Medications to Treat Alcoholism
We need all the help we can get when we are approaching sobriety from a place of vulnerability. That help comes from family and friends and from professional recovery experts. Sometimes we also need pharmaceutical intervention to help overcome the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal or to reduce the cravings that have had such a strong hold on our bodies and minds. While there is no magic pill that can cure alcoholism, there are a number of prescription medications that can help get you over that hump and on the road to recovery.
Why Medication Helps with Recovery
The safest way to go through alcohol withdrawal is with a medically supervised detox. In addition to assessing your safety during detox, and in order to alleviate some of those uncomfortable symptoms, a physician specializing in alcohol addiction may prescribe medication to help you get through this challenging time.
If you have relapsed or are having a difficult time with recovery, there are also medications that can help reduce cravings or assist you in avoiding alcohol. A discussion with your physician or treatment specialists can help you determine if any of these are right for you.
What Medications Are Available for Withdrawal and Reducing Cravings?
Medications for medically supervised detoxification can make it easier for you to manage the symptoms of withdrawal and move on to recovery. Here are some of the medications that are typically used in these cases:
- Benzodiazepines, including chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), or oxazepam (Serax) help with anxiety, shakiness, insomnia, and other symptoms of withdrawal.
- Occasionally, an anticonvulsant medication may be prescribed in conjunction with benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal.
There are medications available to help reduce cravings or stop you from drinking by causing uncomfortable symptoms if you drink. These drugs should not be considered a cure-all, but can be used as an adjunct to other types of therapy and recovery practices. Some of the following drugs are controversial and not recommended by many recovery centers. There are also side effects with most of these medications.
- Topiramate (Topomax) is an FDA-approved GABAergic anticonvulsant, but it has an off-label use as a mood stabilizer. Topiramate has been shown to reduce the cravings for alcohol by reducing dopamine in the brain. It also has the benefit of lowering the risk of liver degeneration that leads to fatty liver or cirrhosis.
- Baclofen (Lioresal or Gablofen) is an antispastic agent and muscle relaxant which also has an off-label use to reduce alcohol cravings. It works by increasing the amount of GABA (a neurotransmitter).
- Campral (Acamprosate) is also an FDA-approved medication that stimulates GABA.
- Ondansetron (Zofran) is usually prescribed for the treatment of nausea and vomiting when going through chemotherapy. It acts on the serotonin transmitters in the brain and decreases the craving for alcohol.
- Chantix (Varenicline) is FDA-approved as a smoking-cessation aid, but recent studies show potential for reducing cravings for alcohol.
- Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that has been FDA approved to reduce the craving for alcohol. It blocks endorphins from binding to receptors in the brain. This is a controversial drug that does not cause any ill effects when the user still drinks alcohol. In fact, it is used as harm reduction in a technique called The Sinclair Method where you take it before you drink and it reduces the pleasurable feelings of alcohol.
- Disulfiram (Antabuse) has been in use since the 1950s. It causes a reaction in the body where if you take a drink of alcohol, you feel ill with headaches, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms.
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Moving Forward to Recovery
While medications may help some alcoholics with their detox and sobriety, the real work starts within, and doesn’t come in a pill. You have to realize that you have a problem, and at the root of your drinking may be co-occurring disorders if you are addicted to another substance or have mental health issues. Medically supervised detox as part of an individualized treatment plan including holistic and evidence-based therapies, offered by experts who understand alcohol addiction, can offer the best chance for sobriety.
Please contact us today to learn more about alcohol addiction and the medications that can help you temporarily as you take that path to sobriety.