whiskeyA new breakthrough pill called Nalmefene could treat alcoholism by letting alcoholics keep drinking alcohol. It's a stark contrast to traditional popular thinking about alcohol treatment -- that abstinence is the only way that works -- and it's both promising and primed for controversy.

Currently undergoing testing in Europe, the drug basically makes drinking unappealing. It doesn't do so by making a person physically ill, like some currently available drugs do, but rather by blocking the brain's pleasure waves. Instead of requiring complete abstinence, it just reduces the amount a person drinks, thereby helping to curb problem drinking.

According to Bloomberg, If it's approved, it will be the first new alcohol treatment introduced in Europe in the last 15 years.

While intriguing, it raises a host of questions, most significantly: Should alcoholics drink at all? And what of people who have been sober for years, will they start jumping off the wagon if this becomes available?

On the positive side, researchers say such a drug may make problem drinkers more likely to seek help.

“A major problem among alcohol abusers is that many are not interested in seeking treatment, perhaps because they do not want to accept the goal of complete abstinence,” Adron Harris, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol & Addiction Research, told Bloomberg.

In one study in Finland, it decreased heavy drinking days for participants by as much as 45 percent. “Little by little, it decreases the craving for alcohol, and the person learns to control the alcohol problem,” one of the researchers from that study said. “It’s a very much needed medicine.”

But, of course, one would actually have to take the pill. Would some lay off when they want to whoop it up for a special occasion, and could that have negative effects for long-term treatment? And wouldn't it derail people from the best option -- abstinence?

But for all the questions the pill raises, if it can be proven effective in treating the disease and encouraging people to seek treatment, then the impact for individuals and society could be enormous. Estimates say less than one in 10 who abuse alcohol seek treatment. In the U.K., 19 of 20 abusers don't seek help. From health care, to crime, to family life, alcoholism affects so many facets of our lives, so if this pill can do something to help curb it, then it seems like a good reason to say cheers.

Do you think a pill that allows alcoholics to drink is a good idea?


Image via tienvijftien/Flickr