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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Understanding Alcohol Abuse -- Treatment

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Conventional Medicine for Alcoholism continued...

There are several medicines used to help people in recovery from alcoholism maintain abstinence and sobriety. One drug, disulfiram may be used once the detox phase is complete and the person is abstinent. It interferes with alcohol metabolism so that drinking a small amount will cause nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, confusion, and breathing difficulty. This medication is most appropriate for alcoholics who are highly motivated to stop drinking or whose medication use is supervised, because the drug does not affect the motivation to drink.

Another medicine, naltrexone, reduces the craving for alcohol. Naltrexone can be given even if the individual is still drinking; however, as with all medications used to treat alcoholism, it is recommended as part of a comprehensive program that teaches patients new coping skills. It is now available as a long-acting injection that can be given on a monthly basis.  

Acamprosate is another medicine that has been FDA-approved to reduce alcohol craving.

Finally, research suggests that the anti-seizure medicines topiramate and gabapentin may be of value in reducing craving or anxiety during recovery from drinking, although neither of these drugs is FDA-approved for the treatment of alcoholism.

Antidepressants may be used to control any underlying or resulting anxiety or depression, but because those symptoms may disappear with abstinence, the medications are usually not started until after detox is complete and there has been some period of abstinence.

Because an alcoholic remains susceptible to relapse and potentially becoming dependent again, the goal of recovery is total abstinence. Recovery typically takes a broad-based approach, which may include education programs, group therapy, family involvement, and participation in self-help groups. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most well known of the self-help groups, but other approaches have also proved successful.

Nutrition and Diet for Alcoholism

Poor nutrition goes with heavy drinking and alcoholism: Because an ounce of alcohol has more than 200 calories but no nutritional value, ingesting large amounts of alcohol tells the body that it doesn't need more food. Alcoholics are often deficient in vitamins A, B complex, and C; folic acid; carnitine; magnesium, selenium, and zinc, as well as essential fatty acids and antioxidants. Restoring such nutrients -- by providing thiamine (vitamin B-1) and a multivitamin -- can aid recovery and are an important part of all detox programs.

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