Medications to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder
From detox to long-term maintenance of recovery, medication can help you overcome alcohol addiction. During the initial treatment phase of detoxification, your care team may use a variety of supportive medicines to ease withdrawal symptoms and ensure your safety.1 But detox is often only the first stage of addiction treatment, and many people benefit from further treatment in their efforts for long-term recovery.2 The good news is that prescription medicines exist that can help make recovering from alcohol addiction a bit easier.
Medicines for Alcohol Addiction
After detox, there are many components of addiction treatment. While behavioral therapies and counseling are well-known, many people do not realize that there are FDA-approved medicines that can help reduce cravings and increase your motivation to avoid alcohol.2 These medicines are typically started after detox, and their goal is to help you accomplish long-term sobriety.
While many people engage with alcohol addiction treatment through rehab or mental health providers, many primary care doctors can also prescribe each of the following medications to stop drinking:
Acamprosate (brand name: Campral) can help reduce the long-term symptoms that make it hard to stop using alcohol.2 After detox, you may still have insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and general uneasiness while your body continues to adjust to the continued absence of alcohol.2 While it can’t be started until 5 days after your last drink, acamprosate can help you get through this uneasy time.3 It can take up to 8 days to be fully effective in your body, so healthcare providers encourage taking it even if the first few days feel difficult.3
Studies show that acamprosate works best for people who are not currently drinking alcohol (abstinent) at the start of treatment and who are committed to continuing this abstinence.3 If that applies to you, acamprosate may be a good fit. Talk to your doctor about the reasons you drink and the symptoms you have while sober to get the right treatment for your situation.
Disulfiram (brand name: Antabuse) gives you an unpleasant physical reaction, such as nausea, flushing, and a racing heart if you drink alcohol while taking it.2 It can be tricky to form new habits in early recovery, but for some, feeling sick when you drink can be a powerful motivator to continue to not drink. In this way, it can work well for people who have a strong commitment to stopping drinking and are motivated by avoiding negative consequences.
You can start taking disulfiram when you have a blood alcohol level of 0 or it’s been 12 hours after your last drink.3 Some people may have an allergy to disulfiram and it may not be appropriate for people with certain types of heart disease, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your health history before you start taking it, as well as all your symptoms after you start taking it.3
Naltrexone blunts alcohol’s effects so that you don’t really get any pleasure from drinking.2 Naltrexone also helps reduce alcohol cravings by blocking its ability to activate the “reward” pathways in your brain.2 This can help you avoid relapse and refocus on other parts of your life that bring you pleasure.
Naltrexone can be taken daily in pill form like the others, or it also comes in a monthly injection. This can make it more convenient while lowering the temptation to skip doses if you know you have an upcoming event.2 Naltrexone often has the greatest benefit if you stop drinking at least 4 days before starting the medicine.3
Finding Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Taking medicine as a part of alcohol use disorder treatment can change addiction recovery from difficult to doable. As a leading provider of alcohol detox and rehab, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help you start and continue your personal fight against alcohol addiction. Widespread across the country, there is likely an AAC treatment center near you that can offer what you need for recovery. Call to get started today.