A medication-aided private treatment program for people concerned about excessive drinking is expanding into Manitoba.

Alavida is an outpatient program already available in four provinces that relies in part on the endorphin-blocking prescription medication naltrexone.

People take the pills an hour before drinking. Studies have shown the drug makes alcohol less rewarding over time. For example, one study of 120 people published in the Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that 86 per cent of patients given naltrexone were consuming less alcohol after 12 weeks and reported “a significant decrease in craving for alcohol at week 12.”

“As long as you only drink with naltrexone on board, your brain is saying, ‘Geez, why am I bothering?’” explained Dr. Diane Rothon, Alavida’s medical director.

In addition to the drug, those who sign up for the Alavida’s two-year-long $6,500 program get video conference therapy sessions and a progress tracking app.

The drug is already available without the Alavida program, but Winnipeg pharmacist Michael Watts says there has only been one prescription for the drug at his pharmacy in seven years. “It’s not common,” he says. He also cautions that the drug may be hard on the liver.

Dr. Rothon says that, for some patients, the program is not about quitting drinking for good.

“Some people never wanted that in the first place,” she said. “They want to be able to drink safely, drink socially, drink occasionally and have control.”

But Ian Rabb, an addictions specialist with the Aurora Recovery Centre in Gimli, Man., prefers an abstinence approach combined with therapy to address what he sees as the root causes of alcohol addiction.

“They don't become alcoholic because they love alcohol,” he says. “They become alcoholic because of (things like) childhood trauma.”

With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Michelle Gerwing