There are several medications that work to reduce drinking, but how do they differ? Here we continue to explore the ins and outs of each of these medications—this time, we’re looking at acamprosate. We’ll explain what it is, how it works, its pros and cons, and how it compares to other medications.
What Is Acamprosate?
Acamprosate is sold by prescription in the form of delayed-release tablets, either under the brand name Campral or, since 2013, as a generic drug. The drug has one specific mission: restoring the chemical balance of an alcohol-dependent brain. It’s believed that alcohol abuse causes neurotransmitter imbalances that lead the drinker to crave more alcohol, reinforcing addiction. Acamprosate blocks certain neurotransmitter receptors while activating others, restoring biochemical stability and reducing cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. It’s not metabolized in the liver, making it a viable option for people with liver disease.
Furthermore, unlike with some other drugs for alcohol addiction, studies have shown that acamprosate is much more effective at maintaining abstinence than reducing alcohol intake. It’s mainly for preventing relapses.
Considerations When Taking Acamprosate
While acamprosate can help control alcohol cravings, it can also have some undesirable side effects. These side effects can include digestive upsets, dizziness, sweating, itching, depression, numbness, tingling sensations, and dry mouth. Like with many drugs, it’s possible to experience a severe allergic reaction to acamprosate. Furthermore, people who are hypersensitive to sulfites should not take acamprosate, since the medication may contain trace amounts of sulfites. Last but not least, if you’re looking for a drug to help you gradually drink less, acamprosate may not be for you; it works best after alcohol detoxification, and it’s better for maintaining abstinence.
What About Other Alcohol-Control Medications?
How does acamprosate stack up against other alcohol-control medications? The only other two options currently approved by the FDA are:
- Disulfiram – More commonly known as Antabuse, disulfiram works on the principle of strong negative reinforcement—in other words, it literally makes people sick of alcohol. On disulfiram, even a small amount of alcohol produces violent symptoms like headaches, palpitations, nausea, choking, and vomiting. These intentional side effects are so severe and debilitating that the drug might be impractical for daily use, especially when alcohol cravings are strong enough to bypass common sense.
- Naltrexone – Naltrexone works differently than acamprosate or disulfiram because it acts as an opioid receptor antagonist. It prevents alcohol from stimulating the “feel-good” receptors in the brain, causing users to derive less pleasure from drinking. It can be taken either once a day every day, or, per the Sinclair Method, one hour before every drinking session. One of the greatest advantages of naltrexone is that it can help users abstain from alcohol, or simply drink less. Plus, it’s very safe and usually has only mild side effects. It can work equally well against both alcohol and opioid drugs. Since 57 percent of self-confessed opioid abusers also abuse alcohol, this drug has the potential to help millions of people gain control over two habits at once.
Ria Health also prescribes other “off-label” medications that reduce alcohol cravings. One such drug is gabapentin, an anti-convulsant, anti-epileptic, and treatment for shingles-related pain. The others are baclofen, a muscle relaxant that activates GABA receptors to calm the brain, and topiramate, which is typically prescribed to treat seizures.
Making Smart Choices
Think acamprosate might be right for you, or want to explore another treatment path toward a healthier relationship with alcohol? Ria Health is always happy to help people determine the right course of action for their needs. You can learn more about Ria’s program here or receive a consultation with an addiction expert here.