Fighting Alcoholism With Medications
Drugs combined with support can help alcoholics kick alcohol addiction.
Campral, taken by mouth three times daily, acts on chemical messenger
systems in the brain. It appears to reduce the symptoms that alcoholics may
experience when they abstain from booze over long periods. These symptoms can
include insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and
unpleasant changes in mood that could lead to relapse. In European clinical
trials and in pooled data from several studies, Campral increased the
proportion of alcoholics who were able to refrain from drinking for several
weeks or months.
However, in the COMBINE trial and another U.S. study, there was no apparent
benefit to the use of Campral, either alone or in combination with naltrexone.
Patients in the European trials tended to be more severely alcohol dependent
than those in the U.S. studies, and most patients in European studies had been
abstinent for longer periods before starting Campral, two factors that could
account for the difference in the findings, according to the NIAAA.
"We use medicines to help detoxify people, but even after detoxification
occurs the neurochemistry is still not in very good balance, and probably even
more importantly, when your brain thinks it's going to get alcohol, that
elicits these compensatory neural changes so that the body goes through the
equivalent of a little mild withdrawal, and [Campral] blocks that," Volpicelli
Topamax is approved by the FDA for the treatment of seizures but not for
alcoholism. It has a mechanism of action similar to that of Campral and may
similarly help patients avoid or reduce the symptoms associated with long-term
In a study published in The Journal of the American Medical
Association in October 2007, researchers from the U.S. and Germany reported
that Topamax was better than placebo at reducing the percentage of heavy
drinking days over a 14-week period.
Treating Alcoholism: Drugs Alone Aren't Enough
"All these medications work best in the context of psychosocial treatment.
Just giving somebody pills without that is not as effective," says
According to Weiss, at least three forms of psychosocial therapy have been
shown to be effective at treating alcoholism, with roughly similar success
rates. These include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy focusing on
identifying and modifying negative thoughts and thought patterns.
- 12-step facilitation, in which patients are encouraged to enter 12-step
programs such Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Motivational enhancement therapy, a patient-centered approach in which
counselors try to get patients to think about and express their motivations for
change and to develop a personal plan that can help them make the necessary