Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol

medication-assisted treatment for alcohol

Table of Contents

If you suffer from substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol addiction, you may drink excessively, endangering yourself and your loved ones. When addicted to alcohol, drinking will no longer be a source of entertainment. Instead, it will be an obsession that controls your life, making quitting difficult. Detoxing from alcohol is dangerous and can be fatal medication-assisted treatment is the safest way to detox from alcohol.


When Does Your Drinking Become an Issue?

For moderate drinkers, one or two drinks a day will suffice (a drink refers to 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of spirits). Moreover, they rarely exceed their limits even if they attend a party where drinks are freely available. This is not the case with an addict, who would want to drink until the alcohol supply is depleted or until they are thrown out of the party.


The problem with alcohol is that you can start drinking moderately but eventually progress to becoming an alcoholic. When you become an alcoholic, your life will revolve around drinking. You are said to have alcohol dependence at that stage and will start abusing alcohol.


Alcohol abuse is an uncontrollable drinking pattern resulting in adverse and recurrent consequences. As an added risk, you may fail to honor your school, family, or work obligations. Eventually, you may start having alcohol-related conflicts and legal problems like drunk driving, theft, or involving yourself in unnecessary fights. Your relationships may also break down, and you may end up in jail.


Alcohol dependence means you have lost control of your drinking. Alcohol addiction means you cannot stop drinking when drinks are still available. You may try stopping, but you find yourself slipping back. Worse still, you may struggle to talk, walk, or eat without a drink. In addition, you will become shaky and sweaty in the morning before drinking and, in some cases, may suffer from hallucinations and delirium tremens (DTs) when you try to withdraw from drinking.


Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol

If you are an alcoholic, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is one of the best ways to solve your problem and break your drinking patterns. Medication-assisted treatment uses a combination of physical therapy and medications. It is a safe and effective way to help you stop drinking and start working to improve your health.


The medications used to treat SUD will affect your brain and restore the chemicals disrupted by alcohol. MAT will clear your body of all alcohol-related chemicals and help you achieve sobriety. The program can also help you maintain recovery and prevent future risks like overuse of alcohol or even death. MAT can not only help alcohol abusers but also treat disorders resulting from nicotine or opioid use.


The main aim of MAT is to limit cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms related to alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms are the main reasons that people relapse. So, by addressing them through MAT, you will regain your control over alcohol and eventually stop drinking. As a result, your cravings will decrease, and you will finally live an alcohol-free life.


MAT does not mean substituting alcohol with another drug. The treatment only corrects your body’s chemical imbalances to restore it to a healthy state. A qualified medical practitioner must oversee the treatment so you do not become addicted to the drugs. MAT heavily relies on medications combined with professional therapy sessions. With both behavioral therapies and counseling, medication-assisted treatment will address your well-being and health.


As you continue drinking, you will develop an alcohol tolerance, requiring more alcohol to achieve the same effect. Moreover, the more dependent you are on alcohol, your withdrawal symptoms will be more severe. These symptoms may include convulsions, hallucinations, tremors, irritability, restlessness, sweating, and nausea.


Although excessive alcohol consumption gets public attention and concern, even moderate or mild alcohol-related problems can cause severe damage to an individual’s life, community, and immediate family.


Data from the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) shows that 6.2% of U.S. adults aged 18 and older have an alcohol use disorder. This is a considerable number by all standards. For instance, in one governmental survey, it was found that 20% of U.S. citizens aged between 12 and 20 years are users of alcohol, about 40% of young adults aged between 18 and 25 years are binge drinkers, and about 10% are heavy drinkers.


What Medicines Are Used in Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol?

Seeking medical intervention for alcohol addiction is crucial because quitting without medical help can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens. Without medication-assisted treatment, some symptoms can be fatal. MAT will ease these symptoms so you can stop drinking safely.


Withdrawal from alcohol use is life-threatening, anxiety-ridden, and excruciating. Therefore, the withdrawal process must be gradual and supervised by an experienced doctor. The FDA approves four medications for the treatment of alcoholism. It is worth mentioning that these medications do not treat alcoholism instantly but will help you gradually withdraw until you recover.


Benzodiazepines (Librium and Valium)

Librium (chlordiazepoxide), Valium (diazepam), and other long-acting benzodiazepines are used to detox alcohol addicts since these medications act on the same brain receptors as alcohol. These drugs can be prescribed immediately if the doctor realizes you are in danger of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.


The doctor will taper them off gradually as your condition improves and you leave the dangerous stage. This can take about five days from the time you had your last drink. However, the time taken to escape the danger zone varies from person to person. People may stay longer on benzodiazepines, whereas others can be switched to other FDA-approved alternatives.


Naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol)

Naltrexone is a popular drug for opioid addicts but is also effective for alcohol abusers. The drug blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, thus decreasing drug cravings and preventing the person from getting high when they use alcohol or opioids. Initially, this drug was only used to treat opioid addicts, but it was later discovered that naltrexone could also be used to treat alcoholics.


