Alcohol addiction is a disease that can take over your life. Unfortunately, having a strong desire to quit won’t always help you stop successfully. Withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings can be so intense that it seems impossible to combat your addiction. Some types of medication for alcohol abuse have been approved by the FDA to help you manage cravings and stabilize your body so that you don’t need alcohol to function normally.
Why Use Medication for Alcohol Abuse?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people died of causes related to alcohol use than drug overdoses or breast cancer between 2006 and 2010. Evidence-based treatments and 12-step programs have been shown to help people stop drinking for good. Medications can be used in conjunction with other types of treatment to improve your chances of recovery.
Advocates for using medication for alcoholism say that medications can:
- Diminish the desire to drink
- Reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms
- Weaken the pleasurable effects of alcohol
- Decrease alcohol consumption
- Make you feel sick if you drink alcohol
What Types Of Medication Are Used For Alcoholism?
Disulfiram, which goes by the brand name Antabuse, is the oldest drug available for treating alcohol addiction. It prevents the body from absorbing alcohol by blocking an enzyme that processes a compound in the drug. That ingredient, acetaldehyde, accumulates in the body, producing undesirable side effects.
When you drink while taking Antabuse, you might get nausea, hot flashes and heart palpitations. However, the medication doesn’t curb your cravings. The Washington Post reports that many people stop taking the drug because of its ill effects. Research shows that disulfiram may be effective as a short-term treatment, but long-term treatment is necessary for lasting recovery.
Naltrexone can diminish cravings for alcohol as well as the buzz that you get from drinking. It interferes with the pleasure centers of the brain, making them less receptive to the high that alcohol produces. Since drinking is no longer rewarding, you won’t get positive feedback from doing it anymore. Although the medication is also used for opiate addiction, studies show that Naltrexone can reduce relapse and episodes of heavy drinking.
Acamprosate has also been found to lower the incidence of alcohol abuse. It can reduce the intensity of side effects that are caused by long-term abstinence. When some people stop using alcohol, they experience insomnia, irritability and mood changes that can lead them to start drinking again. Acamprosate has helped people get through the detox period without craving alcohol to diminish these symptoms.
How Long Should You Take Medication For Alcohol Abuse?
Some medications are administered to mediate the withdrawal period when someone quits drinking. Many of them deliver the best results when they’re continued even after the acute detoxification stage.
It is most commonly recommended that people take Naltrexone for at least 12 weeks. Acamprosate only prevents alcohol consumption while you’re taking it. Even if you don’t feel like you want to drink anymore, talk to your doctor before you stop taking it. Antabuse has been shown to deliver positive results with long-term use. It remains in your system for a few weeks after you stop taking it. Therefore, if you have a drink a few days after you’ve stopped using the medication, you’ll still feel the negative effects.
The best treatment for long-term recovery is multifaceted, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Medications are not magic pills. Even though they can work on brain chemicals that make you want to drink, you still need to address your emotional, psychological and social triggers for drinking.
A well-rounded approach to alcohol abuse treatment usually includes support groups, individual and group therapy and counseling. Holistic treatments, such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, arts therapy and experiential therapy can also help you stay sober for good. Adding medication to the mix may improve your chances of avoiding relapse but you will need to discuss everything with your physician to make sure that it is the right decision for you.
Many people must continue some form of therapy or support for the rest of their lives. Addiction is a complex disease that alters the way that your brain functions. Relapse is always a possibility. Having information on different ways to combat addiction is the best way to choose the path for you in recovery.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.