There are a number of pharmacological agents that may be of value for those recovering from alcohol addiction. [Lithium](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium) is one drug that has received attention as having potential beneficial therapeutic effects for some addicts. There is debate about the usefulness of this drug, for those who do not have a dual diagnosis. It may be that Lithium is only effective for [alcoholics who are also suffering from manic depression](http://alcoholism.about.com/od/pro/l/blnaa17.htm).
Lithium is a Mood Stabiliser
Lithium is most commonly used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Evidence suggests that [Lithium used as a treatment drug](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_pharmacology) is more effective for treating mania rather than depression. However, it can be used to treat both. Lithium occurs naturally in nature as one of the chemical elements, but in pharmacology it is usually combined with something else. Lithium orotate is created by combining lithium salt with orotic acid and this is said to be form of the drug with the fewest side effects for users. The most commonly prescribed form is Lithium Carbonate which is a compound of lithium, carbon, and oxygen.
Lithium Citrate was an added ingredient to a soft drink in 1929, which was the [predecessor to 7-Up](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_pharmacology#Use_in_7_Up).
How Lithium Works
Lithium works within the central nervous system by interacting with certain hormones. The drug alters the activity and levels of a [neurotransmitter](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotransmitter). These are chemicals used to pass signals from one neuron to another. It decreases the level of norepinepherin, a neurotransmitter associated with the stress response. It also acts to increase serotonin synthesis. Increased levels of serotonin are related to an improved sense of well being. While lithium is referred to as a psychoactive drug, it does not produce any noticeable sense of euphoria for those who use it. It can take as long as a month for Lithium to begin having a therapeutic effect.
Side Effects of Lithium
There are a number of potential side effects of lithium. It may lead to nystagmus which is a type of involuntary eye twitching. There is also the risk of kidney damage or hypothyroidism. Many of those who take the drug will experience weight gain. Pregnant women will usually not be given lithium because it can lead to birth defects in offspring. Abusing alcohol while taking lithium can increase side effects and [prevent the drug from working effectively] (http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Lithium.htm).
In order to ensure the safe usage of lithium, it is normal for the individual to undergo regular blood or urine tests. If this drug reaches toxic levels, there may be damage to the kidneys or other unwanted side effects. The levels of lithium in the body can be impacted by changes in the diet or dehydration.
Lithium Treatment for Alcoholism
Depression is often associated with alcoholism, and there have been hopes that Lithium would be a useful drug for dealing with this. There have been a number of studies that have looked at the effectiveness of this pharmacological agent for treating alcoholism and the results are not convincing. [One respected study](http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/262/12/1646.short) found that lithium failed to improve the outcome of alcoholism for either depressed or non depressed patients.
Alcoholics who also suffer from bipolar disorder seem to benefit most from the addition of this drug to their treatment. There are many with this type of dual diagnosis, so there is a place for lithium in these cases. Further research is required to determine the exact effectiveness of lithium for those alcoholics who also have bipolar disorder.
The Potential Benefits of Lithium for Alcoholics with Bipolar Disorder
In the past, it was common for members of the medical profession to consider patients with a dual diagnosis to be hopeless cases. Treating an addiction can be difficult, but when there is the added problem of another mental health problem, it is a much harder task. If only the addiction is treated then the individual will usually find life in sobriety unsatisfying due to their other problems. These people will often relapse after a short time. If the mental health problem alone is tackled then the alcohol abuse will prevent any real progress. This is why the addition of a drug like lithium may be of great value to some alcoholics.
Lithium and Suicide Prevention
Evidence indicates that Lithium works well for treating depression where the individual is suicidal. [A study in Japan](http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/05/lithium-in-drinking-water-has.html) found that those cities with a higher amount of lithium in the water supply have lower suicide rates. There is a strong link between addiction and suicide, so this is another area where the use of this drug could be beneficial.
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