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Written By Legacy Healing Center - Jun 26 2019
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There are currently three medications that are approved for aiding in the treatment of alcohol addiction and alcohol use disorders.
Although none of these drugs work to treat the underlying causes and behavioral issues that frequently coincide with alcohol addiction, they can effectively help treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms, manage or lessen cravings, and prevent delirium tremens.
In turn, these drugs are most effective when used in combination with comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment. Disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate all work in different ways to help those trying to recover from alcoholism remain sober.
While these drugs should only be taken once a person has stopped drinking, there are also medications that may be used during detox to reduce several alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as benzodiazepines, clonidine, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics.
These drugs are not meant for long-term use or for the treatment of alcoholism, but they can help make the alcohol withdrawal process far less painful. These drugs are beneficial because if a person experiences painful, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, they may be more likely to begin drinking again.
Although these medications have been approved to help treat alcohol addiction, the best approach to using these substances is by combining them with alcohol rehab and counseling.
Treating only the physical aspect of alcohol addiction will typically not prevent an individual from relapsing.
However, when used simultaneously with comprehensive addiction treatment, these drugs can be extremely effective in helping individuals stay sober.
Disulfiram, commonly known as Antabuse, was the first drug approved by the FDA in the treatment of alcohol use disorders. Disulfiram works by changing the way the body breaks down and processes alcohol, causing people who drink while taking the drug to become sick. If alcohol is consumed while on this medication, individuals may experience nausea, vomiting, sweats, and headaches, which can help create an aversion towards alcohol.
While this medication can be useful for those who are fully committed to staying sober, it may drive some individuals to stop taking it if they fear the adverse effects it can cause if they drink.
Naltrexone is used to help people get rid of their cravings. It can come in pill form that is taken daily or as an extended-release monthly injection known as Vivitrol.
While it was initially approved for the treatment of opioid use disorders, it has also been found to help curb cravings for alcohol and decrease rates of relapse among alcoholics. In addition to assisting individuals in managing cravings, it also blocks the effects of alcohol that cause people to feel pleasure when they drink.
Acamprosate, also known as Campral, is the newest medication on the market for the treatment of alcohol use disorders. It can help ease discomfort during alcohol withdrawal and diminish symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness that often continue for months after a person stops drinking.
In addition to reducing physical distress, acamprosate interacts with messenger systems in the brain that regulates anxiety to help control unpleasant emotions. By regulating brain chemistry, Acamprosate helps reduce cravings that are frequently experienced when a person stops drinking. 3
Alcohol detox medications are not meant for long term use and will not prevent alcohol withdrawal entirely – they will only help mitigate some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Even though these drugs cannot treat alcohol use disorders, they can help prevent relapse during the early stages of alcohol withdrawal by making alcohol detox safer and more comfortable.
Benzodiazepines are a class of drug used to treat anxiety disorders and seizures. They are often used to treat symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and they can help manage some of the more severe symptoms and prevent seizures and delirium tremens.
Benzodiazepines that are frequently used to treat alcohol withdrawal are Xanax, Ativan, and Valium.1
Clonidine is an adrenergic medication, meaning it is used to treat high blood pressure and elevated pulse. If a person is experiencing high blood pressure during alcohol withdrawal, clonidine can be administered to keep blood pressure in a healthy range. Clonidine and other adrenergic medications like dexmedetomidine are usually used in combination with benzodiazepines.
Sometimes, anticonvulsants are used instead of benzodiazepines to prevent seizures during alcohol withdrawal. They can help relax muscles and prevent muscle convulsions as well. The most common anticonvulsants used to treat alcohol withdrawal include Depakene and Tegretol.
In rare cases where an individual is experiencing hallucinations or exhibiting psychotic behaviors, antipsychotic medications can be administered. Antipsychotics can help control hallucinations and calm individuals who are hostile, irritable, or aggressive until they become stabilized.2
Recovery from alcoholism may seem like a terrifying endeavor, but it can be made easier through the use of medications to treat both alcohol withdrawals and alcohol addiction. Being able to complete detox as easy as possible and effectively manage alcohol cravings are two key aspects that make for a great beginning in recovery.
When an individual is able to focus on therapy rather than their cravings or withdrawal symptoms, they are given a better opportunity to focus on their behaviors and individual growth. By combining comprehensive addiction treatment with alcohol addiction medications, putting down the bottle and starting a sober life is made attainable.