Medication to Stop Drinking

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Can I Take Medications to Stop Drinking Alcohol?

There are various medicines available to help people stop drinking. 

However, there are currently only three medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence.

How Do Medications Help Treat Alcohol Use Disorder?

The three FDA-approved medications treat alcohol use disorder (AUD) in different ways. 

Disulfiram and Campral are used to treat people in recovery.

Naltrexone blocks the euphoric feelings and effects of intoxication. It enables people with alcohol use disorder to reduce alcohol consumption, stay motivated to take the medication, remain in treatment, and avoid relapses. 

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Three Best Medications to Help You Stop Drinking

There are three FDA-approved medication treatment options to help you stop drinking.

1. Disulfiram (Antabuse)

 Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse, was the first medication approved for treating alcohol dependence. 

The medicine works by causing an intense adverse reaction when someone taking Antabuse drinks alcohol. Most people taking Antabuse will vomit after a drink of alcohol. 

However, Antabuse does not reduce a person’s craving for alcohol, and it does not treat any alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

The compound was initially produced in the 1920s for use in manufacturing processes. The alcohol-aversive benefits were first understood in the 1930s. Workers in the rubber industry who were exposed to tetraethyl thiuram disulfide fell ill after consuming alcohol. 

In 1948, Danish researchers were looking for treatments for parasitic stomach infections. They discovered the alcohol-related effects of disulfiram when they fell ill after consuming alcohol. The researchers started new studies on using disulfiram to treat alcohol addiction.

Soon after, the FDA approved disulfiram to treat alcohol dependence. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories produced the medication under the brand name Antabuse.

Initially, disulfiram was given to patients in large doses to make patients extremely sick if they drank alcohol. 

However, some patients experienced severe reactions,  and deaths were reported. Antabuse was subsequently prescribed in smaller quantities to treat alcoholism.

2. Naltrexone (ReVia)

Naltrexone is a medication used to treat alcohol cravings. It sells under the brand names ReVia and Depade. An extended-release monthly injection form of the medication is marketed under the trade name Vivitrol.

The medicine works by reducing the effects a person experiences when consuming alcohol or taking opioid drugs.

Naltrexone was first produced in 1963 to treat addiction to opioids. In 1984, it was approved by the FDA to treat addiction to drugs including heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. During this time, it was marketed by DuPont under the brand name Trexan.

In the 1980s, animal studies showed that naltrexone also reduced alcohol consumption. Human clinical trials were performed in the late 80s and early 90s. 

These trials demonstrated that naltrexone could decrease alcohol cravings and lessen the relapse of unhealthy alcohol use when combined with psychosocial therapy.

The FDA approved naltrexone to treat AUD in 1994. DuPont then renamed the medication ReVia.

3. Acamprosate (Campral)

Acamprosate is a medication sold under the brand name Campral. It is the most recent medicine approved for the treatment of AUD in the United States.

The drug works by reducing the physical discomfort and emotional distress people typically experience when they stop drinking.

In 1982, French company Laboratoires Meram produced acamprosate to treat alcohol dependence. It was assessed and tested for safety and use from 1982 until 1988 when it was approved by the French government to treat alcohol use disorder.

Acamprosate was first sold under the name Aotal®. For over 20 years, acamprosate was widely used throughout Europe for treating AUD. It was approved for use in the United States in 2004.

In 2005, acamprosate was marketed in the United States by Forest Laboratories under the brand name Campral.

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism 

There are various benefits of medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for alcohol dependence curbs cravings for alcohol. Every patient who becomes sober faces a risk of drinking again, whether in 48 hours or 48 years. 

Medications like ReVia and Campral can help people resist the urge to drink by making alcohol less appealing.

Medicines for AUD  can give patients an incentive to remain sober by making the experience of drinking alcohol extremely undesirable. Successful results have been seen in those with high rates of medication compliance.

