Alcoholism is a disease that not only affects the health and well-being of the person addicted, it affects everyone close to that person. Breaking the cycle of alcohol addiction can be difficult, and in many instances, can feel impossible. However, FDA-approved medications for the treatment of alcoholism can be used in conjunction with counseling with effective results. What follows is a summary of some of the medications used to combat alcohol use disorder.
Antabuse has been available for over 50 years, making it the oldest drug of its kind on the market. It works by affecting the body’s ability to absorb alcohol. This allows the build-up of acetaldehyde which means that even ingestion of a small amount of alcohol will cause unwanted side effects including flushing, palpitations, and extreme nausea. Antabuse doesn’t take away the craving for alcohol but will help a person to stop drinking before unpleasant side effects result. This medication is often a last resort and many alternatives exist.
The Sinclair Method (TSM) is a treatment for alcoholism that uses a technique called pharmacological extinction. This technique uses an opiate blocker to turn habit-forming behaviors into habit erasing behaviors. This effect will return a person’s craving for alcohol to the pre-addiction state. Sinclair Method patients take Naltrexone one hour before their first drink of the day for as long as they continue to drink. Naltrexone chemically disrupts the body’s behavior/reward cycle causing the urge to drink to decrease. The Sinclair Method has a 78% long-term success rate.*
Drinking alcohol produces good feelings due to the dopamine high. Those who drink chase this feeling and therefore, they drink more and more to “get the feeling”. Naltrexone is a medication for alcoholism that takes away the pleasure received from drinking and also the craving for alcohol. It does so by blocking the release of endorphins which are proteins in the body that elevate mood. This medication can injected once a month which is convenient for patients and can improve outcomes.
Campral aids with alcohol use disorder in that it minimizes withdrawal side effects when a person doesn’t drink for long periods of time. Some of the side effects this medication combats include restlessness, negative mood changes, and insomnia. Campral interferes with the chemical messenger systems in the brain. It is administered by mouth three times daily.
Detoxification can be dangerous. A person can have violent seizures. Topamax is FDA-approved to treat seizures associated with detoxification. It is not intended to treat alcoholism and is similar to Campral in how it works. It may help reduce the effects of going without alcohol for a long time period, but it will not take away the desire to drink or the pleasurable effects experienced with drinking alcohol.