To date, many doctors do not understand the mechanism of its action, but they believe the brain responds to opioids the same way it responds to alcohol. This means naltrexone can suppress the pleasurable and euphoric effects that alcohol brings.


If you are on naltrexone, you will not feel high even if you drink alcohol. Naltrexone does not eliminate withdrawal symptoms, meaning you must undergo detox before naltrexone is administered. The doctor will determine the stage where you will be fit enough to start using naltrexone.


Acamprosate (Campral)

Acamprosate reduces alcohol-related cravings and alleviates withdrawal symptoms. Doctors in the U.S. like to prescribe it for the treatment of alcoholism. This drug will reduce the dependence of your brain on alcohol and restore your brain’s functionality and chemistry. Acamprosate interacts with brain neurotransmitters to help normalize and modulate the brain’s activity, which excessive alcohol consumption has thrown into disarray.


Immediately after you stop consuming alcohol, your brain will start functioning differently, triggering withdrawal symptoms in your body. This is the process that acamprosate will control so that you can get relief. This drug is usually administered after detoxification. It is commonly prescribed alongside other medications like disulfiram and naltrexone.



Disulfiram is another popular medication for the treatment of alcohol dependence. When you use this drug, you will have a strong, unpleasant hangover-like experience when you drink alcohol. The undesirable effects include sweating, weakness, chest pain, vomiting, nausea, headache, and facial flushing.


These symptoms will begin after 10 minutes of consuming alcohol and can last up to 60 minutes. Disulfiram is not meant to treat SUD but to deter you from drinking. That is why it is a good option for you when you still have alcohol cravings.


Causes of Alcohol Use Disorders

Alcoholism has many causes, with social, psychological, physiological, and genetic factors playing the most significant roles. These factors affect people differently. For example, certain alcoholics’ disorders are caused by psychological factors like low self-esteem and impulsiveness. For some drinkers, alcohol provides them with a way to cope with emotional problems.


Still, a group of people drinks because of environmental and social factors like the need to fit in (peer pressure) and the ease of access to alcohol. For example, people who grow up in areas where alcohol is readily available are likely to start drinking at a tender age. Other causes of alcohol use disorders are sexual abuse, physical abuse, and poverty.


Genetic factors have also been found to make some people highly likely to become alcoholics, although this happens only to a small percentage. For example, some children born to alcoholic parents may lead alcohol-free lives, and those born to sober parents can become alcoholics.


Once you start drinking excessively, the problem will perpetuate itself. Excess alcohol will cause changes in your body that make you feel comfortable only after drinking. As a result, you may sometimes find yourself drinking to avoid suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms.


How Will Substance Use Disorders Affect You?

Some research has found that using alcohol in small quantities has some health benefits, like positive cardiovascular effects. On the other hand, excessive drinking has been found to have adverse health effects. Heavy alcohol consumption has both short-term and long-term effects.


The short-term effects include blackouts, hangovers, and memory loss. On the other hand, heavy alcohol consumption’s long-term effects may include liver cirrhosis, severe cognitive impairment, brain damage, cancer, heart problems, and stomach ailments.


Alcoholism also increases an individual’s chances of committing suicide or dying from homicide, accidents, and fights. Interestingly, men are more likely to develop alcoholism than women, but women suffer more from alcoholism than men.


Alcohol has been found to negatively affect mental health because it acts directly on the brain. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can worsen anxiety and depression and create these conditions if they never existed.


Often alcoholics do not only hurt themselves. You will also hurt your children and spouse. You can expose them to family violence, deprivation of a good life, and, in the worst-case scenario, physical or sexual abuse. In addition, when your children see you in your drunken state, they can develop serious psychological problems.


Children who cannot face you when drunk may attempt to run away from home. Then there is the problem of stealing. Most broke alcoholics still sell household items to get money for a bottle or two. This can plunge your family into poverty. Alcohol also leads to job loss, which can hurt all your dependents. Furthermore, drinking while pregnant can damage your fetus. You may also cause the same family problems caused by men.


When Should You Seek Help?

The problem with alcoholism is that it develops gradually, so it is a big challenge to know when to seek help. Another problem is that most alcoholics live in denial. They cannot believe they are alcoholics. Most alcoholics only seek help when they have hit rock bottom.


The first step in seeking help is acknowledging your drinking problem. There are many questions you can ask to gauge your condition. You can be on the lookout for the effects discussed above to indicate whether you have slipped into alcoholism.


For instance, do you find it easy to stop drinking? Have you ever sworn you would never drink again, only to find yourself drunk the next day? Have you missed classes or work because of alcohol? Have you begged for alcohol? Do you have an alcohol-related medical condition?


Such questions can help guide you in deciding to start seeking help. But please do not wait until it is too late. Alcohol addiction can be fatal. Instead, consider visiting a professional rehabilitation facility such as Liberty Bay Recovery Center for medication-assisted treatment.


Do You Need Other Treatments With Medication-Assisted Treatment?

MAT is a comprehensive treatment option that combines different therapies and medications. However, you can combine it with other treatment options, which your doctor should approve. For example, you can take other drugs for other mental health problems like anxiety and depression. You can also join support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.