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3 FDA Approved Drugs for Alcohol Abuse Treatment

By Kyle Kirkland
Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are FDA-approved for use in medication assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder. Learn more about the different scenarios in which each drug may be used.

If you or a loved one are affected by alcohol use disorder, you’re likely aware that withdrawing and abstaining from alcohol can be difficult. One method for easing the transition away from alcohol is known as medication assisted treatment. This form of addiction treatment combines medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to address substance use disorders. Three medications that are FDA-approved for use in this form of treatment for alcohol use disorder are acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone. Here’s what you need to know about each drug. 

Acamprosate

Acamprosate targets the brain and reduces the urge to drink alcohol, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

As a part of medication-assisted treatment, acamprosate does not ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Instead, the medication helps people to maintain abstinence from alcohol. 

Acamprosate is typically used on the fifth day of abstaining from alcohol and reaches its full effectiveness 5-8 days after that. As with the other medications on this list, acamprosate cannot “cure” alcohol use disorder, but it can be effective in treating it, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

Disulfiram

Disulfiram treats chronic alcoholism and is most effective when used by people who have already gone through detox, according to SAMHSA. 

“Disulfiram is an antabuse that works by creating an unpleasant after-effect of drinking alcohol through acute sensitivity,” Mubashar Rehman, PhD and Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Science at Quaid-i-Azam University, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Disulfiram works by creating physical reactions in the body if even a small amount of alcohol is ingested, according to American Addiction Centers. The medication can therefore be helpful for those who are misusing alcohol and feel that they can’t stop drinking, even if they want to. 

“Unpleasant reactions caused by this medication include vomiting, weakness, nausea, anxiety, chest pains, and headaches,” Rehman says. These potential symptoms, which SAMHSA reports can last for an hour or more, are meant to serve as a deterrent to drinking. 

Naltrexone

“Naltrexone is a medication used in treating alcoholics and opioid addicts. It works by inhibiting the cravings and feel-good after-effects of taking alcohol or opioids, thereby cutting down or eliminating the urge to have one,” Rehman says.

SAMHSA notes that naltrexone can help those in recovery by:

  • Reducing alcohol intake 
  • Increasing motivation to continue treatment
  • Aiding in relapse prevention

While it can prevent cravings, naltrexone should not be used on its own to treat alcohol abuse. Combining naltrexone treatment with counseling programs and other support is critical to effectively treating and preventing addiction.  

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