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Alcohol Alcohol. 1984;19(4):339-53.

Psychiatric advances in the understanding and treatment of alcohol dependence.


Several psychiatric topics have been under recent investigation. Cerebral impairment is now known to occur in over half of alcoholic patients. Its improvement with abstinence and its interference with the considerable intellectual and volitional requirements needed by controlled drinking programmes point to abstinence as the necessary drinking goal when brain damage is suspected. A hereditary element to alcohol dependence has been suggested by several adoption and twin studies, but the many contradictions between research results emphasise that any genetic contribution is overshadowed by socio-cultural factors. Depression and anxiety are frequent accompaniments of alcoholism but are shown by investigations usually as results rather than causes of excessive drinking. The onset of depression with suicidal ideas secondary to alcoholism has been sensitively described, and attention drawn to its identification, potential risk, and prevention. Long-term drug treatments are little used at present, but several developments are feasible. They include an effective long-acting chemical deterrent; drugs to protect against organic damage; sobering agents; immunotherapy; chemical reversal of the neuroadaptive changes responsible for physical dependence; drugs to counteract dysphoria and craving produced by alcohol; pharmacological modification of reflex behaviour; and drugs for the abstinence syndrome and for mood disturbance that are not themselves liable to misuse of dependence. Finally, it is suggested that the syndrome of pathological intoxication is a fictitious state that should be discarded from the descriptive literature.

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