How Can an Alcoholic Reduce Alcohol Craving?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : December 03 , 
| 6 Sources

Licensed Medications

Pharmacotherapy is invaluable in helping recovering alcoholics stop drinking and stay stopped

One of the biggest obstacles for recovering alcoholics in the first few weeks of sobriety is how to reduce alcohol craving. This is called craving and is one of the major factors in preventing alcohol dependents from staying away from alcohol.

Yet it doesn't need to be like this. There are a number of medications licensed by the FDA that can help alcoholics get through these first few weeks of sobriety unscathed. Three drugs are presently approved for the treatment and control of alcohol dependence—naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate. Please remember these medications are available by prescription only. Be sure to consult with a physician experienced in dealing with alcohol addiction to see if they are right for your situation.


Licensed Medications To Reduce Alcohol Craving


Naltrexone was approved for use in the treatment of alcohol dependence on December 30, 1994. The reason it reduces the craving for alcohol is that it competes with other drugs, and that includes alcohol, for opioid receptors in the brain. This reduces the pleasurable effects of alcohol, and thus, reduces the cravings to have another drink.

Unlike Disulfiram (see below), Naltrexone does not make you feel sick if you drink alcohol while taking it. Naltrexone does not decrease the effects of alcohol that impair coordination and judgment.

When starting using the medication naltrexone for Alcohol Use Disorder, patients mustn’t be physically dependent on alcohol. To avoid severe side effects such as vomiting ad nausea, practitioners normally wait after the alcohol detox process prior to administering naltrexone.

Naltrexone binds to the body’s endorphin receptors, and prevents the effects and good feelings of alcohol. Naltrexone diminishes alcohol cravings, as well as the amount of alcohol consumed. When a patient stops drinking alcohol, taking naltrexone helps them maintain their sobriety. Naltrexone treatment typically lasts for three to four months. Practitioners need to continue monitoring patients who are no longer taking naltrexone.

Typical duration of treatment with Naltrexone is three to six months. Your doctor should devise a plan for you that will determine the appropriate dosage and treatment schedule.

Disulfiram (Anatabuse)

Disulfiram was actually the first medication allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of alcohol abuse and misuse. Disulfiram, in its pure state, is a white to off-white, almost tasteless, and odorless powder, which is soluble in alcohol and water. Disulfiram, an alcohol-sensitizing or alcohol-aversive agent, triggers a severely toxic physical reaction when combined with alcohol. Clinical findings and continuing research have cleared up disulfiram's mode of action and recognized its effective and safe use in the treatment and management of alcohol use disorders in some patient groups.

Disulfiram is a medication for alcohol abuse that a physician will often prescribe to a patient for the treatment of chronic alcoholism. This drug does not reduce your cravings in the same way Naltrexone does, rather it deters an alcoholic from drinking by producing an unpleasant reaction when alcohol is consumed. It is a deterrent drug.

When taken as prescribed, Disulfiram works by causing a variety of uncomfortable effects that occur a very short time after the patient decides to drink alcohol.

These effects include:

  • blurred vision
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • choking
  • sweating
  • flushing
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • mental confusion
  • anxiety
  • problems with breathing

Once taken, Disulfiram will stay in your system for up to 24 hours, so it is advised not to drink within this time period. It will start working shortly after ingesting one dose and would continue to work for up to two weeks after the last medication dose.

Disulfiram is also known as Antabuse (literally anti-abuse).

Although this medication for alcoholism is in no way a cure for alcoholism, it can help a great deal in discouraging a person from taking a drink. Disulfiram could work as an adjunct to psychosocial treatment to reduce alcohol consumption for patients who could achieve initial alcohol abstinence of at least 12 hours, are obliged to maintain abstinence, agree to take the medication, and don’t have any contraindications to disulfiram.

Acamprosate Calcium (Campral)

Acamprosate is currently approved for anti-craving and/or anti-relapse treatment for the treatment of alcohol dependence. It helps normalize brain activity and helps to reduce alcohol cravings.

As well as normalizing brain activity, Acamprosate seems to lessen the distress and severe emotional unease recovering alcoholics feel in the first few weeks/months of sobriety.

The advantage of this drug is that even if an individual is unsuccessful in refraining from drinking they will experience no adverse effects if they drink while having taken Acamprosate.

Acamprosate is at its most effective in those who have already stopped drinking and are committed to staying that way.

Acamprosate is utilized along with social support and counseling to help people who have stopped consuming heavy amounts of alcohol to avoid drinking alcohol again.

Consuming alcohol for a long time alters the way the brain works. Acamprosate works by helping the brains of patients who have suffered from alcohol abuse, to work normally again.

A review of 15 studies seemed to show that Acamprosate successfully reduced the amount of alcohol dependents who relapsed if they also underwent a program of counseling/therapy; There is also evidence that Acamprosate helps individual remain abstinent regardless of other treatment they may or may not undergo.

There are occasionally side effects from taking this medication, however, they are minor and either require no treatment or can be treated easily. Such side effects include diarrhea and less often - nausea and itching.

A lot of evidence suggests that Acamprosate is as efficient as naltrexone but with less serious reactions, and that it could be more effective when used in combination with disulfiram or naltrexone. Acamprosate used together with psychosocial support should be considered as the initial therapy for maintenance of alcohol abstinence.

You Don’t Have to Be Alone in Battling Alcoholism!

Medications can help reduce cravings, but treatment options and programs can also help curb alcoholism for good. Contact a treatment provider today.

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

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


NCBI. Acamprosate: A prototypic neuromodulator in the treatment of alcohol dependence. March 1, 2011.

American Family Physician. Acamprosate (Campral) for Treatment of Alcoholism. August 15, 2006.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. Naltrexone.

Medline Plus. Acamprosate.

NCBI. Chapter 3—Disulfiram.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Disulfiram (Antabuse).

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