City, State Partnership Expands Access to Medication to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder

December 19, 2023

All Illinoisans Can Access Treatment by Calling Illinois Helpline

Anna Dolezal

CHICAGO – The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Illinois Department of Health and Human Service Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (IDHS SUPR) announced that expanded access to medication to treat alcohol use disorder is now available statewide by calling the Illinois Helpline as part of the MAR NOW program.

MAR NOW is a partnership between CDPH, IDHS SUPR, and the nonprofit Family Guidance Centers, Inc., launched in May 2022 to expand access to medication assisted recovery (MAR) for opioid use disorder by offering same-day referral to local treatment providers and medication. MAR NOW operates through the existing 24/7 Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It encompasses the conditions that some people refer to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and the colloquial term, alcoholism. Considered a medical disorder, AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe.

There are many health benefits to drinking less alcohol, including: lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure, lower cancer risk, better liver function, better sleep, and improvement in conditions like depression, anxiety and stress.

“AUD is a medical condition, and it should be diagnosed and treated just like any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease,” said Dr. Nicole Gastala, Medical Director, IDHS SUPR. “Too often, misperceptions, stigma and shame associated with substance use disorders and AUD prevent people from seeking treatment. If you or someone you know needs treatment, there are many options available to you.”

Deaths involving alcohol have increased in recent years nationally. Death certificates listing alcohol increased 25.5 percent from 2019 to 2020, from 78,927 to 99,017. They rose 10 percent more to 108,891 in 2021.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 29.5 million people age 12 and above had AUD in 2021, yet less than 10 percent of those with AUD received any treatment.

Three medications are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent a return to drinking: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. All these medications are nonaddictive, and they may be used alone or combined with behavioral treatments or mutual-support groups. Medication treatment for alcohol use disorder is proven to be effective, but many people don’t know about it as an option. In addition, it is not widely prescribed by doctors for a variety of reasons.

“We are committed to increasing access to medication treatment for AUD, as well as overall awareness of this medical condition and options for treatment,” said CDPH Commissioner Olusimbo Ige, M.D., MPH. “There are many forms of treatment that can be tailored to the needs of individuals and their goals. Ultimately, all people affected by this chronic disease should be treated with dignity and offered treatment that meets their needs and reduces the potential for harm.”

The Illinois Helpline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 833-234-6343. All patients who call the Illinois Helpline for AUD medication treatment are connected with a community provider that best meets their needs for ongoing treatment.

Additional forms of treatment for AUD beyond medication include behavioral therapy and mutual-support groups. People with mild, moderate or severe AUD can all benefit from treatment. One size does not fit all and a treatment approach that may work for one person may not work for another. Research shows that people who have milder forms of alcohol use disorder can improve their mental and physical health by lowering their alcohol intake without eliminating alcohol entirely.

To learn more about behavioral treatment options for AUD, you can call NAMI Chicago at 833-626-4244, or call 311.

CDPH is committed to harm reduction for substance use disorders (SUDs), including AUD and opioid use disorder. Increasing awareness about SUD, lowering stigma and expanding access to treatment are part of the many resources and tools that CDPH is deploying to reduce harm, and promote health and wellness among all Chicagoans.