The Sinclair Method Explained

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What is the Sinclair Method?

The Sinclair Method is a method of treating alcohol use disorder developed by Dr. John D. Sinclair.4

Unlike most traditional alcohol dependence treatments, the Sinclair Method allows people with alcohol addictions to continue drinking alcohol at the start of treatment. It is not an abstinence-based treatment plan.4

In this article, you’ll learn how the Sinclair Method works, how successful the Sinclair Method is, and what other alternative treatments are available to you.

How Does the Sinclair Method Work for Alcohol Addiction?

The Sinclair Method is medication-assisted treatment. It combines continued alcohol consumption with the prescription drug, Naltrexone.4

The Naltrexone medication is a non-addictive, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved prescription drug that helps people quit drinking or cut back on their drinking. It also helps prevent relapse. 

With the medication, alcohol no longer gives them the same pleasure. And, without that pleasure, they may not feel the drive to drink so much.6

The goal of the Sinclair Method treatment plan is for the patient to willingly change their drinking habits instead of trying to quit drinking cold turkey.

The Sinclair Method is different from abstinence-based treatments because the patient can continue to drink. In fact, it argues that abstinence does not work. This is because an alcohol-dependent person’s brain will not rest until that person has an alcoholic drink.6

The Sinclair Method calls out that members of support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have to go to meetings for the rest of their lives. It argues that addiction to alcohol is forever, even if you’re able to give it up.6

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What to Know About Naltrexone 

Naltrexone has been FDA-approved for alcohol addiction since 1994. It is also covered by most insurance plans.6

It works by blocking your body’s naturally occurring endorphins when you consume alcohol. This stops the rewarding buzz feeling people with alcohol addictions experience.6

Naltrexone comes in two forms:

  1. The pill form: ReVia
  2. The extended-release injection: Vivitrol

While ReVia can be easily taken at home, a licensed physician must administer a Vivitrol shot. But the shot will last longer, around four weeks. Therefore, some people choose this option over the pill.

You need to take the pill about one hour before every alcoholic drink. This can be a lot of pressure and a big commitment for some people. They may struggle to comply with this dosing schedule.

Naltrexone has very few side effects. Some possible, but rare side effects include:5

  • Stomach pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Dizziness
  • Aching eyes
  • Burning eyes
  • Swollen eyes
  • Chest pain
  • Mental fog or confusion
  • Urinary discomfort
  • Frequent urination
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Fast heart rate
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Shortness of breath
  • Itchiness
  • Skin rash
  • Swelling of the face
  • Swelling of the feet and/or lower legs
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sexual problems for males
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Body chills
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirstiness
  • Runny or stuffy nose, and other sinus problems
  • Sore throat with or without a cough

If you experience these symptoms, and they do not subside as your body gets used to the medication, call your doctor. 

What is the Success Rate of the Sinclair Method?

Ironically, for the Sinclair Method to work, the patient has to continue consuming alcohol

The Sinclair Method is considered a relatively successful one. In fact, it is deemed to be about 78 percent effective.1

More specifically, the Sinclair Method was effective in more than 90 clinical trials across the globe. It was also effective in about 80 percent of problem drinkers all across the world.

In some European countries, the Sinclair Method is considered a standard treatment. In the United States, acceptance is still growing.

Critics argue that the Sinclair Method is only successful with monitoring, as with rehab programs. After all, some people with alcohol problems may not be able to hold themselves accountable to take their medication every time they want to drink.

Is the Sinclair Method Endorsed by Rehab Centers? 

Rehabilitation centers do not all endorse the Sinclair Method. This is largely because this method neglects to address the other effects that alcoholism can have on a person. Alcoholism takes a physical and mental toll.

Most rehab programs reinforce sobriety. Rehab centers also tend to treat the other effects of alcohol addiction like anxiety and depression.

Ultimately, rehabilitation centers off a more holistic approach to healing from alcohol addiction than just making alcohol seem less appealing.

