Medication for Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment

Withdrawal from alcohol is a complex process that can involve physical symptoms ranging from mild to severe and even life-threatening, depending on the level of alcohol dependence and the length of time an individual has been abusing the substance. Medication can help reduce some of the more severe symptoms, allowing patients to safely and comfortably withdraw from alcohol abuse.1

While there are a variety of medications used in alcohol withdrawal treatment, benzodiazepines such as Valium, Librium and Ativan are generally considered to be the most effective for managing withdrawal. These drugs act on the central nervous system to produce calming effects that can help relieve intense withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, agitation and seizures.2

In addition to benzodiazepines, other medications like Disulfiram, Naltrexone and Acamprosate have been used in combination with these drugs to treat more severe cases of alcohol withdrawal. It’s important to note that medications for quitting alcohol should only be taken under medical supervision as they can cause serious side effects if taken incorrectly or too frequently.2

Additionally, while they do provide relief from extreme symptoms, they’re not intended as long-term solutions. They may simply aid in making withdrawal easier so that patients may focus on addressing the underlying issues leading them to abuse alcohol in the first place.2

What is the Role of Prescription Drugs in Alcohol Addiction Treatment?

Withdrawal from alcohol can be very difficult for the individual who is experiencing them. When used correctly under a doctor’s supervision, certain medications can make alcohol withdrawal much safer and more comfortable for individuals who are struggling with AUD.2,3

To begin with, medications such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates are commonly prescribed to help reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, tremor, and seizures.2

In addition, prescription medications may help provide a sense of calmness while helping people manage cravings for alcohol. Anticonvulsants may also be used to reduce the risk of seizures associated with alcohol withdrawal, while, alpha-2 agonists are sometimes prescribed to reduce autonomic symptoms such as sweating or elevated heart rate due to anxiety or agitation.2

When are Medications Prescribed for Alcohol Addiction Treatment?  

Medications for alcohol abuse treatment are usually prescribed alongside other forms of treatment such as behavioral therapy and support groups. This combination of therapies may be necessary for a person trying to overcome a long-term or severe addiction, as it can provide them with the skills and support needed to break their cycle of dependence.3

Medications can also be used during detox periods to minimize any uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting alcohol, allowing addicted individuals the opportunity to stay sober without feeling overwhelmed by physical or psychological side effects.1

Which are the Commonly Prescribed Medications for Alcohol Abuse?

The most common medicines prescribed for quitting alcohol are Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Acamprosate.

Disulfiram for Alcohol Addiction Treatment  

Disulfiram, commonly known by its brand name Antabuse, is an FDA-approved prescription medication used to help treat and manage alcohol addiction. It works by blocking the body’s ability to break down the toxic byproducts of alcohol. This creates an adverse and very physically unpleasant reaction when drinking alcohol that may help the struggling individual abstain from further drinking.4

At first glance, Disulfiram appears to be a rather straightforward solution to a complex problem. However, it does come with both potential benefits and downsides. In terms of benefits, Disulfiram works by creating a physical deterrent for individuals who are struggling with alcohol addiction. The intense adverse reactions created by combining Disulfiram and alcohol have been proven to reduce cravings and support sobriety over time.4

In addition to deterring individuals from drinking, Disulfiram also has been shown to improve the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a primary treatment modality in the treatment of addiction. The combination of CBT and Disulfiram has been found to produce better outcomes than either treatment alone due to increased motivation for abstinence resulting from the intensity of the negative physical side effects associated with consuming alcohol while taking Disulfiram.5

On the other hand, there are potential downsides that must be taken into consideration when prescribing this medication for quitting alcohol. Disulfiram requires significant commitment and dedication on the part of patients as they must take it every day for it to remain effective at managing cravings and producing its intended results. Additionally, the medicine interacts with many different substances and can cause severe reactions when combined with certain foods or beverages like beer or wine.4

The medicine may even cause a reaction if the struggling individual taking it consumes alcohol in any form – including mouthwash, alcohol in their cosmetic products, or in vinegar. That’s why medical supervision is strongly recommended when taking it, especially during withdrawal and in the first stages of sobriety. It’s important that treatment-seeking individuals discuss using this form of treatment with their doctor prior to beginning any type of regimen in order to ensure their safety.4

Naltrexone for Alcohol Addiction Treatment  

Naltrexone is also a medication approved by the FDA in the United States for treating alcohol addiction. It works by blocking the effects of alcohol, thus reducing cravings and helping to reduce relapse rates. Naltrexone is typically administered as an oral tablet or injection, but can also be taken as an extended-release version of an intramuscular injection.6

The primary mechanism of Naltrexone involves blocking opioid receptors in the brain, which are involved in alcohol reward pathways. This helps to reduce cravings and decrease the incentive to drink. Additionally, some research suggests that Naltrexone’s blockade of opioid receptors may also help with improving impulse control, promoting better decision-making skills, and enhancing willpower when faced with situations that can trigger drinking behaviors.6

The benefits of Naltrexone for treating AUD include reduced relapse rates and fewer alcohol-related consequences. Studies have shown that when combined with other forms of treatment like CBT. Naltrexone can help improve abstinence rates among individuals in recovery from alcoholism. Other studies have found that individuals who take Naltrexone may experience improved psychological well-being and fewer withdrawal symptoms than those who don’t take it.7

