Last Updated on April 23, 2021
Cutting back or quitting drinking is a challenge for many people. It’s not unusual for someone to make several attempts before finding success. This is where medication for alcoholism can make a huge difference. By helping you control the physical aspects of addiction, medication can give you the edge you need to overcome dependence. Here are five ways in which medication can make quitting alcohol easier:
1. You Can Cut Back Gradually
Nobody on the planet looks forward to alcohol withdrawal. One of the big advantages of medication for alcoholism is that it can help with this transition. Some medications, such as gabapentin and baclofen, can help manage withdrawal symptoms. Still others, like naltrexone, can help you wean off alcohol over time.
Naltrexone works by reducing the pleasurable effects of alcohol. The result is that many people gradually lose interest in drinking as much. As time goes by, many people are able to cut back to a few drinks a week, or even complete abstinence. The advantage of this approach is that it lets you establish new habits, and reinforce them over months or years. Naltrexone can support you to make changes that are truly permanent. And acamprosate, by reducing craving, can help to keep you sober once you have stopped drinking alcohol entirely.
2. Abstinence Isn’t the Only Option
The idea of never drinking again can be intimidating. One big advantage of medication is that you don’t need to quit completely. For people who take naltrexone long-term, drinking the occasional beer is a possibility. As long as you take the medication, the pleasurable feelings of alcohol will be blocked. Drinking beer will have the same effect as drinking soda, and won’t trigger a relapse.
This can be a game-changer for people concerned about how sobriety will affect their social lives. It can also help you avoid the stigma associated with recovery. If you can still have one or two drinks at large gatherings, you don’t have to discuss your relationship with alcohol if you don’t want to.
3. Medication Can Reset Your Brain Chemistry
When you become dependent on alcohol, your brain changes. Certain natural brain chemicals1 that regulate your nervous system are replaced by alcohol, so your body makes less of them. At the same time, other brain chemicals start to go unchecked unless you are drinking. This means that when you quit, you have a lot of readjusting to do.
Medications such as acamprosate, gabapentin, topiramate, and baclofen can all help you adapt more quickly. By replacing the role of alcohol in your brain, or resetting your receptors and synapses, these medications help you avoid unpleasant side effects like anxiety, depression, and insomnia. And since these are all common drinking triggers as well, treating them with medication can help you stay strong in early recovery.
4. Medication Can Make You Less Interested in Alcohol
Part of the struggle of quitting is wishing you could have one more drink. Some medications, like baclofen, can help eliminate that feeling.
Baclofen is an off-label medication generally used for muscle spasms. A French cardiologist named Olivier Ameisen discovered that it limited alcohol cravings in the 2000s, used it to cure his addiction, and wrote a book about it. Since then, baclofen has gained a loyal following. Many people who have used it report that their interest in alcohol has completely disappeared.
While baclofen doesn’t work for everyone, there are other medication options that reduce cravings as well, including topiramate, gabapentin, acamprosate, and naltrexone. Each of these medications works differently. All, however, can change how you feel about drinking, making it much easier to quit or cut back.
5. Controlling Physical Addiction Lets You Focus On Other Challenges
For many, especially those who self-medicate, alcohol dependency has several layers. Often, the physical, emotional, and mental aspects are intertwined. Gaining control of all at once can be complicated.
By rewiring brain chemistry, repressing cravings, and helping you set new habits, medication knocks out much of the physical compulsion to drink. If your drinking stems from a genetic tendency towards alcoholism2, or social habits when you were younger, this might solve a lot of the problem. And for those struggling with depression, anxiety, or trauma, controlling physical cravings can make it easier to focus on the emotional or mental aspects of addiction.
Learning More About Medication for Alcoholism
More than half a dozen good medication options already exist for treating alcoholism, and research is ongoing. You can learn about the pros and cons of each through our in-depth, online guide to medication for alcoholism. With a number of different choices available, there may be one that is perfect for your individual circumstances.
Gaining Access to Medication
Rehab programs can be expensive, and doctors who specialize in addiction can be hard to find. That’s why a new wave of telemedicine companies is working to bridge this gap. Ria Health now offers alcoholism medication prescriptions as part of our online program. Members also get access to coaching, medical supervision, support groups, and digital tools to track their progress. The whole thing can be done from your smartphone, and is even covered by many insurance plans. Read more about how it works here, or sign up for a call to learn more today.