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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 Alcoholism?

The three FDA-approved medications for alcoholism treat the disorder in different ways. 

Disulfiram and Campral are best used to treat people in recovery.

Naltrexone blocks the euphoric feelings and effects of intoxication. It enables people with alcohol use disorders 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. Antabuse (Disulfiram)

Antabuse, otherwise known as disulfiram, 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 medication was first 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 first produced the medication under the brand name Antabuse.

At first, disulfiram was given to patients in large doses to make patients extremely sick if they drank alcohol. However, some patients experienced severe reactions, including some deaths. Antabuse was soon prescribed in smaller quantities to treat alcoholism.

  1. 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 sells under the trade name Vivitrol.

The medicine works by blocking the high individual's experience when they consume alcohol, take opioids such as heroin, and consume stimulants like cocaine. 

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 executed in the late 80s and early 90s. These trials proved that the drug could decrease alcohol cravings. They can also lessen relapse rates in alcoholics when combined with psychosocial therapy.

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

  1. Acamprosate (Campral)

Acamprosate is a medication sold under the brand name Campral. It is the most recent medicine approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorder 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 for use 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 alcoholism. It was approved for use in the United States in 2004.

In 2005, acamprosate was marketed in the United States under the brand name Campral. The company Forest Pharmaceuticals currently owns Campral.

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism 

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

Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence curbs the cravings for alcohol. Every patient who becomes sober faces a risk of drinking again, whether in 48 hours or 48 years. When you try your best to recover from alcoholism, medications like ReVia and Campral can help you resist the urge to drink by making alcohol less appealing.

Medicines for alcoholism also give patients an incentive to remain sober. Antabuse does not have a high compliance rate. But it helps some people remain sober by making the experience of drinking alcohol extremely undesirable.

Alcoholism is a challenging addiction to fight. However, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can provide psychological support to patients. When you are attempting to remain sober through your recovery, medication can give you a sense of reassurance that you are doing your best to battle the addiction.

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:

  • Eye pain or tenderness or any adjustment in vision 
  • Mood or mental changes
  • Numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in hands or feet
  • Darkening of urine 
  • Light, gray-colored stools
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Yellow eyes or skin 

Some of these side effects 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.

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.

What OTC Medications Can Help Treat Alcoholism?

There are some OTC medications and supplements that can help treat alcoholism. However, 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.

If you do decide to undergo detoxification at home, the following withdrawal medications and supplements may help:

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 can regulate your system’s chemistry. This can help manage alcohol cravings and lift your mood.

L-glutamine, when taken with other amino acids, may help to reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. For the best results, L-glutamine should be taken as a supplement along with a multivitamin.

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.

Detoxing at home without medication is possible. However, treatment programs at a professional rehab facility are the safest. They are the best-recommended method for addressing alcohol misuse and addiction. Withdrawal from alcohol is not easy, and not everyone can do it alone.

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Resources

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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/ 

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 (2011): 300-12., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860540/ 

Disulfiram (Oral Route), Mayo Clinic, February 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/disulfiram-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20063488  

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 

Alcohol withdrawal, MedlinePlus, October 2019, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm 

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 (2015): 194-200, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4510012/ 

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 

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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