Tools to help fight alcohol addiction

Image 1 of 2

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Jeremy Miller was a familiar face in many of our homes as the youngest member of the Seaver family on "Growing Pains." But after the show ended his battle with alcohol began. "Around 26 or so I woke up one morning and realized I had to have a drink," he says. "I felt it in every fiber of my body. I needed a drink."

Miller is among the millions of adults in the United States who struggle with alcohol dependency. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse And Addiction, some 17 percent of men and 8 percent of women will be dependent of alcohol in their lifetime. And they pay a hefty price.

"I wasn't a pleasant person to be around," Miller says. "And I wasn't the dad that I should have been."

Miller has now been sober three and a half years and he credits a drug called Naltrexone. He became a paid spokesperson for the drug, which he had implanted to control cravings.

"There is a lot of fallout from the addictions for people," says Dr. Joseph Russo, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction. "Families are broken up, people suffer, people lose jobs. So there's a lot involved here."

Russo runs a Start Fresh clinic for the parent company of the Naltrexone implant and provides counseling to addicts. He explains that the drug is time-released and binds with opiate receptors in the brain.

"You can reduce cravings for that the drug the person is addicted to," Russo says. "you also could reduce the reinforcing effects of continued drug use and you also block the opiate receptors in the brain."

The drug doesn't work for everyone, but those like Miller who have used it successfully, say it's only one component in treating alcoholism.

"It is not a cure, it's not a magic bullet," Miller says. "It's a tool."

Another critical tool is peer support. Chris Pesce is a recovering alcoholic and the chief marketing officer of Sober Grid, a new app that connects people struggling with alcohol or drug addiction.

"A lot of people in recovery struggle in isolation," he says. "The cool thing about Sober Grid is you pull it up and all of a sudden you find that you're surrounded by other people struggling with the same issues you are."

Like the Naltrexone implant, Pesce says the sober grid app is meant to be used in conjunction with other addiction treatments like a 12-step program or therapy.

"Recovery is a life or death issue -- that's not being dramatic, it's a fact," he says. "And preventing relapse is essential."

Experts say it is important to remember that alcoholism isn't a character weakness. Instead it is a complex neurobiological illness that requires a multipronged approach.