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Alcohol Use Disorder

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Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder

People with AUD typically suffer from a range of symptoms such as intense cravings for alcohol, difficulty controlling alcohol consumption, and alcohol addiction.

Navigation: What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder?, What Medications Can Help With Alcohol Use Disorder?, Disulfiram, Acamprosate, Naltrexone, Other Medications for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Treatment, Are Medications Safe for AUD Treatment?, Why Do You Need Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorders?, What to Expect When You Stop Drinking Alcohol, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


In a 2022 study, researchers in California found that adults ages 50 and older were the most likely to increase their alcohol consumption. It was believed that this was due to the stress caused by the pandemic. For the most part, this spike has been maintained.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) remains a serious problem in the US. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition characterized by problematic patterns of alcohol consumption that lead to significant impairment or distress.

People with AUD typically suffer from a range of symptoms such as intense cravings for alcohol, difficulty controlling alcohol consumption, and alcohol addiction. Whenever they attempt to quit drinking alcohol, they experience withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol addiction is characterized by the continued use of alcohol despite the negative consequences. The person will keep on drinking even when they are already suffering from health problems, interpersonal problems, and legal issues.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), alcohol use disorder describes a range of problematic patterns of alcohol use, including alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

The DSM-5 criteria for AUD are used by healthcare professionals to diagnose and classify alcohol use disorders, which can help guide treatment and management strategies.

However, it’s important to note that the diagnosis of AUD is based on a comprehensive evaluation by a trained healthcare professional and should not be made based solely on the DSM-5 criteria.

AUD can range in severity from mild to severe. It can also have a significant impact on an individual’s overall quality of life. Usually, this medical condition is treated with a combination of medication, therapy, and support groups. But you may be wondering what type of medications are used for these treatments. That is what we are going to discuss here today.


What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder?

While treatment may vary depending on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances, there are certain aspects of treatment that always stay the same. For example, the use of medications is something that is commonly done in most treatment programs for alcohol addiction.

But what exactly is medication-assisted treatment? Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT is a comprehensive approach to treating alcohol use disorder (AUD) that combines medications and behavioral therapy.

MAT involves the use of FDA-approved medications that help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol addiction. The most common medications used in MAT include Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.

These medications can potentially reduce alcohol consumption and stop alcohol misuse by making certain changes within the brain and the body.

Medication-assisted treatment works when it is supported by other treatment methods. This is why behavioral therapy is an essential component of MAT. Therapy helps people with AUD learn healthy coping skills and strategies to manage triggers and avoid relapse.

There are many different types of behavioral therapy, including individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy.

MAT can be an effective strategy for treating AUD, especially when it used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Keep in mind that MAT should be administered under the guidance of a healthcare provider, and that medication alone is not a cure for AUD.


What Medications Can Help With Alcohol Use Disorder?

There are several medications that can help with alcohol use disorder (AUD). The choice of medication depends on the individual’s needs and medical history, and it should be prescribed and monitored by a qualified healthcare provider.

Before we get into detail about each one, here’s a brief overview of the medications used in substance abuse treatment:

Acamprosate helps reduce alcohol cravings by affecting brain chemicals that are disrupted by long-term alcohol use.

Disulfiram works by making people sick if they drink alcohol, which can help deter them from drinking.

Naltrexone blocks the effects of alcohol in the brain, reducing the pleasure people feel when drinking.

These are the three main medications used for the treatment of alcohol abuse and addiction. Let’s take a closer look at each one.


Disulfiram is a medication that works by causing unpleasant physical reactions when alcohol is consumed. It causes symptoms such as nausea, chest pain, vomiting, weakness, sweating, and headache every time the person drinks. Also known by its brand name Antabuse, this medication is also available in pill form.

Disulfiram can be used after at least 12 hours without alcohol.

This medication works by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which is responsible for breaking down alcohol in the body. As a result, when someone takes disulfiram and drinks alcohol, they can experience a range of unpleasant symptoms which may discourage further drinking.

Because it can cause long lasting and severe adverse reactions, it is an effective deterrent to alcohol consumption.

Disulfiram works best when used as part of a comprehensive treatment program for alcohol addiction. It should only be taken under the supervision of a healthcare provider, as it can have serious side effects and can interact with other medications.


Acamprosate is a medication that can help ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce alcohol cravings. Also known by its brand name Campral, it is usually taken in pill form to treat alcohol dependence.

In some cases, Acamprosate is also used to alleviate anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia as your brain adjusts to life without alcohol.

This medication works by reducing the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that occur when an alcohol dependent person stops drinking or limits their intake.

Acamprosate is believed to work by restoring the balance of chemicals in the brain that are disrupted by chronic alcohol use. It has been shown to be effective in helping people abstain from alcohol and can be used as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes counseling and therapy.

As with any medication, Acamprosate may have side effects, and some people may not be able to take it due to medical conditions or interactions with other medications. It is important to follow the dosing instructions provided by your healthcare provider when taking Acamprosate. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if Acamprosate is right for you.


Naltrexone is another medication used for the treatment of alcohol use disorder. Available in oral form or as a monthly injection, it can help reduce alcohol cravings and block the pleasurable effects of alcohol. This makes it easier for addicted individuals to quit drinking alcohol.

