know who still drink.
I don’t judge anyone who drinks. But in my humble opinion, alcohol is a sham. It’s a toxic, stupefying, dirty drug that I can afford to live happily without.
As a 28 year old, I’ve gone out to bars and had club soda while watching allegedly “normal” people get absolutely shitfaced. I can’t judge them because I used to do it too – times ten. But it’s very surreal to behold while stone cold sober.
I’d rather read a book, get quality sleep, get up feeling refreshed and get a lift in the next morning.
And then meet non-hungover friends for lunch and drink beverages that actually taste good.
Grown adults habitually incapacitating themselves is weird for me to watch these days (and I don’t unless I want to – a wedding, friend’s birthday, etc.). People think they’re so smooth while doing the most cringeworthy things. Far from feeling like the odd guy out, I’m actually amused that I was once part of that.
The Sinclair Method – Further Resources:
Claudia Christian is a celebrity proponent of the Sinclair Method, which helped her control her drinking after other recovery methods failed. The video below contains segments from a film called “One Little Pill” that she appears in.
Roy Eskapa’s book below is one of the definitive sources of information on the Sinclair Method.
UPDATE – May 2017
I’m pleased to have gotten so many kind emails about this article. Since I wrote it, I’ve done a lot of research on medical and holistic alternatives for alcohol addiction. In my opinion, the Sinclair Method is still one of the most ignored and underrated treatments for alcoholism out there.
When it comes to alcoholism, there is no one size fits all solution.
If one method doesn’t work for you, there is another one out there that will if you give it a chance.
And so an overarching theme of Fit Recovery is this: People deserve to be armed with knowledge rather than dogma.
If you enjoyed this article on the Sinclair Method, be sure to check out my recent articles about alternative methods for alcohol detox and recovery: