Dr. John Mendelson has made a career of helping people struggling with substance use disorder. However, while he was working as the principle investigator on a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) testing a medication for treating alcoholism, he realized the medical community was not providing what patients desired.
“We had people with good insurance saying they could not find anyone that would help them with medications for alcoholism,” Mendelson said. “Patients wanted treatment and doctors were not providing it.”
That’s why Mendelson helped found Ria Health. He became the chief medical officer for the company, which provides treatment for problematic drinking from the comfort of one’s own home. The Ria approach combines telemedicine, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and ongoing coaching to help people reduce their drinking, whether they are aiming for total abstinence or just feeling more in control. Here’s their recipe for success:
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Working on that study funded by the NIH, Mendelson realized there was a disconnect between what people with problematic drinking wanted, and what they were able to access.
“There is a huge evidence base supporting medications to treat alcohol use disorder, but no one was actually treating patients,” he said.
With Ria Health, that has changed. Clients begin with awith Mendelson, during which they discuss using medications, including naltrexone, to reduce their drinking.
Katie Lain, who is now the director of community engagement for Ria Health, used naltrexone to better control her drinking before joining the company.
“When I tried to quit without the medication, it was torture,” she said. “I’d be white-knuckling it, and always craving alcohol. The medication made it easy in a way. It was a stress-free experience that was quite a contrast.”
Lain said that the medication gave her an off signal that she never had on her own.
“I immediately started drinking less and wasn’t binge drinking,” she said. “From there, I noticed my cravings were decreasing.”
Once a client has consulted with a medical team during the initial process, they meet with a recovery coach to discuss their personal goals. While some people use Ria Health to achieve total abstinence from alcohol, others just want to reduce their drinking.
“One hundred percent abstinence is not required,” Lain explained. “We’re focused on helping people have a better relationship with alcohol.”
This meeting with a coach allows people to talk honestly about their relationship with alcohol in a confidential and non-judgmental setting.
“Coaching provides a safe place for people to talk about the challenges and accomplishments around drinking,” said Sara Miller, coach and manager of member services at Ria Health. “Because drinking problems are so stigmatized, it can be difficult talking about this process with friends and family.”
After the initial meeting, clients meet with their coach weekly to discuss progress, goals, accomplishments and either relapse-prevention or moderation management. Coaches help clients deal with any underlying issues that contributed to their problematic drinking.
“Things can move fast, especially in early recovery,” Miller said. “Meeting with a coach allows you to work through some of the behavioral aspects of drinking that can impede progress.”
All the services that Ria Health provides take place via phone or internet. This remote approach to treatment allows people to confront their unhealthy habits with alcohol without disrupting their lives. Clients of Ria Health can still attend work or school as usual. And they don’t have to muster the courage to attend in-person meetings, like they would have to in a traditional 12-step program.
“Our founders saw a real opportunity to help people overcome alcohol addiction in an environment that is confidential and convenient,” Lain said.
In addition, modern technology allows people to track their progress in real time. Clients are given a breathalyzer that connects via bluetooth to their phone. This allows them to track their alcohol use over time. On average, clients reduce their drinking by half during their first month with the program, Lain said. Over time, many people—including Lain—realize that their desire to drink disappears entirely.
“Now, I don’t enjoy drinking any more,” she said. “I feel really good about that.”
provides medication-assisted treatment via telemedicine to help people drink less. Connect on , , or to learn more, or take their to assess your drinking habits.
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