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Alcohol Treatment Medications

The thought of severe withdrawal symptoms is usually a buzzkill for alcohol abuse patients seeking treatment.

But while the treatment process can be mentally and physically demanding, there are several  medications that can ease the recovery process and make it a lot smoother. 

FDA-approved drugs like Disulfiram, Naltrexone, Benzodiazepines, and Acamprosate are usually used by addiction treatment facilities to suppress cravings and withdrawal side effects. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the main alcohol treatment medications and their role in the addiction recovery process. We’ll also shed light on some of the side effects of each drug to ensure you know what to expect when receiving treatment. 

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Can Medications Help with Alcohol Use Disorder

Not too many people know that specific, FDA-approved medications can help treat alcohol dependence. 

Most addiction treatment facilities understand the severe and often unbearable symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and thus integrate a range of treatment methods to ease the burden on patients. 

While medications alone cannot treat alcohol dependence, they can help ease the severity of withdrawals and reduce the overall chances of relapses. 

Combining alcohol treatment medications with a variety of therapies and social support is an effective way of treating alcohol dependence. 

Point to note, though, alcohol treatment medications serve different purposes and should therefore be used correctly to avoid relapses and adverse side effects. 

Types of Alcohol Treatment Medications

Disulfiram

Disulfiram, also called antabuse, is an alcohol abuse medicine that works by causing adverse reactions to alcohol consumption. 

To explain better, patients who take disulfiram will feel nauseated and even vomit if they drink alcohol. The idea of this drug is to deter recovering patients from consuming alcohol. 

Besides nausea, people taking disulfiram can feel weak, sweat excessively, and have headaches if they drink alcohol. 

Disulfiram is designed to be taken once alcohol is cleared from a recovering patient’s system. 

And although the drug is often successful in creating a disgust for alcohol (due to negative stimuli), it does not work for everyone. Some patients with alcohol use disorders, more so those at the beginning of recovery, discontinue the drug once they associate it with unpleasantness. 

However, disulfiram works well when consumed only when the need arises. For instance, you can take the drug during anniversaries or holidays when you’re likely to be triggered. 

Side Effects of Disulfiram

  • Drowsiness 
  • Fatigue
  • Acne
  • Bad taste

Naltrexone

Naltrexone is an alcohol treatment medication that works by blocking the euphoria achieved upon alcohol or opioid consumption. 

The injectable form of naltrexone is marketed under the name Vivitrol and has the same effect as the pill version when used to treat alcohol use disorders.

However, for naltrexone to be effective, a patient must attend therapy and participate in a variety of evidence-based addiction treatment methods under the guidance of licensed professionals. 

The main advantage of naltrexone is its ability to dissociate the feelings of positivity or relaxation with alcohol consumption, which plays a vital role in preventing relapses. 

Patients can use the medication to work towards complete abstinence. For instance, the goal as you start the treatment can be to cut down on the number of drinks or reduce the days you drink heavily. 

Over time, the triggers won’t have as much of an impact on you as before. 

And while naltrexone is non-addictive, it does come with some side effects that might be mild or severe for some. 

Side Effects of Naltrexone

  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pains 
  • Restlessness 
  • Mild abdominal pain 
  • Vomiting 
  • Lethargy

Acamprosate

Also called campral, acamprosate works by easing alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety– which are known to last months after quitting alcohol. 

By interacting with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate, acamprosate helps restore active communication in the nerve cells, thereby creating a much-needed balance. 

While acamprosate effectively reduces alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it requires you to practice a high level of discipline as you’ll be taking 2 pills 3 times a day. This can prove taxing if you’re already on other medications or aren’t good at respecting drug schedules.  

Similar to naltrexone, acamprosate tends to work best for individuals that stop drinking before commencing treatment. 

Side Effects of Acamprosate

  • Diarrhea 
  • Stomach upset
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Gas 
  • Dizziness 
  • Anxiety 
  • Weakness

Benzodiazepines 

Benzodiazepines need no introduction when it comes to withdrawal management. These anti-anxiety medications are mostly used as sedatives and are mostly prescribed to patients in the first stages of alcohol addiction treatment. 

By affecting the same parts of the nervous system like alcohol, benzodiazepines trick the body into thinking it’s in a state of euphoria, which helps reduce advanced symptoms like delirium tremens, high blood pressure, and seizures

Some of the commonly used benzos include librium, valium, ativan, and xanax. 

Disclaimer, while benzos are great for reducing anxiety and managing withdrawal symptoms, they are highly addictive and can lead to dependence. Their use in treating alcohol abuse should stop once severe symptoms of withdrawal are managed. 

Side effects of Benzodiazepines 

  • Muscle weakness 
  • Memory problems 
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Confusion 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Slurred speech 

Get Help Today

Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

Make a Call

Are Alcohol Treatment Medications Safe? 

Alcohol treatment medications are safe and can be used to make the recovery process a lot more manageable for you (or a loved one). 

All the drugs we’ve examined are FDA-approved, meaning they’re fit for use by people receiving alcohol abuse treatment. As a rule, however, you should only receive these drugs from licensed addiction treatment facilities. 

Although not mandatory, alcohol treatment medications are highly recommended as they can help manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings (depending on medication administered). 

Contact an addiction treatment center today to have a professional review your case and prescribe a suitable medication for your unique treatment needs.  

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