Naltrexone is also used to treat addiction to opioids and to prevent relapse after quitting alcohol.

In the case of opioids, naltrexone blocks the receptors in the brain that are responsible for the pleasurable effects of the drug, making it less rewarding to use opioids. For alcohol, it may reduce the reinforcing effects of alcohol and decrease the likelihood of relapse.

Just like with the other AUD medications, it is important to note that naltrexone should only be taken under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as it can have potentially serious side effects, particularly if taken with opioids.

Other Medications for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Treatment

Other than these three medications, there are also some options that may be used in certain scenarios.

Topiramate is a medication that is taken in pill form and reduces alcohol cravings while also improving overall mood. This prescription medication is also used to treat a variety of medical conditions. It is primarily used to prevent seizures in people with epilepsy. It can also be used to prevent migraine headaches and to help manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Topiramate works by affecting the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including GABA and glutamate. By modulating these neurotransmitters, topiramate can help prevent seizures, reduce the frequency of migraines, and stabilize mood in people with bipolar disorder.

Baclofen is another medication that may help reduce alcohol cravings and decrease the desire to drink. However, this medication is primarily used to treat muscle spasms and spasticity.

It works by acting on the central nervous system and specifically targeting the receptors in the spinal cord that control muscle tone. By binding to these receptors, baclofen can reduce the activity of overactive muscles, which can help to alleviate muscle stiffness, cramps, and spasms.

It is worth noting that medications alone cannot replace a complete alcohol addiction treatment program. These medications should be complemented by therapy and counseling in order to be fully effective.

Are Medications Safe for AUD Treatment?

All of these medications are generally considered safe, especially if used exactly as prescribed. None of these drugs are addictive themselves. This is why family doctors and health care providers are generally comfortable with prescribing them.

While these medications won’t work for everyone, they do work well for certain people, allowing them to reach their recovery goals. Studies show these medications are still underutilized.

It is important to keep in mind that, like any medication, there are potential risks and side effects. You need to work closely with your healthcare provider to determine if medication is appropriate and safe for you. The specific medication and dosage will depend on individual circumstances and medical history.

Aside from medication-assisted treatment, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for unhealthy alcohol use in primary care settings, particularly for adults who are 18 years or older. They also recommend providing behavioral counseling to reduce alcohol consumption in those who are engaged in hazardous drinking habits.

While the PSTF does not specifically focus on alcoholism, its treatment recommendations are still valuable. These interventions can help identify and address problematic drinking behaviors before they become more severe.

The PSTF’s recommendations aim to promote early detection and intervention for alcohol misuse, which can help reduce the negative health and social consequences associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

Why Do You Need Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorders?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 14.5 million adults (aged 18 and older) had alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the United States in 2019. This represents 5.8% of the adult population.

Alcohol addiction is an all too common condition that can have many negative effects on a person’s physical, mental, and social health.

Addiction is known to cause a wide range of physical health problems, such as liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive problems, and an increased risk of cancer. Not only that, it also puts the person at risk of mental health issues. Alcohol use disorder can also cause or worsen mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Struggling with a substance use disorder also strains your relationships. It can cause problems with your employment, as well as legal issues and DUI charges.

Because addicted individuals prioritize drinking over everything else, they will begin to neglect their responsibilities and lose interest in things they used to enjoy. This may also cause them to suffer from financial problems.

It is common for addicted people to suffer from debt, job loss, and poverty. Between that and the cost of medical expenses, alcohol addiction can be expensive.

Alcohol also impairs judgment and coordination, increasing the risk of accidents, including car crashes and falls. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to an increased risk of death from alcohol-related diseases, accidents, and suicide.

Seeking professional help is an important step towards living a healthy and sober life. Aside from medications, behavioral counseling interventions are also necessary to help patients get sober and stay sober.

What to Expect When You Stop Drinking Alcohol

If you decide to stop drinking alcohol, there are a number of things you can expect to experience, both physically and mentally.

For starters, you need to expect some withdrawal symptoms. If you have been drinking heavily for a long period of time, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, irritability, sweating, shaking, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, and anxiety.

These symptoms may vary in severity depending on the individual and the extent of their alcohol use.

It is important to note that alcohol withdrawal can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, especially for heavy drinkers, and medical attention should be sought immediately if any symptoms are experienced.

Once you get past this stage, quitting alcohol will actually start to produce some benefits. You will experience improved sleep, better mood, increased energy, and an improved overall health.

Alcohol can interfere with the quality of your sleep, so when you stop drinking, you may find that you sleep better and feel more rested. At the same time, it will leave you with more energy. When you stop drinking, you may find that you have more energy and are more productive.

Since alcohol is a depressant, it can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. Quitting alcohol will give your body a chance to recover and improve your overall health.

It will even allow you to focus on your relationships with other people. You may find that your relationships with family and friends improve once you quit alcohol.

Everyone experiences addiction differently. Your experience with alcohol may be different with other people who are also struggling. This is why a personalized treatment plan works best.

If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol withdrawal, seek medical attention immediately. A healthcare professional can help manage the symptoms and monitor for any potential complications. In some cases, medication may be needed to prevent or treat serious complications.

Get started on the road to recovery today. Look for a rehab near you to help with your alcohol use disorder.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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