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Understanding The Sinclair Method and Extinction


Alcoholism is a learned behavior

TSM was developed by Dr. David Sinclair who believed that alcoholism is a learned behavior.  To create a successful treatment, Dr. Sinclair used the classical conditioning and extinction model made famous by the Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov. 

In Pavlov’s experiment, he rang a bell immediately before providing food to his dogs.  After a period of conditioning the dog's salivary response, Pavlov would simply ring the bell and the dogs would salivate even before the food was given.  Eventually, Pavlov stopped giving food after ringing the bell and observed the dogs slowly stopped salivating.  The process of unlearning a previously conditioned response has become known as extinction

Extinction of alcoholic behavior

Dr. Sinclair believed he could cause the extinction of alcoholic behavior by blocking the response the patient receives from drinking.  He found a drug called naltrexone blocked the opioid receptors and the resultant release of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine. 

Alcoholics using the Sinclair Method will slowly decrease their consumption of alcohol.  After an alcoholic reduces their level of consumption, approximately 25% choose to become abstinent.  Others choose to have an occasional social drink and can do so without relapsing into the patterns of their previous addictive behavior.

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