The FDA has approved drug treatment for alcoholism and alcohol cravings. They are Disulfiram (Antabuse), Naltrexone (Revia and Depade), and Acamprosate (Campral). These drug treatments are by prescription only, and are only prescribed to those who have stopped drinking and are trying to maintain their abstinence.
These drugs either eliminate the satisfaction someone derives from drinking, or cause a severe reaction to imbibing. While drug treatments have been available for some time in the United States, they have never been as popular as they are in Europe. Long-term use and follow-up testing have shown high abstinence rates among chronic alcoholics.
None of these drugs is effective if the alcoholic won’t quit drinking, though. Alcoholism, like any other serious disease, generally requires a network of recovery aids that can include prescribed medication. Alcoholism can cause pancreatitis or various liver diseases. These can be treated with drugs as well, although with different ones.
For the alcoholic who has decided to quit drinking and wants medication as part of a support system, a trip to a physician is in order. Vitamins may be prescribed as well as drugs. Heavy drinking robs the body of nutrients and the patient will feel better once these deficiencies are resolved.
The first drug to be approved for treatment of alcoholism was Disulfiram. More commonly known as Antabuse, it is more of the “stick” approach to abstinence than the “carrot” approach. Antabuse, taken daily in pill form, acts as a deterrent to continued drinking.
Someone taking Antabuse who drinks alcohol may experience sweating, nausea, vomiting, or vertigo. More severe reactions can include depressed respiration, heart failure, or even death. Antabuse is not to be taken lightly.
Another medication, Naltrexone, is sold under the brand names Revia and Depade. An extended-release form of the drug is also sold as Vivitrol. This drug works by reducing the cravings that alcoholics often experience when they stop drinking. Naltrexone is generally taken in pill form, though there is an approved form via injection, and an implant form which has not yet been approved.
The third drug, Acamprosate, was just approved by the FDA in 2004. It’s known by the trade name Campral. It alleviates the physical symptoms that many people feel when they stop drinking. Sweating, loss of sleep and anxiety are all common side effects of sudden abstinence.
Campral is generally taken three times a day, so it requires a little more of a patient commitment than the other two drugs. However, it has the fewest and lightest side effects. Diarrhea, sweating, nausea and dry mouth have been reported. In more severe reactions, chest pains, anxiety or suicidal thoughts have occurred. Obviously, any of these would need to be reported to your physician.
The drug treatment for alcoholism today can alleviate a much broader range of symptoms than in the past. Medication, medical attention and support groups can all help the alcoholic who has had enough of being sick and is ready to move toward recovery and health.