Alcoholism Medical Treatment: Prescription Drug Options

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  JANUARY  15 ,
2021 | 3 Sources

Some people who become addicted to alcohol seek alcoholism medical treatment. Currently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved three drugs to help alcoholism. This article examines each of the three drugs, how they work, and some studies on the medication’s effectiveness.

However, it should be noted that these prescriptions usually have counseling attached, and that no medication can stop a person from drinking.

Alcoholism Medical Treatment – Good Candidates

All of the drugs to help alcoholism depend on a person’s readiness to make a change in their life. In effect, each person on prescription alcoholism medication should become a partner in the process of getting well.

Only about 1 in 10 people who have alcohol addiction ever gets medical treatment (in part) because they do not feel they have a problem. People who feel they don’t have a problem are not good candidates for the prescription route.

Those who do seek medication to help with abstinence must be prepared to stay in treatment. Overall those committed to long-term efforts are also those who succeed in overcoming their addiction. There is no “miracle” cure for alcoholism.

The drugs to help alcoholism – Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Acamprostate - are all intended to either help a person stop drinking, or to help stave off cravings once a person begins abstaining.


Also known a Antabuse, Disulfirm was the first drug approved for treating alcohol dependence. The basic premise is simple, if a person drinks while taking this drug they become ill. Akin to behavioral training, over time the mind begins to associate drinking with being sick, which helps a person stay abstinent.

A person’s normal metabolism breaks down alcohol in the liver then converts it. Disulfiram blocks that process, making a person highly sensitive to negative effects. Within 10 minutes of drinking the individual begins experiencing hangover like symptoms that can last several hours. These symptoms include headache, nausea, and confusion.

The effects of Disulfiram as an alcoholism medical treatment are cumulative. The longer a person takes it, the stronger it becomes. Even if they stop taking the drug it can still affect them for up to two weeks. Therefore, it’s vital that the patient stop drinking before starting this protocol or they can become very, very ill.

In a 1986 study of drugs to help alcoholism, those who took Antabuse, compared to other relapse patients who did not get the medication, drank less frequently.


Naltrexone was approved by the FDA in 2006. This drug blocks the euphoric feeling from alcohol, reducing cravings in alcoholics. It can, however, have an adverse effect on the liver and requires monitoring (especially since many alcoholics already have compromised livers).

Studies indicate that individuals who use Naltrexone are less prone to relapse and have a higher success rate for quitting drinking. As with Disulfiram this medication shows increased success when combined with supportive counseling.

Here is more on the sinclair method, which uses this medication to treat alcoholism.


Acamprosate (also known as Campral) was approved by the FDA in 2004 after many years of use in Europe. This particular alcoholism medical treatment is intended to restore balance in the brain and decrease the emotional distress of withdrawal. Compared to the other two drugs to help alcoholism discussed in this article, this one also lessens tensions, sleep disorders and other symptoms that may occur when a person stops drinking.

This medication gets taken three dimes daily, and works best when combined with some type of recovery therapy.

alcoholism-medical-treatmentPhoto by Carolina Heza

As with the other two medications it should be noted that there are some side effects, which may include headaches, diarrhea and upset stomach.

All of these drugs to help alcoholism have different success rates for different people. Much depends on how long a person has been addicted to alcohol and how committed they are to the process of getting well. These medications do not "cure" an addiction but they can certainly make life easier for those who choose abstinence over illicit substances. If you are considering using medication to treat your alcoholism consider consulting with your doctor or health care professional first.

Can Other Alcoholism Programs and Treatments Be Used with Medications?

Yes. Most of these medications can be used in conjunction with other alcoholism programs and treatments like counseling, support groups, acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, hypnosis and 12-step programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous) to make it easier to get medical treatment for alcoholism.

However, the medications should not be used on their own or with each other. The patient must seek out some type of supportive therapy in order to have a better chance at a full recovery from alcoholism.

The Time to Quit is Now!

If you or your loved ones are suffering from alcoholism, the time to quit is now! There are many treatment programs and medications to help you on your road to sobriety and recovery. Contact a dedicated treatment provider today.


There are several types of drug to help alcoholism. These include medications such as disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone (Revia or Vivitrol) and acamprosate (Campral). These drugs work by helping the alcoholic overcome cravings for alcohol and also lessening the physical effects of withdrawal when they stop drinking. However, it is important to note that medication alone will not create a full recovery from alcoholism.

The patient must be willing to seek out some type of supportive therapy in order for it to be effective. This may include attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, getting counseling and finding ways to deal with triggers that cause them to drink again.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

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