Treatment Medications for Alcohol Addiction

With the remarkable progress in scientific understanding of the brain and of the underlying causes of addiction, pharmaceutical manufacturers have made new treatments available. In the last decade, thousands of people have traveled the road to recovery while taking newly developed prescription medications.

Taken as either tablets, drinkable liquids or through injection, medications are not magic bullets for solving the misery of addiction. Experts say that they must be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes behavioral therapy as well as services to address the individual medical, psychological, social, vocational and legal needs of the patient.

Many of the medications are especially important in the early stages of recovery. They help to mute cravings enough to allow people to think more clearly. This way, the addicted person can begin to establish the critically important recovery plan. However, medications don't work for everyone. For some, they produce serious side effects which is why medication should always be taken under the supervision of a physician.

Increasingly people in recovery and addiction experts believe that prescription medications can significantly reduce relapse and that they complement mutual help efforts, providing significant new hope for many addicted people.

Medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for alcohol:

Acamprosate
In 2004, the FDA approved acamprosate (marketed as Campral®) for treating alcohol dependent individuals seeking to continue to remain alcohol-free after they have stopped drinking. Campral may not be effective in patients who are actively drinking at the start of treatment. Campral appears to modulate/normalize alcohol-disrupted brain activity, particularly in the GABA and glutamate neurotransmitter systems. Campral is not addictive.

Naltrexone
Naltrexone (marketed as Revia®) is an opiate antagonist used to treat alcohol dependence by both reducing the urge to drink and by reducing relapse in the event a person has a slip. Naltrexone is nonaddictive and does not cause patients to become sick if they do drink. Naltrexone was first approved by the FDA in 1994.

Injectable Naltrexone
Injectable Naltrexone (marketed as Vivitrol®) provides patients with therapeutic levels of Naltrexone for a month at a time. The once a month injection was developed to ensure that patients have the protection of Naltrexone everyday of the month regardless of their motivation or mood. Injectable Naltrexone was approved by the FDA (as Vivitrol) in 2006.

Disulfiram
Disulfiram (marketed as Antabuse) inhibits intermediate metabolism of alcohol, causing a build-up of acetaldelhyde and a reaction of flushing, sweating, nausea, and chest pain if a patient drinks alcohol.

Adapted from: Home Box Office, Inc.
The Addiction Project

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