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There are various medicines and treatment options 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 use disorder (AUD). Three other medications can also potentially aid in treating AUD, although they aren't FDA approved.
Here are six medications used to help people stop drinking:
Of the over 6 million people with AUD in the United States, only about 20% will receive any treatment or medication to help quit.9, 10 Unfortunately, medications to aid in alcoholism recovery aren’t often utilized.
Currently, three medications are FDA-approved to help treat AUD:
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Here is an overview of the three FDA-approved medications for treating AUD:
Disulfiram, previously known as Antabuse, was the first medication approved to treat alcohol dependence.
The medicine works by causing an intense adverse reaction when someone drinks alcohol. Most people taking disulfiram will vomit if they consume any amount of alcohol.
However, disulfiram does not reduce a person’s craving for alcohol. It also does not treat any alcohol-related withdrawal symptoms.3
Initially, disulfiram was given to patients in large doses to make them extremely sick if they drank alcohol.
However, some patients experienced severe reactions, and deaths were reported. Disulfiram was subsequently prescribed in smaller quantities to treat alcoholism.
Naltrexone is a medication used to treat alcohol cravings. It has been sold under the brand names ReVia and Depade. In addition, 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 heroin, morphine, and oxycodone addiction.
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 showed that naltrexone could decrease alcohol cravings and relapse risk when combined with psychosocial therapy.
The FDA approved naltrexone to treat AUD in 1994. DuPont renamed the medication ReVia.
Acamprosate is a medication that was previously sold under the brand name Campral. It is the most recent medicine approved for AUD treatment in the United States. The drug reduces alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Acamprosate was developed in France in 1982. It was assessed and tested for 7 years and approved by the French government to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 1988.
Acamprosate was first sold under the brand name Aotal®. It was widely used throughout Europe for 20 years and was approved for use in the U.S. in 2004.
Although these medications aren’t approved by the FDA, studies show that they have promise in treating AUD:
Topiramate is an anti-seizure medication that is currently being investigated for AUD treatment. Although it isn’t approved by the FDA yet, topiramate shows promise as a treatment alternative for AUD.11
Topiramate affects multiple neurotransmitter systems. According to researchers, topiramate can affect the brain’s response to alcohol cues. This effect can help reduce cravings among individuals with alcohol use disorder.
According to a study in 2011, Topiramate was also effective in reducing the chance of a relapse. It was also effective in reducing psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety.11
Unfortunately, topiramate isn’t effective for every aspect of AUD. However, it is effective for people with certain characteristics such as:11,12
Gabapentin is a medication for epilepsy seizures, restless leg syndrome, and nerve pain caused by shingles. Occasionally it has been used to treat other addictions, but it’s usually used for AUD.
In alcohol use disorder, there’s an imbalance between stimulating and calming brain chemicals. gabapentin works by blocking the release of brain-stimulating chemicals, creating a calming effect.13,14
Some research shows that gabapentin has promise for alcohol withdrawal treatment. In combination with other medications, gabapentin can:15
Studies show that gabapentin might be most effective in maintaining abstinence. It might work best in those with a history of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Baclofen is an antispasmodic agent used to treat muscle pain and spasms. It’s also used to treat stiffness in people with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury or disease.
Baclofen is a relatively new medication for AUD and has shown promise in some clinical trials.18 In other countries, baclofen is approved as a treatment for alcohol dependence.
Some studies show that baclofen can help maintain sobriety for people who have already achieved it. There is also evidence that suggests that baclofen is effective in reducing heavy drinking habits. 16,17
However, there are potential risks when combining alcohol and baclofen. Mixing two sedative drugs can have serious adverse effects, such as:
There are various benefits of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for alcoholism.
Medications like naltrexone and disulfiram can help resist the urge to drink by making alcohol less appealing.
Medications for AUD give people 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.
Anti-anxiety medications can also help recovering alcoholics deal with fear and anxiety.
Medications for treating alcoholism come with some risks and side effects:
Less severe side effects, such as headache and fatigue, often go away during treatment as the body becomes used to the medication.
Detox is the first stage in treating alcoholism. During detox, alcohol is completely flushed from the body.
Withdrawal symptoms typically subside within one to two weeks after starting detox. However, depending on the severity of a patient’s alcohol dependence, it could take longer.
After detox, people can focus on other areas of the recovery process. This can 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 reduce the risk of severe complications during the detoxification process.
The FDA does not recommend or approve any over-the-counter (OTC) products to treat 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. Side effects of detoxification, such as seizures, can be dangerous and life-threatening.
Kudzu extract is a herbal remedy that may help minimize alcohol cravings and reduce heavy drinking episodes.6 Kudzu extract originates from the root of a Japanese plant.
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.
Researchers are exploring the supplementation of l-glutamine as a way to:
Many people consider detoxing from alcohol without medication at home. They may believe an at-home detox makes detoxification easier to deal with.
There's usually no other place more comfortable, controllable, and safe-feeling than a person's home.
However, detoxing at home without medication can be dangerous and is not recommended by healthcare professionals. 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. Talk to a medical provider to determine the best treatment program for you.
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