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Medicines for Alcohol Use Disorder

Medicines can be used to help treat alcohol use disorders. Some medicines can reduce symptoms of withdrawal that happen during detoxification. Other medicines can help you stay sober during the longer-term process of recovery by preventing relapse to heavy alcohol use.

Choices of medicines

Medicines for alcohol withdrawal are used to relieve discomfort, prevent more serious symptoms, and to start treatment and recovery. The most commonly used medicines include:

  • Antianxiety medicines. These include benzodiazepines. These medicines are used to treat withdrawal symptoms and serious complications such as delirium tremens (DTs).

  • Seizure medicines. These include gabapentin and carbamazepine which can prevent or relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and support early abstinence and long-term recovery.

Medicines used to help you stay sober improve your chance of successful recovery more than talk therapy alone. These include:

  • Disulfiram. This reduces the pleasure that alcohol causes. It makes you sick to your stomach when you drink and helps people avoid alcohol use.

  • Naltrexone. This reduces alcohol craving and takes away the pleasure you get from drinking. It is either taken as a pill daily or injected once a month.

  • Acamprosate. This may reduce your craving for alcohol and make it easier to maintain abstinence.  It is taken as 1 or 2 pills, 3 times daily.

  • Topiramate. This is a medicine used to treat seizures. Research has shown that it helps with recovery from alcohol use disorders. 

What to think about

Heavy alcohol use can cause your body to become low in certain vitamins and minerals. Low levels of thiamine (vitamin B1) is one of the most serious problems. You also might need to take thiamine supplements while you are in recovery. Thiamine helps prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This is a health condition that causes brain damage. You also might need supplements during this time to help replace fluids and electrolytes.

It’s important to note that every medicine has possible side effects. However, the benefits of these medicines in supporting recovery from heavy drinking outweigh the possible harms for most people. Ask your healthcare provider about possible benefits and risks to make an informed choice about which medicine is right for you. 



Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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