Numerous pharmacological agents have been proved effective for treating alcohol addiction and enhancing recovery. The common class of drugs used to manage withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detoxification is Benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Benzodiazepines such as Diazepam, Chlordiazepoxide, Lorazepam, and Oxazepam are the most commonly used drugs. Among some skepticism and debate, Lithium has also been shown to have therapeutic benefits for the treatment of alcohol addiction. However, some medical experts believe that Lithium is effective only for alcoholics suffering from manic depression and bipolar disorder. It is generally thought that Lithium treatment may work only in those with a dual diagnosis.
One of the naturally occurring chemical elements, Lithium is useful in medicine as a mood stabilizer prepared in pharmacology by combining lithium salt with an orotic acid. Lithium orotate is said to be a drug-form with the fewest side effects. Other combinations of the drug are Lithium carbonate, Lithium citrate made by compounding lithium with carbon and oxygen.
Mechanism of Action of Lithium
Lithium works through the central nervous system by regulating the levels of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin. Decreased activity of norepinephrine and increased serotonin levels help in reducing the stress response and increasing mental well-being. Though lithium is referred to as a psycho-active drug, it does not produce euphoric highs in its users. The therapeutic actions of lithium to start acting on the drug addict may take as long as a month.
A number of research studies analysing the potential beneficial effects of lithium in alcoholic-recovery and rehabilitation have not provided conclusive evidence. Lithium is a successful pharmacological agent for treating depression symptoms. Since depression is a strongly associated symptom in chronic alcoholism, Lithium is expected to improve the recovery and prognosis in alcoholics. However, systematic clinical studies have failed to prove lithium’s effectiveness in neither depressed nor non-depressed alcohol-addicts.
Nonetheless, alcoholics suffering from bipolar disorder have been shown to benefit from lithium-assisted detoxification and therapy. So, lithium may really be indispensable for patients with a dual diagnosis (Alcohol Use Disorder and Bipolar disorder); but further research and large-scale clinical trials are required to determine the exact drug efficacy in such medical cases.
Lithium and Suicide Prevention
Lithium is especially useful in treating depression in individuals harboring suicidal thoughts. An interesting data analytics-study in Japan has demonstrated that cities with high Lithium concentrations in their water supply had lower suicide rates. This highlights a strong link between addiction and suicide, where lithium-assisted therapy could hold numerous benefits.
Potential Side Effects of Lithium
The side effects of lithium include potential kidney damage, hypothyroidism, and weight gain; it may also cause nystagmus (involuntary eye-twitching). Furthermore, Lithium exposure during pregnancy has been associated with the occurrence of developmental defects in the fetus. To ensure safety during lithium-treatment, it is advisable to regularly perform blood and urine tests to continually monitor for kidney damage or other side effects. The levels of lithium in the body can also be influenced by changes in diet or dehydration. Finally, if the patient gets exposed to alcohol abuse when on lithium-treatment, an increase in the severity of side-effects may occur, preventing the drug from working properly.