Alcoholism Medication: How They Actually Work
While there are several medications marketed for the treatment of alcohol addiction, these alcoholism medication treatments do not help an individual return to what may be considered ‘normal drinking’. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease which would make returning to moderate drinking unlikely for most.
In recent years we have seen major breakthroughs in treatments for ailments that were previously believed to be incurable. Perhaps the best-known being the introduction of Viagra for impotence.
As many millions suffer from alcoholism, a drug ‘cure’ would be of great benefit to society and a fantastic money-spinner for the drug company that discovers it. Occasionally you hear of people proclaiming they have discovered a cure for alcohol dependency.
But what truth is there in these claims and what drugs are available NOW for the treatment of alcoholism? A healthier way to think of medications for alcohol addiction would be to view them as a tool that can help someone have a healthy recovery.
Below you will find a short descriptions of various medications for alcoholism (some licensed and some not). Some are used to treat alcohol withdrawals, others to reduce cravings for drink and some are viewed as a cure. Again, it is important to understand that there is no cure for alcoholism and that recovery includes behavior changes.
If you find anything of interest, then click on the respective link to get more information on that particular medication for alcoholism.
Reduce Alcohol Craving
Pharmacotherapy is an invaluable tool in combating alcohol dependence. There are number of medications, licensed by the FDA, used to treat the cravings associated with the first few weeks of abstinence.
This can be helpful for individuals who have struggled maintaining sobriety in the past due to cravings. Again, medications for alcohol addiction should be viewed as a tool. The hope with most medications is that they will not be needed long term as a person develops healthy coping skills and other behaviors to engage in sober lifestyle.
For more on these anti-craving medications, read Reducing Alcohol Craving With Medication
Naltrexone Treatment Of Alcoholism
Naltrexone is a drug used to curb the craving felt by many alcoholics in the first stages of recovery from alcoholism. It works by binding to the endorphin receptors in the body, and blocking the effects and feelings of alcohol. By blocking the pleasurable effects of drinking alcohol, naltrexone may likewise reduce the amount of heavy drinking among those who do drink.
Naltrexone can be taken as a daily oral pill, or an injection received once per month by a medical professional.
Although it has its benefits it also has various side-effects and cannot be taken by those who are known to have liver disease. Liver damage is quite common among those who struggle with alcohol addiction, so your provider may elect to have some screenings or tests done before you begin a treatment regimen.
For more on naltrexone, its anti-craving properties, side-effects and method of action, read naltrexone treatment of alcoholism.
Injectable Naltrexone: Vivitrol
Vivitrol is naltrexone in an injectable form as mentioned above.
Its major benefit over the pill form is that it only has to be administered monthly by your medical provider. Thus making the management of cravings for alcohol much easier. An additional benefit to the injection compared to the oral pill would be the decreased risk of manipulation. If a person is on a path to a relapse, they may find it tempting to skip a dose of Naltrexone. The injection does not offer this opportunity for manipulation or for an honest mistake.
For more on Vivitrol, its benefits, when it is prescribed, side-effects and contraindications, read Vivitrol.
Naltrexone and the Sinclair Method
Could the Sinclair Method be the ‘magic pill’ for alcoholism? Used extensively in Finland it has a claimed 90% success rate. Compare this to which AA has a three year success rate of just 5%.
The Sinclair Method does not require a person to stop drinking. A person would take their prescribed does of Naltrexone approximately one hour before they start drinking. The Naltrexone will block the endorphins released in a person’s brain while they drink. The purpose of this, is that you are breaking the connection of alcohol with endorphins which make us feel good.
This method is not common in all parts of the world and has medical professionals divided. If you are interested in the Sinclair Method, do your research, and have a constructive and honest conversation with your health care professional.
Read the Sinclair Method for more.
Nalmefene - The New Drug for Alcoholism
Nalmefene could be the next big thing in alcohol dependence treatment.
Nalmefene is structurally similar to Naltrexone, but Nalmefene is currently licensed to be prescribed to reduce cravings in alcoholics who have already stopped drinking. Like Naltrexone, Nalmefene is an opiate antagonist.
Nalmefene is more commonly used in Europe than in other parts of the world. Nalmefene is often used in combination with psychological support. This could be outpatient treatment programs or support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Smart Recovery.
To learn more about this drug, read Nalmefene – New Drug For Alcoholism.
