Medications Used To Treat Alcoholism

You might wonder sometimes, is there a pill to make you sick whenever you drink alcohol, or removes the fun from it so that it’s not so addicting and you can finally kick the habit?

Whether you are looking for yourself or for a loved one, the answer is: yes. There are indeed several FDA-approved medications that can help you recover from alcohol addiction.

The team at Red River Treatment Center is familiar with treating individuals who suffer from alcoholism and take medication to supplement their recovery. These medications range in method and frequency of use so that you can find the perfect one for your needs.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a substance abuse disorder in which the individual imbibes alcohol and develops a dependence around the substance. As they become addicted, they will feel like they need alcohol to cope with their situation or feelings, and this will develop a tolerance the more they drink.

With more alcohol, the body begins to break down from its inability to heal from the large amounts of alcohol being processed through the system. (1) The tolerance continues to rise until their drinking habits become debilitating, and they may be chasing the original feeling that alcohol provided them with, leading to irritability, mood swings, memory loss, and other unfortunate symptoms.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcohol now causes 88,000 deaths each year.

– Forbes

While it is a readily-available recreational commodity for adults in the United States and used widely in parties and social gatherings, it doesn’t stop it from being a drug. Alcoholism is one of the most common substance abuse problems in adults today and can become life-threatening and destroy relationships. Everyone, no matter gender, race, or class is susceptible to alcohol abuse in the right circumstances.

Is There a Pill That Makes You Sick if You Drink Alcohol?

Yes, there is a pill that makes you sick if you drink alcohol, causing nausea and vomiting after ingestion. This medication is one of the most commonly-prescribed medications for alcohol abuse, called Disulfram, or Antabuse.

There are many different types of medication for alcohol dependence, and each works in a different way and might only be right for you at different stages of your treatment program. For many people, they transition to one or two medications before finding the right fit.

As they learn abstinence with the help of their medication-assisted treatment programs, many individuals find that they can taper off of the medication and stay sober successfully.

When Should Medications Be Considered?

Medication should be considered once you have discovered a treatment program that works for you, and you are on the road to recovery.

Many medications are meant to be taken in conjunction with drug and alcohol-specific counseling and should be administered by a regular psychiatrist to ensure that you are doing well on the medication.

If you are considering medication, ask your psychiatrist or alcohol counselor to determine if it’s the right time for you to transition into assisted abstinence.

There Are Medications Used to Treat Alcoholism

It may come as a surprise to many people, but there are medications used to treat alcoholism, which means they can assist you in achieving sobriety in addition to other treatment methods for alcohol dependence.

These medications are often provided as a part of a drug and alcohol treatment program and may be administered based on your psychiatrist’s recommendation.

The medications listed below are commonly used across the United States with overall positive results. Each one is approved by the FDA, and generally considered safe for use. If you have any side effects with medications after starting treatment, notify your doctor immediately.

Disulfram (Antabuse)

Disfulfram is commonly known as Antabuse, and its primary function is to discourage alcoholism, especially in individuals who become sneaky or secretive with their use. It was the first medication approved by the FDA for treating alcoholism and continues to be effective today.

When the individual consumes alcohol, they typically flush red and will become sick shortly after. The medication induces vomiting and nausea, making the individual sick and encouraging abstinence from the substance.

Naltrexone (ReVia)

Naltrexone comes in pill form which is taken once a day and helps prevent the individual from receiving any kind of emotional or mental benefit from alcohol, which can be a strong part of the addiction.

This medication blocks the dopamine receptors from firing upon indulging in alcohol, creating a neutral and potentially negative feelings around drinking to encourage abstinence from the substance. The medication was originally designed to treat opioid addiction, and later was discovered to have a positive impact on recovering alcoholics’ rate of abstinence.

Naltrexone Injection (Vivitrol)

This medication is commonly known as Vivitrol, which is a different extended-release form of Naltrexone. The medication is an intramuscular injection which is taken once-a-month to treat both opioid addiction as well as alcoholism.

Like the oral daily Naltrexone medication, the injection blocks the receptors in the brain that cause euphoria and sedation when drinking, preventing the substance from having any noticeable effect. This works best on individuals who drink for the effects that it has after, as many addicted individuals find the feeling comforting.

Acamprosate (Campral)

As the most recent medication to hit the pharmacy for alcoholism, this medication works a little differently from the others.

Instead of making the act or effect of drinking alcohol intolerable, it instead aims to lessen the feelings of withdrawal. 

Acamprosate, also called Campral, has been widely used in European countries for more than two decades before it hit American shelves in 2004.

Considerations to Make Before Starting Medication

Before you begin taking medication for alcoholism, first consider whether it’s the right choice for you and your lifestyle.

First, you must be willing to take the medication; while the medication can encourage you to avoid alcohol, nothing can force you to take the medication itself. Some medications are administered via a monthly injection to prevent a missed pill from affecting your ability to stay sober.

Secondly, you must be willing to stick with the medication regimen and follow through with other beneficial therapy and activities recommended by your treatment program. In most cases, medication alone is not the only treatment on the path to recovery, but it can greatly assist individuals who are also going to their counseling sessions and support groups.

Possible Side Effects of Medications

Depending on the medication you begin treatment with, you may experience some side effects. These side effects may include anything from the following list:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Altered taste
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Irritable skin

For a more accurate list of side effects that you may experience when starting medication, consult your doctor or pharmacist and request a list for the specific medication you are taking. Your doctor will be able to address any concerns you have about potential side effects and recommend an alternative if necessary.

