New understanding of how alcohol affects the brain is prompting addiction experts to make a push for using medications to help people quit or cut down on excessive drinking.

For years, treatment has meant 28 days of rehab or a 12-step program. Success meant total abstinence. Only 1 in 10 of the 17 million Americans with a drinking problem ever tried.

New understanding of how alcohol affects the brain is prompting addiction experts to make a push for using medications to help people quit or cut down on excessive drinking.

For years, treatment has meant 28 days of rehab or a 12-step program. Success meant total abstinence. Only 1 in 10 of the 17 million Americans with a drinking problem ever tried.

Experts hope that with more treatments available, people on the milder end of the spectrum will seek help earlier and avoid slipping into riskier drinking patterns.

“It’s a lot like depression. Sixty or 70 years ago, the only place you could go was a state hospital, and not many people went,” says Mark Willenbring, a former NIAAA official who now runs a treatment center, Alltyr, in St. Paul, Minn. “Then Prozac came out. Now three-quarters of people with depression get treatment.”

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