Despite its potential benefits, there are potential downsides to taking Naltrexone for AUD treatment as well. It has a long list of potential physically unpleasant side effects. Some individuals may experience feelings of depression while on Naltrexone due to its effect on dopamine production in the brain – though this usually subsides once they stop taking it.6

It’s important to note that Naltrexone should only be used under medical supervision due to its potential risks and side effects. Furthermore, it is important to combine Naltrexone with other forms of psychosocial intervention such as counseling or therapy sessions in order to ensure maximum effectiveness in managing treatment outcomes. Finally, individuals who take Naltrexone should always remain aware of any changes they may feel while using it so they can inform their doctor promptly if needed.6

Acamprosate for Alcohol Addiction Treatment 

Acamprosate, also known as Campral, is a medication that’s been used for decades to treat alcohol addiction. It is primarily prescribed in cases where the struggling individual has stopped drinking but still experiences cravings or anxiety. Acamprosate works by regulating certain chemicals in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate, both of which are involved in the feeling of pleasure associated with drinking alcohol. The drug blocks some of these pathways so that the struggling individual doesn’t experience the same intense craving or pleasure when they think about having a drink.8

Acamprosate’s mechanism of action works by reducing cravings for alcohol and helps reduce relapse rates. This can help maintain abstinence from alcohol and decrease stress related to this addiction. The drug also has some other potential benefits, such as helping to relieve anxiety and depression related to alcoholism, improving sleep quality, and alleviating withdrawal symptoms such as shakes and restlessness. Studies have shown that combining Acamprosate with psychotherapy may be especially beneficial for long-term sobriety.8

However, there are some risks associated with taking Acamprosate. As with any medication, especially for quitting alcohol, side effects can occur such as nausea or vomiting, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, constipation, and indigestion. In rare cases, it can cause more serious side effects including liver or kidney damage or an allergic reaction.8

Additionally, Acamprosate should not be taken by people who have kidney problems or are breastfeeding as it can pass into breast milk and harm a nursing baby. It’s important to discuss any potential risks with your doctor before starting treatment on this drug.8

Which are the other off-label medications used for Alcohol Rehab?

The most commonly used drug is Naltrexone, but there are other off-label medications being used as well that have shown promise for treating alcohol abuse. These include Gabapentin, Topiramate, and Ondansetron.9

  • Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant drug that’s used to treat seizures and neuropathic pain. It’s been studied for its potential to reduce alcohol consumption in individuals with alcoholism. Studies suggest that when it is combined with psychosocial interventions, it can help reduce heavy drinking days and total consumption over a period of time.10
  • Topiramate is another anticonvulsant that’s shown some promise in reducing alcohol intake and improving abstinence rates in individuals struggling with alcoholism. A number of studies have found that topiramate can be effective at reducing heavy drinking days and total alcohol consumed when combined with psychosocial interventions.11
  • Ondansetron is an anti-nausea drug often used to prevent nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy or surgery. Recently, it has been studied for its potential to reduce alcohol use disorder symptoms in individuals with AUD.12

Are there Risks of Using Prescription Medications to Treat Addiction?  

Overdose is one of the potential risks when taking prescription drugs for AUD. It’s important to be mindful of the dosage and not take more than recommended by a doctor or pharmacist. While overdose is a serious concern, other side effects can also pose a threat if they are not monitored closely.4,6,8

Common side effects of medication used to treat alcohol addiction include:4,6,8

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • low blood pressure
  • insomnia. 

In some cases, these side effects can be dangerous if they become severe or chronic. There are side effects that can be more unpleasant than the above-mentioned ones, but they are not as common. To reduce the risks associated with taking prescription medications for alcohol abuse, it’s important to discuss any other medications you are currently taking as well as any preexisting medical conditions with your doctor before beginning treatment.4,6,8

Lastly, long-term use of certain medications used to treat alcohol addiction may cause liver damage if too much accumulates in the body over time. This risk is increased if multiple substances are being taken simultaneously and so must always be considered when prescribing medication for the treatment of alcohol abuse.4,6,8

It’s essential that those seeking help for their struggle against alcohol addiction work closely with their doctor to ensure that they receive appropriate doses of all necessary medications while monitoring their liver health in order to prevent long-term health damage from occurring.4,6,8

Get Medication-Assisted Help for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

If you or your loved one are struggling with AUD, you are not alone. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a comprehensive network that provides treatment-seeking individuals from various backgrounds and in all stages of addiction with the care they need to overcome their condition.

AAC has certified navigators available to talk with individuals who are seeking treatment. The navigators will help identify which facility the struggling individual needs to access in order to receive the best care for their unique situation according to the symptoms they’re experiencing. The cost of treatment may vary depending on the facility, but AAC offers various payment options, including insurance, sliding-scale fees and more. 

After assessing the individual’s needs, a diagnosis will be made and an appropriate course of treatment will be recommended. This may include medications that may help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, as well as evidence-based psychotherapeutic treatment and support during detoxification from alcohol. During group and individual psychotherapy sessions, treatment-seeking individuals may have the opportunity to learn more about what caused their addiction to develop, how to cope with their condition in a healthier way, how the negative effects of alcohol have affected them, and how they can maintain their sobriety in the long run.

Depending on the severity of their case and the stage of AUD, treatment-seeking individuals will have different treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. With the right care plan in place and the appropriate medication, individuals can put themselves on track for long-term recovery

Frequently Asked Questions