What Alcohol Treatment Medications Are Available?
There have never been more avenues for treating an alcohol use disorder (AUD) chemically than there are now. Whether it’s a pill designed to take the pleasure away from a drink of alcohol by making the individual sick when they drink, a medicine meant to help ease the pain of withdrawal, or a medication that helps manage cravings for those in recovery, there is a bevy of suitable options for the prospective patient. Those looking for a concise breakdown of alcohol treatment medications, including their advantages and their side effects, should find the below list helpful and informative.
Alcohol Treatment Medications: Naltrexone
Naltrexone is an alcohol treatment medication available in either pill or injectable form. It functions by binding itself to the brain’s receptors, thereby blocking them, preventing the pleasurable effects from alcohol consumption from being felt by the user. It has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is meant to be taken in conjunction with other treatment modalities such as therapy and counseling.
No one currently physically dependent on alcohol can take Naltrexone. Neither should those with kidney or liver abnormalities, those who may be pregnant, or those who are allergic to its ingredients.
Though many have seen success in abstaining from alcohol addiction by taking Naltrexone, the medicine is not without its side effects. These may include:
- Body pain
- Pain at injection site (if taken in injectable form)
- Faintness of breath
The potential for abuse or dependency with Naltrexone is virtually nonexistent, so users should feel no concern about swapping one addiction with another, commonly referred to as “cross addiction.”
Alcohol Treatment Medications: Acamprosate
Approved by the FDA in 2004, Acamprosate is another alcohol treatment medication. It comes in the form of a capsule, and its exact mechanism is not yet known. Some hypothesize that Acamprosate works by modifying the brain’s communication pathways, thereby lessening the chemical reward of alcohol consumption and easing the kinds of cravings one might experience during withdrawal.
One study found Acamprosate to be comparable to Naltrexone when it comes to how many patients were able to successfully abstain from alcohol abuse. Acamprosate also has a similarly negligible or low risk of addiction or dependency. Its side effects include:
- Diarrhea (the most common symptom reported)
- Pruritus (an unpleasant itching sensation)
- Enhanced libido
More rarely, some also reported sleeplessness, nervousness, low mood, and a handful of other symptoms – but overall the medicine does not seem to be too intense in its adverse effects for the majority of users.
The oldest known FDA-approved drug for alcohol dependency, Disulfiram has been available to patients since the 1950s. It comes in the form of a tablet, though it can also be crushed and dissolved into a beverage.
Disulfiram works by interfering with the way the body metabolizes alcohol, essentially making the user feel incredibly ill upon taking a drink. Normally this adverse reaction kicks in anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour after having a drink of alcohol, and can include sweating, difficulty breathing, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, flushing, and vomiting.
While this alcohol treatment medication has been shown to be effective, some studies indicate it works better for short-term recovery than long-term abstinence. In any case, the drug is not without side effects, which may include:
- Skin Irritation
With a track record of decades of success, Disulfiram can be thought of as a tried-and-true solution. Of course, as with any medication, one’s individual experience may vary.
Varenicline, also known as Chantix, was actually first approved by the FDA in 2006 as a way to help smokers beat nicotine addiction. However, this medicine also doubles as an alcohol treatment medication because it happens to affect parts of the brain that are involved in alcohol use disorders.
Studies have shown that Varenicline helps people feel fewer cravings for alcohol and drink less overall. The medication comes in the form of a pill, and does have a few side effects, which are listed below:
- Abnormal dreams
While at first it may be surprising to hear that a stop-smoking aid also works to cut down on alcohol consumption, the good news is that it can help reduce cravings for both nicotine and alcohol simultaneously in the case of a dual addiction. This could make it a logical choice for many who may be trying to improve their health on multiple levels through the process of rehab and recovery.
Available in a few forms, including capsules and extended release tablets, Gabapentin is an alcohol treatment medication used more to manage the symptoms of withdrawal than to lessen cravings or reduce the pleasurable effects of drinking.
First approved by the FDA in 1993, Gabapentin is actually an anti-epileptic drug meant to reduce seizures of the kind that may be seen in severe alcohol withdrawal. Someone going through delirium tremens, for example, may be prescribed Gabapentin. Notably, Gabapentin can also help with insomnia, which is one of the most dreaded symptoms felt by those going through alcohol withdrawal.
Some side effects of the medicine include:
- Sporadic, uncontrollable eye movements
- Black, tarry stools
- Sore throat
- Memory loss
Topiramate is another alcohol treatment medication that is used to prevent the kinds of seizures that could occur in withdrawal (Topiramate can also work to prevent migraines, and has been shown to help those struggling with alcohol addiction avoid relapsing). Available in both capsule and tablet form, Topiramate was approved by the FDA in 1998.
The medication is thought to work by affecting dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the feeling of pleasure that is released when an individual drinks alcohol.
Its side effects include:
Kicking The Habit With Alcohol Treatment Medications
If you’re looking for more information about alcohol treatment medications, or if you’d like to explore more information about recovery and rehabilitation centers near you, contact a treatment provider today.
Author: William Henken | Last Edited: June 23, 2022
Medical Reviewer: Dayna Smith-Slade