In terms of alcoholism treatment, most people are only familiar with counseling, rehab, and 12-step programs. Just a few people – about 10% of the alcoholic population – know about the medications that can help stop drinking.
Despite the low exposure and the hesitation of some to prescribe or use these meds, they prove to be helpful in the recovery process. According to Gerard Schmidt of the Association for Addiction Professionals, medications such as the ones listed below can help usher the psychological change that is needed for abstinence.
Naltrexone is a drug that is used to block the effects of opioids. Also known as narcotics, opioids are primarily prescribed for pain relief. But since it can bring about ‘pleasurable’ feelings, people often end up abusing these narcotics. Such is a dangerous addiction as it often leads to respiratory arrest – and eventual death.
Apart from weaning opioid addicts, Naltrexone is also used in alcoholics. This drug can help curb the habit by decreasing the person’s urge to consume alcohol. While it cannot help you sober up per se, this medication can help you reduce your drinking – if not eliminate it at all.
The usual dose of Naltrexone is 50 milligrams once a day for 12 weeks. As for an injection, the dose is 380 milligrams once a month, given every 4 weeks.
For best results, Naltrexone should be given in individuals who have managed to stop drinking for at least 4 days.
Naltrexone should only be taken according to the doctor’s prescription. It should be ingested with one glass of water, and with food if it causes stomach upset.
The common side effects of Naltrexone include:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Sleeping problems (insomnia)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Joint or muscle aches
It is important to note that Naltrexone shouldn’t be used in people currently suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, it is contraindicated for patients aged 18 years old and below.
2. Disulfiram (Antabuse)
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Commonly known as Antabuse, Disulfiram is one of the more popular medications in alcohol addiction. In fact, it was the first drug approved by the US FDA for alcoholism treatment.
Antabuse works by blocking an enzyme that is necessary for the act of processing alcohol. As such, when a person he drinks, he can experience unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
The usual initial dosage for alcohol dependence is 500 milligrams once a day. This should be taken for 1 to 2 weeks. Afterward, a maintenance dose of 250 milligrams (with a maximum of 500 milligrams) is given once a day. The total duration of therapy will largely depend on the person’s response to the medication. Because of the side effects of Disulfiram, it should not be consumed with certain drugs, such as Paraldehyde and Metronidazole.
Alcohol-containing items should not be taken during Disulfiram therapy as well. They should be avoided for 12 hours before intake – up to 14 days after last use. Those who use Disulfiram should veer away from cough medicine, mouthwash, cooking wines, and some desserts, to name a few.
While the above-mentioned effects can help deter a person from taking alcohol, they make it hard to stick with the regimen as well. With that being said, Disulfiram is best for those who are motivated to quit alcohol. As such, this drug should be taken by a person who receives therapy and counseling as well.
Acamprosate is a drug that can help re-balance the chemical changes that occur in an ‘alcoholic’ brain. It best works on people who have been detoxified – or those who have quit drinking alcohol already. As such, it is not recommended for individuals who are still battling with alcoholism.
Like Disulfiram, Acamprosate is more effective when used in conjunction with counseling and behavior modification. It can help reduce the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal, such as restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, and depression, to name a few.
Acamprosate is usually prescribed at a dose of 666 milligrams, given 3 times a day. It can be taken with or without food. Extended-release tablets, on the other hand, should be swallowed whole. It should not be chewed, crushed, or broken.
Side effects of Acamprosate intake include:
- Dry mouth
- Itching or sweating
- Numbness, tingling, pain or weakness
- Sleeping problems (insomnia)
Acamprosate is contraindicated in persons allergic to it, as well as those who are suffering from serious kidney disease.
You should stored the pills at room temperature, in an area with minimal heat or moisture.
Ondansetron is a drug that is used off-label for alcoholism treatment. It is prescribed reduce the symptoms of nausea and vomiting.
A study by Johnson et al. helped prove the validity of its off-label use. Enrolled participants were given Ondansetron at different doses. The dose ranged from 1, 4, and 16 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. This was then taken twice a day.
Results showed that those who received Ondansetron drank fewer amounts daily. Those who were given a dose of 4 micrograms per kilogram day reported more days of abstinence.
Ondansteron’s effectiveness is attributed to its ability to block receptors that make alcohol intake pleasurable.
Those prescribed with Apomorphine (Apokyn) should not take the drug. It should not be taken by people with Phenylketonuria, as with those who are allergic to Ondansetron and related medications (Dolasetron, Palonosetron, and Granisetron).
Ondansetron is contraindicated in individuals with the following:
- Congestive heart failure
- History of long QT syndrome
- Slow heartbeats (bradycardia)
- Stomach or intestinal blockage
- Liver disease
- Low potassium or magnesium levels
You should take the regular Ondansetron tablet with a full glass of water. The orally disintegrating pill, however, should not be swallowed. You should leave it inside the mouth until the entire tablet dissolves on the tongue.
Side effects of Ondansetron intake include:
- Anxiety or agitation
- Blurred or temporary loss of vision
- Breathing difficulties
- Slow heart rate
- Low/no urine output
Do you want to break free from the clutches of alcoholism for good? Then make sure to ask your doctor if you’re a good candidate for medication therapy. The intake of any of the above-mentioned medications, together with counseling and therapy, can make the recovery process faster.