Disulfiram, Also Known as Antabuse
Disulfiram, more commonly known as Antabuse, is another medication used with alcohol addiction. It causes unpleasant effects even when small amounts of alcohol are ingested. Common side effects include flushness in the face, nausea and vomiting.
If a person is taking Antabuse as prescribed, they would begin to have an adverse reaction approximately 10 minutes after they drink alcohol. This medication should never be given to an individual who is already intoxicated or given to someone without their knowledge and consent.
A downside to this medication is that daily oral medications can be easily manipulated by skipping a dose which would then have an impact on the severity of adverse side effects experienced after drinking. If a person stops taking Antabuse, they could still notice effects from the medication for up to two weeks after the last dose is taken.
If you are interested in learning more about Antabuse, please consult your prescribing doctor.
Baclofen, a New Alcoholism Treatment
Baclofen is a drug traditionally used to treat painful muscle spasms and multiple sclerosis. It has also been used as an alcoholism medication.
After taking Baclofen, a person would feel a calming effect due to the way it influences their brain. This calming effect then increases a person’s level of Dopamine, which then ideally decreases their experiences with cravings.
The use of Baclofen with the treatment of alcohol cravings is growing in the medical field. Prescribers are noticing a positive impact, however addition research is still needed regarding Baclofen and its use with alcohol addiction.
You can read New Alcoholism Treatment for more on this potentially life-changing discovery.
Acamprosate, Also Known as Campral
Acamprosate, better known as Campral, is another commonly used medication with alcohol addiction. This medication is best used when taken directly after a person has stopped drinking alcohol. This medication works to reverse the changes in a person’s brain after heavy alcohol use.
With that being said, this medication would not be the best choice if you have gone through a detoxification program already or have a period of sobriety established. It is important to be honest with your doctor about the amount of alcohol consumed, even if a relapse occurs while taking Campral.
If you are interested in learning more about Campral and if it may be a good fit for you, please consult with your prescribing physician.
Medication To Help Quit Alcohol
Although not in itself a treatment for alcoholism, medication for alcoholism- naltrexone, Antabuse or Campral, can help alcoholics stop drinking and stay in recovery.
It is important to note that medications for alcohol abuse work best when combined with a behavioral approach. There are a few different options that a person can engage in:
· Inpatient Programs: The goal of inpatient programs is to establish an environment where a person can come and begin their recovery. The hope is that when a person completes their inpatient program, they would have a better understanding of addiction, triggers, and coping skills for their stressors.
· Outpatient Program: Outpatient programs tend to pick up where an inpatient program ends, and continue focusing on adjusting to a sober life style upon returning to their routine. Early recovery comes with many challenges, having a program to go to can offer a place of support during these challenges.
· Support Groups: Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Smart Recovery, are not run by Mental Health Professionals, rather by other alcoholics in recovery. Support groups can offer a safe place to share, listen and learn about recovery.
For more on these FDA approved medicines read medication for alcoholism.
Alcoholism Herbal Medication:
Kudzu Alcoholism Treatment
Although not a drug of the synthetic variety, Kudzu, a Chinese herb, has recently been used by recovering alcoholics.
Although it has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 500 years, it is only recently that its value for treating alcoholism has come to the notice of addiction specialists. Kudzu slows down the rate that your blood breaks down alcohol after consumption. This in turn makes a person feel more intoxicated than they are. As a result, many find that they consume less alcohol compared to when they do not take Kudzu.
For more read Kudzu alcoholism treatment.
Diazepam is used in the treatment of alcohol withdrawals. However, only in those cases in which the symptoms are judged to be moderate to severe. In mild cases other remedies would be more appropriate.
Read diazepam and alcohol to learn when Diazepam should be used and its dangers.
Do Alcoholism Medications Really Work?
All of the drugs mentioned above have been scientifically tested to help alcoholics recover.
If you’re looking for an alcoholism treatment clinic for yourself or someone you care about, reach out today. There are dedicated treatment providers who can help.
I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. I have since settled in North Carolina. I have experience working with various stages of addiction, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, trauma, stages of life concerns and relationship concerns.
I tend to use a person-centered approach which simply means that I meet you where you are and work collaboratively to help you identify and work towards accomplishing goals. I will often pull from CBT when appropriate. I do encourage use of mindfulness and meditation and practice these skills in my own life. I believe in treating everyone with respect, sensitivity and compassion.
I recognize that reaching out for help is hard and commend you for taking the first step. We have professionals available who would be happy to help you move closer to reaching your goals related to your drinking concerns. You may reach these professionals by calling 877-322-2694.