If the information I have been writing about were in a text book, or taught in medical school, I would not be writing these articles for the Open To Hope Foundation website. But this information is not available, and I am one of the few physicians using oxytocin to treat grief . Thus, I feel compelled to get this information out to the public even though the public will need to involve their health-care providers to cooperate in following through on the suggestions I make.
In my first article for Open to Hope, I wrote about my first-hand experience in using the hormone oxytocin to relieve the symptoms of pathological grief, which I experienced after the death of my son, and which have been duplicated in a number of patients. In this post, I want to bring in another element that may be helpful to those experiencing extreme grief as many will turn to alcohol to relieve some of their symptoms, and relief they will get — but at a cost.
Alcohol will raise oxytocin levels in the human body, but at the same time in will increase a whole variety of undesirable chemicals and hormones that do not assist the human body or in the processing of grief.
I have used oxytocin to treat alcoholics with varying degrees of success, but my experience as a physician is that using oxytocin alone is not the answer for alcoholism. Now, grieving doesn’t turn someone into an alcoholic, so where am I going with this? There is a rather benign drug that has been shown to be very effective in treating alcoholism that you will not have heard about. That’s because it has been generic for many years and there is no profit motive for a pharmaceutical company to try and get a new indication (file a new application) for a drug any drug company can make.
The drug is called Baclophen and has been used as a muscle relaxant for a variety of conditions. So, without a pharmaceutical company promoting a drug, neither physicians nor the public will ever hear about it unless they read medical journals.
More than alcoholism, what Baclophen seems to do is help with addictions, and I have been able to see smokers quit cigarettes just from using Baclophen. What is an addiction? There is a physical component and an emotional component. Emotionally, an addiction is a locked emotional habit, and in a broad sense that can cover a lot of territory having nothing to do with physical or chemical additions. But Baclophen seems to be able to throw a roadblock up on the addictive highway in our brains.
When you practice the piano or any musical instrument, you train the neural pathways in your brain to create channels wherein signals can travel back and forth with greater and greater ease. That is where the saying “practice makes perfect” has its truth.
When an aberrant emotion, or emotional behavior, starts up, it too will create a neural pathway to make it easier and easier to experience that emotion. At the height of my grief, I found that the panic, fear and anxiety took on a life of its own that I could not consciously control and for me, oxytocin alone shut that down and allowed the chemistry of my brain to return to normal, which gave me emotional equanimity.
As I have already pointed out, the public does not know about using oxytocin for grief anymore than they know about using Baclophen for addictions. Now, Baclophen has the potential to take its place as a potential treatment for pathological grief in concert with oxytocin because it can help with addictive patterns.
Clearly, pathological grief has an addictive component to it but not because of any conscious decision or choice. It is a chemical cascade in our brain. It is my opinion that anything that is relatively benign and inexpensive should be considered in helping someone with pathological grief.
I think oxytocin (as a nasal spray previously discussed) should be considered first, but there may be synergy by adding in a very low dose of Baclophen especially if the grieving individual has a propensity to turn to alcohol as an assist. In a recent double-blind study, Baclophen was successfully used to treat alcoholism at both the 5 mg and 10 mg (3 times a day) level. This is a very low dose, although there are some individuals who are very sensitive to it just as there are individuals who are sensitive to almost any medication. (Some individuals require very large doses to treat alcoholism, but that is not the subject of this post, I only mention it to be thorough in my discussion.)
In a sense, by giving this information to the public, information that the vast majority of physicians are not familiar with, I am asking grieving individuals to become their own advocate and get what they need, perhaps at the very time in their life that they are least likely to feel the strength to be their own advocate. It is a conundrum, but it is one that will need to be overcome.
In my next post, I will discuss what the options are for someone who did not get these benign interventions, for someone who did not heal on their own and whose pathological grief has turned into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). What are the medical options for these individuals without turning to antidepressants that are, in some cases, causing the increased suicide rates in the veteran population?
Kenneth Stoller 2011Tags: grief, hope