What Medications are Used to Treat Alcoholism?

medications for alcoholism

When people think of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), they usually imagine a treatment for opioid addiction. However, medication-assisted treatment programs also have options for individuals recovering from alcoholism. 

Medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism has grown immensely in the past few years. Thanks to research, there are now a multitude of options for individuals who are interested in taking advantage of life-saving medications used to treat alcoholism. Additionally, efforts have been made to improve the effectiveness, quality, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness of MAT for alcoholism. 

Before an individual decides to use a medication to recover from alcoholism, they should understand their options and how each medication works.

Medications Used to Treat Alcoholism

There are a variety of medications used in the treatment of alcohol dependency. Each medication works differently and provides individuals with varying forms of relief. 

Antabuse (Disulfiram)

Antabuse (disulfiram) is a medication that prevents individuals from abusing alcohol. This is the first medication that was approved for treating alcohol use disorder. If an individual taking this medication attempts to drink alcohol, they become ill, creating a diversion for drinking.

Within minutes of drinking alcohol, individuals taking Antabuse will experience some of the following side effects:

  • Headache 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Impaired vision
  • Sweating 
  • Weakness
  • Problems breathing
  • Mental confusion 
  • Anxiety 
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Tachycardia 
  • Hypotension 

The idea behind Antabuse treatment is to prevent people from craving alcohol by making alcohol consumption an uncomfortable experience. However, this medication is only given to individuals who have already completed a detox program for alcohol. 

Additionally, Antabuse is only given under medical supervision and the condition of sobriety. This medication is most commonly prescribed to individuals who face a high risk of relapsing, as this medication is purely a relapse prevention medication. 

Naltrexone (ReVia and Depade)

Naltrexone is a medication used in opioid dependency treatment, however, researchers found this medication beneficial in the treatment of alcoholism as well. 

Naltrexone goes by the brand names ReVia and Depade. This medication is taken orally under the supervision of a medical professional or at an alcohol rehab center

While Antabuse causes individuals to become ill when they drink, naltrexone takes away the pleasurable effects of drinking. This works to reduce an individual’s cravings for alcohol by taking away their motivations for alcohol abuse.

The benefits of Naltrexone treatment for alcoholism include:

  • Less severe and fewer side effects when compared to other MAT medications
  • Reduces an individual’s motivations to drink, lowering their risk of relapse 
  • Improves outcomes of other forms of addiction treatment like therapy and counseling 
  • Therapeutic benefits are thought to outweigh the potential side effects

Vivitrol 

Vivitrol is an injectable medication that contains the extended-release form of naltrexone. Many individuals prefer this form of naltrexone due to convenience, as Vivitrol injections are provided once a month rather than daily.

Vivitrol provides patients with the same form of alcohol dependency relief as naltrexone treatment does. According to a study, 25% of individuals given Vivitrol treatments reported 92% fewer heavy drinking days per month than individuals who were given the placebo.[1]

The potential side effects of Vivitrol injections include:[2]

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches 
  • Muscle cramps or aches 
  • Stomach cramps 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Joint pain
  • Tiredness
  • Irritation at the injection site  

Campral (Acamprosate)

Campral (acamprosate) is a medication that was designed specifically for the treatment of alcohol use disorder. This medication helps to lessen individuals’ cravings and desires to drink alcohol, lowering their risk of relapse.

The side effects of Campral typically subside after a couple of weeks of treatment. These may include:[3]

  • Digestive issues 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia 
  • Sweating 

Individuals taking Campral must have stopped drinking at least five days before beginning the medication. Thankfully, acamprosate is safe to take with any other medications, making it beneficial for individuals who also suffer from opioid dependency or who are required to take benzodiazepine medications for lasting alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Additionally, some individuals may receive a combination of Campral and naltrexone to treat the cravings associated with alcohol addiction and prevent individuals from experiencing a relapse.

Are Medications Effective as a Standalone Treatment for Alcohol Addiction?

Medications for alcoholism are not intended to be used as a standalone treatment. All reputable medication-assisted treatment programs combine FDA-approved medications with behavioral therapy and group counseling to provide individuals with a well-rounded foundation for long-term recovery. 

Other than medication, the vital aspects of an alcohol treatment program include:

  • Individual behavior therapy 
  • Group counseling sessions
  • Mental health assessment and dual diagnosis treatment 
  • Trauma-informed care
  • 12-step facilitation therapy 
  • Aftercare planning 
  • Relapse prevention planning

Participating in the therapeutic aspects of alcoholism recovery is vital to the maintenance of long-term sobriety. This is because individual therapy and group counseling help patients address the causes, motivations, and effects of their alcohol use disorders. If an individual only received medication, their chances of relapsing would increase substantially. 

Get Connected With a Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Program for Alcoholism Today

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are difficult cycles to break. Oftentimes, individuals recovering from alcohol addiction suffer repeated relapses before they find a form of treatment that works for them. Thankfully, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for alcoholism can prevent individuals from becoming trapped in this cycle. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, we’re here to help. Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center to begin your recovery journey.

References:

  1. https://www.vivitrolhcp.com/content/pdfs/integrated-patient-brochure-ad.pdf
  2. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2010/021897s015lbl.pdf
  3. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a604028.html
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