If you experience any side effects while sober, contact your doctor to let them know about the problem and determine a safe alternative for your treatment.

What If Medications Don’t Work?

If one medication does not work for you, then another might. Different medications will interact differently with your body chemistry, which is why there are multiple options available today.

These medications also work in different ways, so if you don’t like the idea of a pill that causes an allergic reaction to alcohol, then you have the option to receive an injection that can prevent alcohol from giving you any dopamine from the act of drinking.

If your medication fails to help you stay sober on a consistent basis, then talk to your psychiatrist about switching to a different method. They be able to work with you in understanding how your body reacts to certain medications, as well as recommend alternatives that are safe for your individual circumstances.

You Must Agree to Abstain

The purpose of the medications is to discourage use of alcohol by making you feel sick, or otherwise removing the feel-good rush that alcohol can bring to your body.

By agreeing to abstain from alcohol during treatment, you are making a commitment to remain sober for the duration of the trial, which could be months or even years depending on your pacing in rehab.

By abstaining from alcohol while taking these medications, you are making a promise to yourself and your doctor that you are well enough to receive this type of treatment.

Medication is not typically administered to individuals who are unable to abstain, so it is typically further down the path to recovery that you will have the option to opt into this type of treatment.

How Long to Maintain Medication

Medication should be maintained as long as it is recommended by your provider. For some, this may only be 6 months after your last drink, and others may recommend that you remain on the medication for a year or more after your last drink.

The reason for the long wind-down from medication is that there is a high risk for relapse within the first 12 months of sobriety. Within the first 6 months of that, the risk is even higher as the individual is still learning how to navigate a sober life without their substance as a crutch.

Furthermore, engaging with old pre-rehabilitation stressors and environments can be a trigger for alcoholism, which is where medication comes in to help the individual remain abstinent, even in times where it feels difficult to do so.

As you continue into sobriety, your provider will oversee your progress and help you determine whether its safe to begin tapering down your medication, or if you should remain on it for longer.

Medication Alone Isn’t Enough: Specialized Alcohol Counseling and Rehabilitation

Everyone wants to be better as soon as possible, which is understandable when the process is uncomfortable. We all want a one-stop solution to fix our problems. Unfortunately – and especially in rehab – there is no easy answer.

The road to recovery takes a lot of work and determination, with multiple types of treatment working together to benefit the individual’s whole set of needs.

Medication is not enough by itself; it is recommended that every individual is also a part of a structured rehabilitation program to ensure that they have the structure and support of a group that understands their needs.

A licensed drug and alcohol counselor is typically on staff in the rehab center environment and may be assigned to the individual to help them express themselves and discuss their journey through rehab and with their medication. Additionally, regular visits to a psychiatrist can help ensure medication is adjusted and fine-tuned to your current stage of recovery.

Supporting Loved Ones Taking Medications for Alcohol Dependence

It can be difficult to see a loved one go through alcoholism. Going through rehab services and beginning medicated treatment for the substance abuse disorder, however, should be something to celebrate.

When supporting loved ones making the decision to work towards a sober lifestyle, you should avoid drinking around them, and always provide sobriety-friendly alternatives at special occasions so that they don’t feel left out in the festivities and are not tempted by alcohol while they are still on the road to recovery.

Furthermore, allowing them to talk openly about it is beneficial for both the individual, as well as anyone looking to better understand their journey. This open communication is important to establish, instead of placing a taboo on the subject that alienates them or makes interactions awkward.

Is There a Benefit to Combining Medications?

No, there is no known benefit to combining medications to treat alcoholism. While some doctors may switch medications if one does not work effectively, there are no studies that have successfully supported the idea that combining medications is beneficial in any way.

These medications often have contraindications with each other and should not be taken at the same time, especially if the individual is in danger of relapsing or imbibes alcohol while on the medication, as unknown or intensified side effects could occur.

It is always advised that individuals take their medication as directed without modifying the dosage, and always alert your doctor if you begin taking any other medications or supplements with your alcoholism medications.

What is the Most Effective Treatment for Alcohol Dependence?

The most effective treatment for alcohol dependence depends entirely on the individual and their needs. Not every therapy or treatment is going to work the same way. (2) As long as the individual’s needs are met, the likelihood that the treatment method will be effective rises greatly.

There is no single drug abuse treatment that is appropriate for everyone. The best type of treatment will vary based on the characteristics of the patient and the type of drug being used.

– Huffpost

Additionally, different treatment methods are often most effective when used in tandem with another type of treatment. For example, medications used to treat alcoholism might not be effective without additional behavioral therapy or counseling.

At Red River Treatment Center, we believe in second chances. Our team of caretakers, supervisors, therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors are here to help you recover in a safe and stable environment.

For many, that includes the use of medication, however, medication alone is not enough. To fully recover from alcoholism or drug addiction, the individual needs a safe and stable environment that’s different from their everyday life so they can focus on their recovery.

Our team is experienced in treating and providing a rehabilitation space for recovering addicts, no matter the type of substance they have abused. Call the facility today to learn more about our process.

References:

  1. Forbes, The High Toll of Alcohol Abuse, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-expert-guide-to-treat_b_11426696
  2. Huffpost, The Expert Guide to Treating Drug Addiction, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-expert-guide-to-treat_b_11426696