Last Updated on April 27, 2021
If giving up alcohol or reducing alcohol consumption was always just a matter of willpower, more people would probably succeed at it. But “white-knuckling” your way to sobriety or moderation often fails. There’s a host of complex psychological and biochemical forces working against you. Medication, however, can play a valuable role in aiding your efforts to assume more control over your health and lifestyle. Here we look at five medications for alcoholism, examining how and why they work and the unique benefits of each one.
Naltrexone is a key element of Ria Health’s telemedicine program. This FDA-approved drug works by curtailing the characteristic euphoric rush produced by alcohol, which happens when alcohol stimulates opioid receptors1 in the brain. Naltrexone blocks those receptors so that they don’t react to alcohol. You may drink enough to get intoxicated, but you won’t experience the same pleasure from it that you normally would. Since alcohol no longer gives you a “reward,” it’s a lot easier to stop binging and control your alcohol intake.
Naltrexone offers another important benefit: It blocks opioid drug cravings as well as alcohol cravings. If you’re struggling with both forms of addiction—as 57 percent2 of opioid abusers do—this one drug could help you fight the good fight on both fronts.
Acamprosate3 is another popular option approved by the FDA for treating alcohol addiction. It’s a time-released tablet sold under the name Campral—or, since 2013, as a generic drug. Like naltrexone, acamprosate acts on neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. Unlike naltrexone, its targets of choice are glutaminergic N-methyl-D-aspartate and gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptors. By blocking the former and stimulating the latter, the drug seeks to correct an imbalance common among alcoholics. This imbalance reinforces and amplifies the compulsion to drink.
While people can drink on naltrexone, acamprosate is much more effective at maintaining abstinence than reducing alcohol intake. (Sinclair Method subscribers report that naltrexone actually works better when you drink.) That’s why some doctors prescribe the two drugs in combination: Naltrexone to gradually reduce drinking, and acamprosate to maintain abstinence. Or, if you’ve already stopped drinking prior to taking either medication, you can take acamprosate to maintain sobriety and naltrexone to drink less and regain control in the event of a relapse
Gabapentin isn’t specifically FDA-approved for the control of alcohol cravings, but it seems to accomplish that goal nonetheless. That’s why we at Ria Health sometimes recommend this medication alongside others in our telemedicine program. Gabapentin is sold under names such as Neurontin and Horizant. It is approved for the treatment of neurological issues—from neuropathy to convulsions and epileptic seizures. It’s also considered an anti-anxiety drug. This last point may be critical to its success in helping people cope with alcohol addiction, since anxiety and drinking are closely linked.
Baclofen is another drug that’s been shown to reduce alcohol cravings, even though it isn’t technically FDA-approved for that purpose. It’s classified as an antispasmodic, or a drug that reduces muscle spasms. One of its mechanisms involves activating GABA receptors in the brain. This action slows the firing of nerve signals, reinforcing feelings of calm and well-being. Since alcohol affects GABA receptors the same way, baclofen may act as a sort of substitute to help drinkers feel content without alcohol. It’s also a good option for people with liver problems. Unlike most medications for alcoholism, baclofen is processed by the kidneys, not the liver.
Topiramate is yet another drug with anti-addiction properties that’s primarily used for other purposes. It’s used to treat migraines and epilepsy. In addition, studies have found that it can also help heavy drinkers reduce their alcohol consumption. Topiramate even shows promise as a treatment for cocaine addiction4.
Get Help From a Medication-Supported Program
As you can see, there are many pharmaceuticals out there which can help smooth your road toward sobriety, or better-managed drinking habits. Ria Health uses these medications for alcoholism in combination with professional support. We help you stop drinking or drink less—all from the comfort of your own home. Knowledge is power, so contact us for more information!