Acamprosate, Naltrexone Help Alcoholics Stay Sober

Acamprosate, Naltrexone Help Alcoholics Stay Sober

Acamprosate, Naltrexone Help Alcoholics Stay Sober

Acamprosate, Naltrexone Help Alcoholics Stay SoberAlcoholism has been treated for decades with counseling and support groups. These treatment measures have helped a great number of people, but for many, they just aren’t enough. Some alcoholics keep going back to drinking and spend decades battling the illness. Researchers have developed several medications that are approved for treating alcoholism and other addictions. Studies have shown that they can help alcoholics quit drinking when combined with support and therapy. Acamprosate and naltrexone have been the most effective for patients.  Nalmefene and topiramate are two other drugs that are useful for some patients. 

Medications for Alcoholism

There are several medications that can be prescribed for treating alcoholism. The Food and Drug Administration has approved some specifically for helping alcoholics, while others have not been given the FDA’s blessing but are used anyway. Both acamprosate and naltrexone are specifically approved for alcoholism. Naltrexone helps alcoholics by disrupting the pleasurable feeling that comes with drinking. It may also help to reduce cravings in people who have already quit but are struggling with relapse. While naltrexone works for many people, it seems to be ineffective in others.

Another medication that can help with treating alcoholism is acamprosate. Just how acamprosate works is not fully understood, but it has been shown to help alcoholics resist the urge to drink. It is about as effective as naltrexone, but, like that drug, does not work for everyone. Together, these two medications provide options for alcoholics trying to stay sober.

Some doctors may also prescribe nalmefene or topiramate off-label for alcoholics. Off-label means that these medications are approved for other conditions, but may be prescribed for alcoholism as well. For instance, nalmefene is approved for pain, but it seems to work similarly to naltrexone in alcoholics. However, neither of these drugs is as effective as acamprosate or naltrexone for alcoholics.

Medication With Counseling and Support

Research has consistently shown that acamprosate and naltrexone can be effective in helping dependent drinkers reduce how much alcohol they consume and stay sober after going through detox. There is no evidence that one works better than the other, but there are important considerations when choosing one over another. Some people just don’t respond to one of these medications. There are side effects to consider and availability is another reason to choose one in particular.

What is important for people to understand about acamprosate and naltrexone is that they work best when combined with counseling and attendance at support group sessions. There is no magic pill that can cure alcoholism and neither of these drugs was intended to be used in isolation. Evidence suggests that the best odds for recovery from alcoholism include a combination of all three types of treatment. Therapy helps patients learn to cope with emotions without using alcohol. Support group meetings give patients the ability to relate to others and to share and learn from common experiences. Together with medications, these can be powerful ways of treating alcoholism.

Unfortunately, what research has also told us is that only about 10 percent of alcoholics get the treatment they need. Most don’t get any treatment, and among those who do, only a few have access to medications. When we can get the full complement of treatments to all the people in need, we will see many more in successful recovery.

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