Alcohol addiction can be successfully treated with medications that control withdrawal symptoms, lessen alcohol cravings, and reduce your desire to drink so you can stay sober.
FDA-approved medications for alcohol addiction are available at many addiction treatment centers to treat people with alcohol dependence and addiction.
Here’s a breakdown of the different medications used in alcohol addiction treatment and where you can go to access them.
How Do Medications For Alcohol Addiction Work?
Medications for alcohol addiction work in different ways to treat specific aspects of alcohol use disorder. Some medications are used strictly during detox to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and help you avoid complications. Others can be used to make alcohol seem less desirable, which can be effective at helping you achieve long-term sobriety.
The use of alcohol medications in addiction treatment is known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT combines the use of medications with behavioral therapy and counseling to help you stay sober while you learn how to rebuild a healthier lifestyle without drugs or alcohol. Doctors must receive special certification and training before they can prescribe certain alcohol medications, which is why this treatment is usually only available at alcohol rehab centers.
The Recovery Team in Lake Park, Florida, offers alcohol medications, including anti-craving medications, to help you stay sober. Contact us today to learn more about our many available treatment options that can help you stop drinking.
Which Medications Are Available To Treat Alcohol Dependence?
Alcohol dependence can get treated using one or more of three FDA-approved medications: acamprosate (Campral), disulfiram (Antabuse), and naltrexone (Vivitrol).
Acamprosate can reduce your physical and mental cravings for alcohol. It works by acting on certain brain chemicals that play a role in alcohol cravings, so you are less likely to be distracted by thoughts about alcohol and drinking. It may also help regulate chemicals in your brain affected by heavy drinking or long-term alcohol use.
Acamprosate is taken three times a day. It only works if you have stopped drinking alcohol and may not work if you are misusing other illicit drugs or habit-forming medications like opioids. Possible side effects of acamprosate include gastrointestinal upset (such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and gas), anxiety, dry mouth, itching, and insomnia.
Disulfiram produces unpleasant side effects when you drink alcohol, so you won’t be motivated to drink. These effects include anxiety, sweating, choking, nausea, and vomiting, among many more. Disulfiram starts working within 10 minutes of drinking an alcoholic beverage and produces effects lasting at least one hour.
Disulfiram is taken once a day and should not be taken if you consumed an alcoholic beverage during the last 12 hours. This medication can produce life-threatening effects if you drink large amounts of alcohol while this drug is in your system. Respiratory depression, heart failure, convulsions, and death are some life-threatening effects associated with disulfiram.
If you generally struggle with staying sober after stopping alcohol use, disulfiram may be helpful. However, you must consult with healthcare professionals before starting disulfiram to learn more about all the potential risks involved with using this medication for alcohol addiction.
Naltrexone blocks the pleasurable effects of alcohol, so you feel less motivated to drink it. It works on brain receptors that regulate feelings of pleasure, along with cravings for alcohol. This medication is also commonly used in MAT for opioid addiction to reduce drug cravings.
Naltrexone can be taken as a pill or as an injection. The pill form is taken once a day, while the injection is given once a month. Possible side effects of naltrexone include gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal cramping), anxiety, headache, insomnia, and muscle pain.
Can Alcohol Withdrawal Be Treated With Medication?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be severe for people who have been dealing with alcohol dependence for many years or who drank high amounts of alcohol for some time before seeking treatment. Medications are often used during alcohol detox to reduce and relieve withdrawal symptoms and prevent withdrawal-related complications.
People with mild or moderate symptoms may only receive symptomatic medications that aim to treat specific symptoms as they arise. For example, if your primary symptom is a headache, your doctor may give you ibuprofen or acetaminophen and encourage you to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Many alcohol rehab centers also provide patients with vitamin B1 supplements to raise their thiamine levels, given how alcohol can deplete B1 from the body to increase the risk for cognitive problems.
People with moderate or severe symptoms can be treated symptomatically or given a benzodiazepine medication to prevent seizures and many other alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Seizures are a common withdrawal symptom in those with severe alcohol use disorder and can potentially lead to coma or death when not properly managed. Your doctors at alcohol rehab will professionally assess your level of alcohol dependence and develop a personalized treatment plan that reduces your risk for these types of complications.
Topiramate (Topamax) is another alcohol addiction medication approved by the FDA for seizure treatment and migraine headaches. In addition to preventing seizures and migraine, it regulates brain chemistry affected by alcohol misuse. Some patients may continue taking topiramate for several weeks or months after alcohol detox to improve brain chemistry.
Can Certain Medications Stop Your Craving For Alcohol?
All medications used in MAT for alcohol addiction can reduce alcohol cravings, whether directly or indirectly. For example, disulfiram indirectly stops cravings by producing unpleasant and painful side effects if you drink alcohol while using it. Naltrexone acts directly on brain chemicals that regulate pleasure to block the euphoric effects of alcohol.
Alcohol cravings are best managed when you combine these medications with behavioral therapy at an alcohol rehab center. Behavioral therapy will teach you how to effectively manage and fight cravings using healthy methods like yoga and deep breathing. Many alcohol rehab centers also offer nutrition therapy so you can learn more about how certain healthy foods help regulate brain chemistry to naturally reduce alcohol cravings.
Do Alcohol Medications Produce Side Effects?
Nearly every medical treatment comes with its own set of risks and side effects, including medications for alcohol addiction. However, the benefits of these medications usually far outweigh potential risks, especially if the medications help you stay sober for a long time.
The side effects of alcohol addiction medications are usually displayed prominently on their boxes or package inserts. Healthcare professionals can also talk to you in greater detail about the possible side effects of each medication and recommend one or more medications that may work best for you based on your unique situation.
If you find that the side effects of your alcohol addiction medication are causing significant problems with your health or livelihood, mention this to your doctor right away. Your doctor can work with you to find another effective treatment or medication.
Do Alcohol Medications Improve Abstinence Rates?
All medications that are approved by the FDA go through an extensive testing process for safety and efficacy before approval. Many studies show that certain medications for alcohol addiction improve abstinence, which is why they are widely used in addiction treatment settings. The results of these clinical trials are usually published online by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
When testing acamprosate in patients recovering from alcohol addiction, the NIH found that 36% of patients who used this medication were still abstinent after six months, while the abstinence rate among patients taking a placebo was only 23%.
When testing naltrexone, researchers learned that 36% of patients who took this medication for three months avoided relapse. In another study involving naltrexone, researchers found that those who took this medication reduced their number of heavy drinking days by 25%.
Some people respond to medications better than others. If you are taking an alcohol addiction medication that doesn’t seem to work, ask your doctor about the possibility of switching to another medication. Your doctor may use data from newer or ongoing clinical trials to find a different medication that works better for you.
How Can I Get Medication For Alcohol Addiction?
The easiest way to gain access to medication for alcohol addiction is to receive treatment from an alcohol rehab center. Many alcohol rehab centers offer detox services, behavioral therapy, counseling, and MAT—all of which may involve medications to help you stay sober.
Your primary care physician may offer a few of these medications. However, the doctors at an alcohol rehab center are often far more knowledgeable and experienced when treating alcohol addiction and could develop a highly individualized treatment plan for you or your loved one. These healthcare professionals can often detect complications before they arise and prescribe the correct medications at accurate doses to make you feel comfortable and keep you on track with recovery.
Contact The Recovery Team today at (800) 817-1247 to talk more about your treatment options for alcohol addiction, including medications you can take to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
We offer medication management services, along with relapse prevention therapy, fitness and nutrition counseling, and residential treatment for alcohol addiction.