Today, alcohol addiction is the number one health problem in America and in 40 countries worldwide. Remarkably, only a small fraction of those who suffer with alcohol abuse actually seek treatment. For those who do, the various recovery options are confusing and limited. Support groups and 12-steps programs have been in existence for nearly a century and offer vital emotional support. Yet, they do not offer alcohol detoxification or treatment, which is vital in combating any addiction.
To address the physical nature of alcohol addiction, various drugs have been utilized to aid recovery. Not every person is a candidate for medication, and prescriptions only address one component of an alcohol disorder. In reality, alcohol dependence can damage health, relationships, finances, and careers. It often produces self-hatred, shame, guilt, anger, and resentment. And, unfortunately no pill can cure that.
Are you one of those individuals who, despite everything you have tried, cannot quit drinking? If so, perhaps you should examine some of the available prescription medications. Below is a comprehensive list of the medications that are currently being used for alcohol addiction:
Disulfiram (Antabuse or Refusal) is an alcohol-deterrent developed to prevent relapse. If you drink while taking it, you will likely experience very unpleasant physical reactions, particularly nausea and vomiting. These effects usually occur within 10 minutes and can last several hours. This medication interacts with all forms of alcohol, even tiny amounts. So while taking it, you must avoid alcohol in all forms, including alcohol-free or “NA” beers, which contain 0.1% alcohol. Also check the labels of deodorants, aftershaves, perfumes and mouthwashes to ensure they are alcohol-free. If you drink alcohol while taking this medication and experience severe symptoms, seek medical support at once.
Chlormethiazole (Heminevrin) is used in alcohol detoxification therapy. It acts to tranquillize the nervous system until the worst of the withdrawal symptoms have abated. The most common side effects during detoxification are drowsiness, blocked nose, dry eyes, headache, and skin irritation.
Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) is another medication used in alcohol detoxification therapy. It serves to tranquillize the nervous system until the worst of the withdrawal symptoms have abated. The most common side effects during detoxification are drowsiness, light-headedness, muscle weakness, and memory problems.
Acamprostate Calcium (Campral EC) is specifically designed to reduce the craving for alcohol. Its precise mechanism of action is not yet known, but it is believed to affect activity of the neurotransmitter glutamate.
Naltrexone Hydrochloride (Nalorex or ReVia) was developed to prevent relapse. It is an ”opiate antagonist” meaning it blocks some of the effects of opiate drugs at the nerve-transmission level in the brain. Nalorex blocks the effects of opiate-based ”pain killing” medications. (So dental injections to block pain will not work if you have taken it). The most common side effects include upset stomach and bowels, irritability and depression.
Neurontin (gabapentin) is a commonly used medication found to be useful in chronic pain conditions, including epilepsy, drug withdrawal, and mood disorders. Little has been documented about the effective use of this medicine for alcoholism.
GABA is the neurotransmitter-receptor system that has received attention in alcohol research — yet it remains difficult to exploit therapeutically. Its major receptor type, the GABA-A, is involved in many of alcohol’s acute and chronic effects. Medications that block GABA’s ability to bind at the GABA-A receptor do block some of alcohol’s effects. But, because this receptor system plays a role in so many vital brain functions, blocking it creates undesirable side effects. Current GABA-A-blocking drugs can cause convulsions, a side effect that must be eliminated before this receptor system can be targeted for therapy.
Baclofen (Kemstro, Lioresal) is a medication used to treat muscle spasms in people with multiple sclerosis. It acts through GABA receptors to inhibit the release of dopamine, thus reducing the desire for cocaine. When combined with counseling, baclofen seems to be most successful with chronic, heavy users of cocaine. Its effectiveness in alcohol abuse is unclear.
Immunotherapy (treatment with antibodies such as vaccines) has the potential to deactivate alcohol and other drugs, but has not been approved for use. Cocaine and nicotine vaccines are currently in clinical trials.
Topiramate (Topamax) is an anticonvulsant used to treat seizure disorders, and works through several mechanisms, including GABA and glutamate, to decrease abnormal brain activity. In clinical trials, topiramate helps prevent relapse to alcohol, opiate, and cocaine addiction. Early research also indicates it may be useful with nicotine-addicted patients as well.
Ondansetron affects serotonin neurotransmission, and research on similar drugs points to variable responses to treatment. This medication reduces the activity of a serotonin receptor (5-HT3) on which alcohol is known to act, and it has been shown to reduce the desire to drink.
Nalmefene is an opioid antagonist that neutralizes or counteracts the effects of opiates. In preliminary studies, it appears to reduce cravings and prevent relapse in alcohol-dependent patients.
One of these medications may indeed be one component of a successful recovery plan for certain people. If you decide to seek a prescription, you must take it under the close supervision of a physician with regular blood tests to monitor your liver function. Also, be aware of both the benefits and side effects before you take any medication.
However, medication is rarely the sole solution. Supplementary recovery options must be considered, including approaches based on the latest research in alcohol addiction. In the end, a comprehensive approach that crosses many disciplines may offer the greatest hope to a complete and successful recovery.