Medication for Alcoholism: Do They Really Work?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : January 05, 
| 4 Sources

When talking about medication for alcoholism, we need to first make a very important distinction and that is:

  • There are drugs for alcoholism that are licensed and used to help alcoholics detox from alcohol and then stay away for alcohol.
  • There are also drugs that some alcoholics say have cured them of their need to drink alcoholically.

On this page we will briefly talk about both types of drugs. You should not use any of these medications unless they are prescribed for you by a physician with expertise in treating alcoholism.

It is important to note that medical professionals do not believe that there is a cure to alcohol or drug addiction. Medications are viewed as a tool that can help support a person in their recovery. A healthy recovery entails behavioral changes and life style changes.

Medication for Assisting Alcoholics In Their Recovery

NALTREXONE is a prescription alcoholic medication that has to be prescribed by a physician/doctor.

  • Naltrexone is in a class of drugs that are commonly referred to as opiate antagonists; they work by causing a decrease in the intensity of the craving a recovering alcoholic feels in the first few months of life without drink.
  • Naltrexone is also effective for blocking the effects that individuals receive from opioid street drugs and medications. Simply meaning that if a person was to take an opiate, such as heroin, they would not feel the effects commonly associated with heroin. A person is more likely to overdose on an opiate than to feel high from it while taking Naltrexone.

There is also aninjectable form of naltrexone, marketed under the brand name, Vivitrol. This only needs to be administered once a month thus making it easier to manage your cravings.

Having this medication injected once per month also takes away the opportunity to skip doses during a relapse or the chance of forgetting your medication.

Naltrexone and Vivitrol should not be taken by individuals who have pre-existing liver damage. This can be a concern for some as chronic and excessive alcohol use causes liver damage such as Cirrhosis. Because of this, it is critical to be open and honest with your doctor about you drinking history and health concerns.

Your doctor may choose to do some tests before having you start taking Naltrexone or Vivitrol.

Common side effects for Naltrexone and Vivitrol include:

  • Stomach cramping or pain, can vary in severity
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness or trouble sleeping
  • Headache
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Redness around injection site

ACAMPROSATE, also known as Campral, is a medication for alcohol abuse that also requires a doctor's prescription and is used in combination with support groups and alcohol counseling programs.

Actions of the human brain can change after a person has consumed alcohol for a long period of time. It is thought this drug helps by promoting the natural actions of the brain to begin working efficiently. Researchers are not exactly sure how it works, but studies show that recovering alcoholics taking Acamprosate are less likely to relapse.

This medication works best when taken shortly after a person stops drinking. If you have detoxed from alcohol already, this may not be the best option for you.

Common side effects for Acamprosate are:

  • Feeling weak
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Sleeping challenges
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness

"If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism and you want to speak to someone that understands, call our support assistants. As former addicts they are empathetic to the struggle you are facing. The conversation is free & they are available 24/7."

Medication for Alcoholism

DISULFIRAM , commonly known as Antabuse, was the first drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as medication for chronic alcohol abuse or dependence. It is a medication for alcohol abuse that a physician will often prescribe to a patient for the treatment of chronic alcoholism.

The purpose of the drug is to discourage you from drinking. As a result, it must be given when you have already stopped drinking.

It triggers unpleasant effects when a person drinks even small amounts of alcohol. These negative effects include headache, nausea, flushing of the face, vomiting, chest pain, mental confusion, weakness, blurred vision, sweating, choking, anxiety, and breathing difficulty. The hope is that by experiencing these side effects, you will un-learn the positive effects associated with alcohol.

Once taken, Disulfiram will stay in your system for up to 24 hours, so it is advised not to drink within this time period. Some individuals can feel residue effects from Disulfiram up to two weeks after their last does was taken.

Drinking alcohol while taking this drug can, in rare cases, actually kill you. So be warned.
Although this medication for alcoholism is in no way used to cure alcoholism, it can help a great deal in discouraging a person from taking a drink.

A downside to this medication is that it comes in a once per day pill. This means that the medication can be easily manipulated by skipping a dose or it could be forgotten.

After recognizing that this medication is designed to cause uncomfortable side effects after drinking alcohol, there is, as with any medications, the possibility for side effects. Common side effects when taking Antabuse are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Garlic or metal taste in mouth
  • Skin rash
  • Tiredness

Medication Claimed To Cure Alcoholism

There are two types of medication for alcoholism that are said by some to cure alcoholism, they are naltrexone (see above) and baclofen. Both drugs are NOT licensed for this use, meaning that they have not been supported by clinical research as a cure for alcoholism.

Many working in the alcoholism treatment industry scoff at the idea of an alcoholism cure, and reject both these drugs as possible cures for alcoholism.

However, there is a small percentage of people who claim they have rid themselves of their alcohol dependence by utilizing one of these two medications for alcoholism.

As noted above, common treatment approaches for alcohol addiction include behavioral changes. For those who identify these two medications as a cure for them, I find myself wondering what changes they made to their lifestyle after taking the medication.

For example, if a person taking one of the two medications decides to make changes to their lifestyle, then there was more than just the medication playing a role in their recovery.

Avoiding places that have alcohol, people you used to drink with, and things that remind you of drinking are common strategies that a person in recovery can use to avoid challenging situations. Other changes could include going therapy and self-help meetings.

NALTREXONE as mentioned above, is used to control the cravings for drink recovering alcoholics experience. The drug is taken AFTER the alcoholic has already quit drinking. Studies have shown that it is more effective in those who are abstinent before beginning the medication.

However, there are those who say that if you always take naltrexone (50mg) one hour BEFORE drinking, then you will, over time, reduce your alcohol consumption to normal levels and may even stop drinking altogether. This is known as the Sinclair Method, which is more common in Europe than other places in the world. The Sinclair Method has medical professionals divided, and it may be challenging to find a doctor who is comfortable with this method of treatment. 

Naltrexone will in effect kill your urge to drink. For more on this use of naltrexone, read the Sinclair Method.

BACLOFEN has been around a long time, but not as a medication for alcoholism, rather it has been used in those with neurological disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis.

Research in the past ten or so years has shown that baclofen also seems to reduce cravings associated with addiction. When those taking this drug drink, they don't feel the need to drink as much compared to when they do not take it before drinking. As a result, many find that they consume less alcohol.

This use of baclofen has been popularized by a French cardiologist, Dr. Oliver Ameisen, who wrote a book chronicling how he cured his alcoholism by using this guarantee that a drug in much the same way naltrexone is used in the Sinclair Method.

For more on this use of baclofen and more details on dosages etc., read Baclofen, New Alcoholism Treatment.

Unapproved And Unlicensed

It is important to emphasize that both naltrexone and baclofen are not approved to be used in the ways they are described above (i.e. as alcoholism cures).

Reasons for this is still up for debate, but largely that there is no guarantee that every person will experience the same effects when taking both Naltrexone and Baclofen.

If you do plan to use them in the ways above, then please take consult with a physician first, as they would be able to determine which alcoholism medication and treatment is most effective for every person. Do your research, and be open to their professional opinions.

This page is purely for informational purposes and does not replace the advice of a trained and qualified physician in any way.

If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


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. Read More


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.

NCBI. Chapter 3—Disulfiram.

Medline Plus. Disulfiram. August 15, 2017.

American Family Physician. Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder. March 15, 2016.

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