Combatting AUD is a challenge. MAT in combination with behavioral therapies and counseling provides a reassuring and comprehensive AUD treatment approach.

Anti-anxiety medications can also help recovering alcoholics deal with fear and edginess. 

Do These Medications Have Any Risks? 

Medicines for treating alcoholism may come with some risks and side effects.

Speak with your doctor for medical advice as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:

  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Weakness or fainting
  • Eye pain or any change in vision 
  • Mood or mental changes
  • Unusual thoughts or behavior
  • Numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in hands or feet
  • Darkening of urine 
  • Light, gray-colored stools
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Yellow eyes or skin 

Less severe side effects, such as headache and fatigue, may go away during treatment as your body becomes used to the medication.

Your health care professional or doctor may tell you methods for preventing or reducing some of these side effects.

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How Can I Get Prescribed Medications to Stop Drinking?

Detox is the first stage in treating alcoholism. During detox, alcohol is completely flushed from the body. Withdrawal symptoms typically reduce within one to two weeks after starting the detox. However, this could take longer depending on the severity of a patient’s alcohol dependence.

Following detox, patients can focus on other areas of the recovery process. This may include therapies and counseling.

When alcohol detox is treated in a licensed inpatient treatment center, medications are often prescribed to reduce uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The medicines help keep a patient's body chemicals in balance. They also reduce the risk of severe complications during the detoxification process.

During detox, a medical professional will administer the medicine and monitor the results. If alcohol dependence treatment leads to unwanted side effects or adversely affects the detox process, another medication may be used.

Do OTC Medications Help Alcohol Use Disorder?

The FDA does not recommend or approve any OTC products for the treatment of AUD. However, kudzu extract and l-glutamine have been examined.  

Depending on the severity of alcohol addiction, one should consider alcohol withdrawal under medical supervision. The side effects of detoxification, such as seizures, can be dangerous and life-threatening.

Kudzu Extract

Kudzu extract is a herbal remedy that may help minimize alcohol cravings and reduce heavy drinking episodes. Kudzu extract originates from the root of a Japanese plant. 

L-Glutamine

L-glutamine is an amino acid that the body naturally creates. Significant amounts of alcohol can affect how l-glutamine is synthesized and absorbed in the body. 

Adding l-glutamine back into the body while trying to quit drinking is being explored as a way to help regulate the body’s chemistry, help manage alcohol cravings, reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and improve moods.

Can I Detox From Alcohol Without Medications?

Many people consider detoxing from alcohol without medication at home. 

They may believe an at-home detox makes the difficult situation of detoxification easier to deal with. There is usually no other place more comfortable, controllable, and safe-feeling than an individual’s home.

Detoxing at home without medication can be dangerous. This is especially true for those who do not understand the risks that come with alcohol withdrawal.

While detoxing at home without medication is possible, treatment programs at a professional rehab facility are highly recommended.

They provide a safe and comprehensive method for addressing alcohol use disorder. Withdrawal from alcohol is not easy, and not everyone can do it alone.

Updated on January 5, 2022
8 sources cited
  1. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Incorporating Alcohol Pharmacotherapies Into Medical Practice. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2009. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 49.), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64041/ 
  2. O'Malley, Stephanie S, and Patrick G O'Connor. “Medications for unhealthy alcohol use: across the spectrum.” Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism vol. 33,4 : 300-12., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860540/ 
  3. Disulfiram (Oral Route), Mayo Clinic, February 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/disulfiram-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20063488  
  4. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help 
  5. Alcohol withdrawal, MedlinePlus, October 2019, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm 
  6. Penetar, David M et al. “A single dose of kudzu extract reduces alcohol consumption in a binge drinking paradigm.” Drug and alcohol dependence vol. 153 : 194-200, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4510012/ 
  7. MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), August 2020, https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions 
  8. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Incorporating Alcohol Pharmacotherapies Into Medical Practice. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2009. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 49.) Chapter 2—Acamprosate, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64035/

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