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Is Sinclair Method Right for You?

Talk to your doctor to decide whether or not the Sinclair Method is right for you. The Sinclair Method may not be for you if:

  • You suffer extreme mental health effects of alcohol use like depression.
  • Your alcohol use has caused another serious health concern like liver disease or cancer.
  • You continue to drink so much that you get alcohol poisoning, which can take your life.
  • You are taking other medications to combat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that interact with alcohol.
  • You try the Sinclair Method and continue to drink despite less pleasurable effects.
  • You are battling other health conditions, physical or mental, that drive you to drink nonetheless (these require different forms of treatment). 
  • You are dealing with alcohol and substance use at the same time.

On the contrary, the Sinclair Method may be right for you if…

  • Your goal is not to stop drinking completely.
  • You only want to control your alcohol intake without going overboard.
  • You have tried other methods of alcohol addiction treatment that don’t seem to work.
  • You find yourself drinking heavily but do not necessarily have an addiction.
  • You are on a slippery slope and want to cut back on your alcohol intake before it’s too late.
  • Your alcohol use has not already led to other health complications.

Consult your doctor about whether or not the Sinclair Method to eliminate alcohol addiction is going to be safe or likely effective for you. If not, your doctor can point you in another direction that may be better. 

Alternative Treatments for Alcohol Addiction

While the Sinclair Method may work for some people, it is not for everyone. You may decide to give it a try and not like it. Your doctor can also advise against it.

Fortunately, there are a number of other ways to treat alcohol addiction, too. Here are some of the options you have:7, 8

Rehabilitation

Inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation centers connect you with care professionals who stick with you every step of the way.

Inpatient rehab is more hands-on than outpatient rehab. But both options partner you with medical professionals, psychologists, and other health professionals to monitor you.

Therapies

Traditional talk therapy can help you to unpack the triggers that drive you to drink. It can also help to address symptoms of alcohol addiction like depression.

Therapy is often used in conjunction with other types of alcohol addiction treatment. Other forms of therapy, like family and marital counseling, may also help you and your loved ones.

Holistic healing techniques like energy healing, yoga practice, nutritional guidance, and more may help you. After all, practicing self-care cannot hurt.

Some people find more holistic treatments to improve their overall wellbeing, which may also decrease their drive to drink. Other people find that focusing on their physical health motivates them to stop drinking.

Medications

Three medications are currently approved in the United States to treat alcohol addiction: Naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram

None of these medications are addictive. All of them may be used alone or in combination with behavioral treatments.

Support groups also exist to help you along the road to recovery. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous connect you with other people in your shoes. They also connect you with inspiring and motivating mentors who have succeeded in achieving their own sobriety.

Why Seek Treatment?

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse, reach out for professional help. About 18 million US adults struggle with it.2 You do not need to, nor should you, try to get sober alone. Trying to quit an alcohol addiction by yourself can be dangerous.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is real and can be life-threatening.3 It can occur if you go from heavily drinking often to not drinking at all or significantly cutting back on your alcohol intake.

About 20 percent of people with alcohol use disorder lose their lives to alcohol withdrawal.9

Do not become part of this statistic. Reach out for trusted medical help immediately.

Updated on October 28, 2021
9 sources cited
  1. About: The Sinclair Method.” C Three Foundation.
  2. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 23 Sept. 2021l.
  3. Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2018.
  4. Institute, The Sinclair Method. “Reclaim Your Control over Alcohol.” THE SINCLAIR METHOD INSTITUTE.
  5. Naltrexone (Oral Route) Side Effects.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Feb. 2021.
  6. The Sinclair Method (TSM) for Alcoholism: Accepting New Patients.” SinclairMethod.org, 19 Oct. 2021.
  7. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  8. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  9. What Is the Mortality and Morbidity of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?Latest Medical News, Clinical Trials, Guidelines - Today on Medscape, 17 Oct. 2021.

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