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4 Medications That Treat Alcoholism

Published on July 30, 2021
4 Medications That Treat Alcoholism

While group therapy and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can help those struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD) on their road to recovery, sometimes medication is also needed as part of addiction treatment

Effective medications for AUD can help with cravings, reduce the urge to drink alcohol, and stop the pleasure you feel when having a drink.

Medications can be prescribed by your doctor or by a healthcare professional during inpatient or outpatient care as part of your treatment plan. Here are four medications that can treat alcohol use disorder.

1. Naltrexone

Naltrexone (also known as Revia, Depae, and Vivitrol) is one of the most commonly prescribed FDA-approved medications for alcohol use disorder and is often the first medication tried when someone seeks alcohol treatment. 

How Naltrexone Works For AUD

This medication works by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain that make people feel good when drinking alcohol.  It can also reduce alcohol cravings and help curb the need to drink. 

If someone drinks while taking naltrexone, they can still get drunk, but they just won’t feel the same pleasurable feeling they felt before. 

It’s recommended to stop drinking alcohol for at least 4 days before taking naltrexone, but it can be given at the beginning of recovery as well. It’s administered as a daily pill or as a monthly injection at your healthcare provider’s office or clinic.

Side Effects Of Naltrexone

Naltrexone comes with a few side effects that may include:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • headache 
  • sleep problems
  • tiredness
  • anxiety
  • headache
  • joint and muscle pains
  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting

2. Acamprosate

Acamprosate (also known as Campral) works to ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms during the detox process, as well as decrease alcohol cravings.

How Acamprosate Works For AUD

This medication works by interacting with GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and glutamate in the central nervous system. GABA stifles certain nerve cells and, when working correctly, helps control anxiety and fear. Glutamate stimulates nerve cells. 

Balancing these two things can help control the impulse to drink and can improve the damage heavy alcohol consumption has done to the brain.

Acamprosate is taken as two pills, three times a day. It also seems to work for people who have already stopped drinking for a few days.

Side Effects Of Acamprosate

Acamprosate comes with a few possible side effects, which can include:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • joint pain
  • headache
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • decreased libido

3. Disulfiram

Disulfiram (also known as Antabuse) also helps those with alcohol use disorder. 

How Disulfiram Works For AUD

It mainly works by changing the way the body breaks down alcohol. It prevents alcohol from being fully metabolized in the body.

If someone drinks when taking it, they get very sick. Because of this reaction, most people’s desire to drink goes away.

The usual prescribed dose of disulfiram is one 250 mg pill daily, but the dose can range from 125 mg to 500 mg per day.

Side Effects Of Disulfiram

Disulfiram doesn’t come with that many side effects, but the most common may include:

  • skin irritations/acne
  • swollen or sore tongue
  • headache
  • drowsiness
  • fatigue

4. Topiramate

Topiramate was not originally prescribed for alcohol addiction. 

It was first used for preventing migraines and seizures/epilepsy, as well as suppressing appetite. But it has been shown to help with alcohol dependence and can be used for people who are still drinking and want to stop. 

How Topiramate Works For AUD

Topiramate works by changing the balance of chemicals in the brain and reducing the rewarding effects of alcohol. It is usually prescribed in gradual dosages where someone starts at 25 mg per day and then slowly moves up to a maximum of 75 mg. 

Gabapentin is another similar medication like topiramate that wasn’t originally used for alcoholism treatment but has been shown to be effective.

Side Effects Of Topiramate

Topiramate comes with a few possible side effects that can include:

  • blurred vision
  • double vision
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • depression
  • drowsiness
  • memory problems
  • tingling sensations
  • sluggishness
  • weight loss

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, please call our helpline today to learn about the medications we use for alcohol dependence and addiction.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much: A CLINICIAN'S GUIDE
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Alcohol Addiction
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Medication for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder

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