How Are Alcohol Treatment Medications Used?
Alcohol recovery is an intense, painful experience that is impossible for some without help. Those who try to recover on their own are more likely to relapse from the pain of withdrawal and less likely to try again. That’s why some clinics prescribe alcohol treatment medications to help manage symptoms of withdrawal, cravings, and potential relapse. Medication is not a cure for alcoholism, but several have been proven to help in recovery when used as part of an overall plan involving counseling, group therapy, and social support.
Each medication serves a different purpose and must be used during different stages of recovery. Taking them at the wrong time, inconsistently, or the wrong dosage can result in painful side effects.
Prescribed after alcohol has been purged from the body, Acamprosate is used to fight the urge to drink after detox.
Alcohol releases endorphins and creates positive feelings. This lures some people to abuse this shortcut to happiness, which eventually builds into a dependency and addiction.
Acamprosate helps the brain redevelop normal function independent of alcohol by blocking the positive feelings that comes with drinking, lessening the chance of relapse. It will not reduce the symptoms of withdrawal or other drug addictions. That is why Acamprosate should only be taken after the detox period when a user is on their way to recovery.
Common side effects include:
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Acamprosate, commonly prescribed under the brand name Campral, is non-habit forming. If more adverse symptoms appear, then a doctor should be contacted.
Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications commonly used as sedatives. They can be prescribed and used during alcohol detox to relieve symptoms of withdrawal.
Considered the “gold standard,” benzodiazepines have been found to be most successful in severe cases of withdrawal. They reduce hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens. This is because the medication affects the same part of the brain as alcohol, allowing the body to continue its purge, while still feeling some of the effects it has grown to need.
Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Librium, Valium, and Ativan.
The category of benzodiazepines, or benzos as they’re also known, are highly addictive and commonly abused. Use should stop immediately once the most severe symptoms of withdrawal subside, before a dependency on them can build.
The first prescription used to help treat alcohol use disorders, Disulfiram was pioneered in 1931. When mixed with alcohol, Disulfiram causes discomfort. The idea being that the reaction will create a negative stimulus, and the user will be turned away from drinking after associating those two things together. These feelings include:
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or fainting
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
- Flushing or redness of face
- Nausea and vomiting
- Throbbing headache
- Trouble breathing
Disulfiram, popularly known as Antabuse, isn’t prescribed until after the alcohol has been purged from the body. Otherwise it would make the symptoms of withdrawal worse. The effects of Disulfiram persist up to 14 days after the last dose, covering the time where a dose may have been missed or a user stops taking it to try and feel the positive effects of alcohol.
Disulfiram reacts to anything that contains alcohol. Even the smell of household products, like mouthwash or paint, can trigger the medication.
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Naltrexone, like Acamprosate, blocks the euphoric feelings one gets from consuming alcohol. Taking this regularly after detox can stop the “high” experience of alcohol if they relapse, disassociating the feelings of positivity and alcohol. This is a common first step after detox to prevent relapse.
Naltrexone will not stop the “impaired” feeling that alcohol can bring. Some try to overcompensate the medicine by drinking more, but this will still not release the desired effects. Someone taking Naltrexone can still bring serious harm to themselves from over drinking. Naltrexone is non-addictive and non-narcotic, but, as with any prescription drug, there are side effects. These can include:
- Abdominal or stomach cramping or pain (mild or moderate)
- Anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, or trouble sleeping
- Joint or muscle pain
- Nausea or vomiting
If other, or more severe, side effects manifest, you should reach out to a doctor.
Though Naltrexone has also been shown to help with narcotic addiction, you should always seek out a treatment provider before medicating.
Why Look for Medicinal Options?
All of the prescriptions above have been tested to help people recovering from an alcohol use disorder. If sobriety has been a struggle in the past, these medications may have been the missing piece.
If you are looking for a clinic for yourself or a loved one, then reach out today. Treatment providers are available to help.
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