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Billings doctor urges those with alcohol use disorder to check out medications

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Posted at 6:18 PM, Jan 18, 2024

BILLINGS — Billings resident Jenn Schaff lost her father, 64-year-old Tim Van Orden, to alcohol-related illnesses just last year. She and Dr. Eric Arzubi of Frontier Psychiatry in Billings are sharing her story, hoping to educate the public on medications that treat patients with alcohol use disorder.

“This is one of my favorite photos of him,” said Schaff at her workplace, Arrowhead Marketing, on Thursday.

Schaff remembers her father fondly.

“He was incredibly smart, witty. He was the life of every party,” Schaff said.

The longtime railroader, however, battled demons his entire life.

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Jenn Schaff looks at an old photo of her dad.

“My dad was an amazing person, but he was a lifelong alcoholic. He struggled all of his life with addiction disorder,” said Schaff.

Van Orden's story isn't uncommon. Eleven percent of Americans have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, a large number compared to the 2% diagnosed with opioid addiction disorder.

“I guess one of my concerns is, are we missing the boat when it comes to the problem that alcohol is causing?” said Arzubi.

Arzubi's been concerned about this problem for a while, largely because medication is available to help but few know about it.

“We have treatments that work but they’re not getting to people. And that’s one of the things that frustrates me," Arzubi said.

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Dr. Eric Arzubi

Five medications on the market help curb the craving of alcohol, according to Arzubi, but less than 1% of those with alcohol use disorder use them.

Compare that to opioid use disorder, where an estimated 22% of those afflicted with addiction are prescribed medication.

“There are actually three FDA-approved medications. And like I said, these have been around for a long time," said Arzubi.

Naltrexone is one of the FDA-approved medications and can actually be administered through an oral pill or through an injection called Vivitrol.

“This injection by taking it once a month, can then eliminate the need to take daily medications. And again, Vivitrol also has really robust evidence when it comes to helping people reduce cravings and decrease alcohol consumption,” Arzubi said.

It's medicine Schaff wishes her father could have had.

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“Dad had been in treatment. You lose track, three or four times, and not one time was he ever offered a medication that would reduce those cravings for alcohol,” said Schaff.

It's why Schaff and Arzubi are hoping to educate the public to prevent more deaths.

“Alcohol use disorders are more of a problem that we might appreciate. It’s affecting a lot of people and help is available. And there are medications that are effective, inexpensive, and available,” Arzubi said.

“He fought, and he clawed his way through trying to do the best that he could but I hope that it evolves. I hope that people realize what is out there for them. And then I also hope that they scream on the mountaintops and ask for help,” said Schaff.