Cravings are part of the cycle of addiction. In recent years, scientists have discovered specific medications that make recovery easier.
When it comes to overcoming alcoholism, most people will accept all the help they can get. Sometimes, that assistance comes in the form of a pill.
Your doctor can choose from:
- Acamprosate, to decrease cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms.
- Naltrexone, to ease cravings.
- Topiramate, to make drinks less rewarding and withdrawal less severe.
- Disulfiram, to make alcohol seem unpleasant.
These tools can help you push past your need for alcohol, but they’re not the only form of treatment you need. When you stop taking these medications, your alcoholism will remain. As a result, most treatment plans involve combining drugs with therapy.
What drug is right for you and your body? Your doctor can answer that question. Together, you can find a therapy that’s right for you.
This information can help you understand how each option works, so you can make an informed decision with the help of your treatment team.
This prescription drug is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of alcoholism. Researchers aren’t quite sure how acamprosate works, but they think it intersects with the brain using the same pathways tapped by alcohol.
When you’re sipping on alcohol, your brain’s electrical activity dips. If your mind was a city lit up at night, alcohol works like the rising sun, as electric lights flick off one by one. You can feel the sense of calm overtake your body, and that’s why alcohol can seem rewarding.
Researchers suspect that acamprosate also calms electrical activity, and it persists even when you drink. That means your sips won’t relax you as they once did. In theory, that will make drinking less rewarding, and you won’t be tempted to pick up your bottle for a refill.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that acamprosate can also reduce lingering symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as anxiety and insomnia. This could help you steer clear of relapse in early recovery.
But NIDA says this treatment works best in people with severe addictions to alcohol. If you have a mild case, you may not have symptoms that stick around during withdrawal.
Naltrexone is a prescription medication closely connected to opioids. It blocks drug cravings for people with opioid addiction, and that allows them to focus on therapy. Researchers have discovered that the same benefit is available to people addicted to alcohol.
Naltrexone works by numbing the brain’s pleasure pathway. You won’t feel a strong urge to drink, and if you do, your sips won’t be as pleasant.
Most people take naltrexone for three months or longer, so this isn’t a short-term commitment. You’ll need to continue with your treatment until you’re strong enough in your therapy to resist the urge to slip back into drinking. If you’re worried about remembering a daily pill, you can also get this therapy in a shot that lasts for a month.
Studies suggest that this medication works well as an alcoholism treatment. In one study, researchers found that the risk of heavy drinking dropped by 83 percent, and the number of drinking days dropped by 4 percent, when compared to placebo.
But notice that some people kept drinking while using this medication. They stopped drinking heavily, but they still drank. If total abstinence is your goal, this medication might not be quite right for you.
This medication was designed to help people overcome epilepsy. But research suggests that it can help people to cut back on heavy drinking, although its effectiveness can vary widely from person to person.
Topiramate works by blocking the brain’s ability to release pleasure chemicals in response to alcohol. Each drink you take seems to have a blunted impact, and that can make you stop drinking before you have too much.
If you’re struggling with binge drinking, this medication could help. After one glass, you may not crave another. You won’t have to lean on willpower to make that decision, as the drug will do it for you.
But researchers suggest this medication is most effective in people with a specific gene subtype, and not all people have it. If you don’t, you could have an entirely different experience that involves nausea, vomiting, and other unpleasant side effects. You may not know which group you fit into until you start drug therapy.
Researchers are excited about this type of therapy, but they caution that they’re not sure how it works and how much people should take. As a result, it might not be the first therapy your doctor reaches for to help you with alcoholism.
When you drink alcohol, your body works overtime to process the substance before you feel ill. Disulfiram halts that process, so the alcohol can overwhelm you and make you feel very sick.
Imagine if your wine cooler or beer made you vomit every time. Chances are, you’d be much less likely to order another drink. And when evening comes around, you might not crave another visit to the bathroom to throw up. That’s the experience disulfiram can deliver, but it isn’t the right choice for everyone.
Researchers suggest that disulfiram isn’t better than placebo in making people stop drinking. When they’d like to have a hit of alcohol, they just skip the medication.
It doesn’t help to address cravings at the brain cell level, so it can’t really make you feel better on an hourly basis. If your addiction is severe, you might need more help than this drug can provide.
The Role of Medication
Overcoming alcoholism isn’t easy, especially when your brain cells continue to call out for alcohol and when they respond enthusiastically to each sip you take. Medications can ease some symptoms so focusing on recovery is easier. But it’s important to remember that drugs can’t do all the work for you.
Therapy is a vital part of your recovery. Here, you have the opportunity to:
- Examine the habits and beliefs that support your decision to drink.
- Build new skills to help you develop a life that doesn’t include alcohol.
- Repair the damage done by years of drinking.
You can’t get those benefits in a pill or a shot. But you can get them in therapy.
It’s also important to remember that some medications have the potential for abuse. When you’re new to recovery, you might be tempted to take more of your medication in an attempt to get high. You might also keep looking for drugs that can make you feel better. If using medications seems to trigger your compulsive need for chemical relief, drugs just may not be right for you.
Work with your team on your medication plan and your therapy plan at one of our addiction treatment centers in Florida. When you use all the tools in combination, you may find that recovery is not only possible but probable.