And some rehabilitation, counseling and mutual peer-support programs lack prescribers on staff. Studies show that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be effective for those looking to reduce their alcohol consumption. Medications such as naltrexone for AUD are supported by randomized controlled trials, and are shown to reduce the risk of returning to any drinking as well as return to heavy drinking when part of a treatment program. Learning to manage negative emotions is one of the fundamental components of recovery, and you don’t have to do it alone. We encourage you to join Monument for unlimited access to moderated support groups, a 24/7 community forum, and other digital accountability tools. You can also add on appointments with a healthcare provider to discuss your risk for alcohol withdrawal symptoms and align on how to safely cut back.

Consider that 80 percent of people who meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder reported seeing a health care professional in the past year, according to a study last year from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Eventually, I found my way to a primary care physician who specialized in addiction. He advised me that there were other ways to treat alcohol use disorder — namely, medication. He supported 5 Tips to Consider When Choosing a Sober Living House my goal of moderation rather than abstinence and explained that some medications were compatible with cutting back on drinking rather than quitting. Finally, he didn’t put any conditions on my access to medication (like going to rehab or mutual support groups I wasn’t comfortable with). Instead, he took out his prescription pad, encouraged me to make a plan to drink less and scheduled a follow-up appointment.

How is alcohol use disorder treated?

Numerous studies have tested selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (approved for depression), often with disappointing results including counter-therapeutic effects among patients with early-onset alcoholism. However, studies show that these medications (e.g., sertraline) may be efficacious among individuals with later-onset alcoholism (Kranzler et al. 1996; Pettinati et al. 2000) or in combination with naltrexone for patients with major depression (Pettinati et al. 2010). In contrast, ondansetron (a selective serotonin-3 [5HT3] antagonist approved for nausea) shows some efficacy for reducing heavy drinking among patients with early-onset or Type-B alcoholism (Kranzler et al. 2003; Johnson et al. 2000). In a dual diagnosis treatment program, there are medications that will ease the alcohol cravings and provide you with relief from the mental health disorder.

  • Studies show that blocking opiate receptors decreases cravings for alcohol.
  • The optimal dose for alcohol dependence has yet to be established and may be lower than that the target dose of 300 mg per day tested in prior research.
  • Some of these medications have been around for decades, but fewer than 10% of the people who could benefit from them use them.
  • An extended-release, monthly injectable form of naltrexone is marketed under the trade name Vivitrol.
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that people can have when they stop drinking.

During alcohol metabolism, alcohol is converted to acetaldehyde, which then is broken down by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenease. Disulfiram inhibits this later step, leading to a build up of acetalydehyde and results in aversive effects such as nausea, vomiting, palpitations, and headache. Ordinarily, the negative consequences of alcohol consumption (e.g., health problems) are delayed and are uncertain (e.g., your significant other may or may not become angry with you; the police may not apprehend you for drunk driving). Medication compliance can be a problem, however, and disulfiram is most effective when provided with supervised administration by a significant other or health care provider (Krampe and Ehrenreich 2010). The spectrum of unhealthy alcohol use can be addressed in a variety of health care settings, including primary care, specialty practice, and alcohol treatment programs. Medication use in these nonspecialized settings and in a spectrum of patients including nondependent individuals is a recent phenomenon.

Medications for Substance Use Disorders

Ondansetron (Zofran) may decrease alcohol consumption in patients with AUD. Oslin and colleagues (2008) completed the only study that has evaluated the intensity of interventions that primary care providers might use. In this 24-week study, participants received naltrexone or placebo and one of three psychosocial interventions. All participants attended nine brief medication visits with a physician for safety monitoring, brief review of drinking, and dispensing of medications.

  • It covers screening, concomitant treatment, pharmacotherapy, and multiple misused substances.
  • Sometimes this leads to suicide, or suicidal thoughts, and suicidal behavior.

However, some of the side effects of Naltrexone can be very serious and should be carefully monitored. Because Naltrexone may interact with certain Opioids, patients should refrain from use of illegal Opioids and make sure their physician is aware of any medications they are taking. Have a confidential, completely free conversation with a treatment provider about your financial options.


With a vast majority of the substance-using population not reaping the benefits of addiction medications, it is necessary to examine the historical beginnings of addictions treatment to inform adoption recommendations. Currently, research has evaluated alcoholism medications primarily in alcohol-dependent populations. Many individuals, however, drink at harmful levels but do not meet the criteria for dependence and may benefit from medications to augment counseling approaches used with this subgroup of drinkers. One of the strengths of acamprosate is its side-effect profile; the most common side effects are gastrointestinal in nature.

What prescription drug is commonly used to treat alcoholics?

Three medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat alcohol use disorder: acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.

The balance of these systems in the brain of a person who has been drinking heavily for a long time gets thrown off, Holt says. “Acamprosate is designed to level out those abnormalities and provide some stability.” When you drink alcohol while taking naltrexone, you can feel drunk, but you won’t feel the pleasure that usually comes with it. “You’re trying to make that relationship with alcohol have no rewards,” Holt says. Other things, such as having low self-esteem or being impulsive, may raise the risk of alcohol use disorder.

In clinical trials, naltrexone reduced the percentage of heavy drinking days (Pettinati et al. 2006). Recent meta-analyses have indicated that oral naltrexone has modest efficacy over 3 months on preventing relapse to heavy drinking, return to any drinking, and medication discontinuation (Srisurapanont et al. 2005). The standard dose is 50 mg daily, but a multisite study demonstrated that 100 mg daily also was effective when combined with medical management (Anton et al. 2006).

medication for alcoholism

Disulfiram (Antabuse) has been used as an adjunct to counseling and AA with motivated patients to reduce the risk of relapse. Patients are reminded of the risks of adverse effects when tempted to drink. Disulfiram causes nausea, vomiting, and dysphoria with coincident alcohol use. If a patient asks for disulfiram and thinks it will help, it might be worth considering. The COMBINE Study (Anton et al. 2006) tested the efficacy of medications for alcoholism in the context of a medical management model of counseling in contrast to an approach in which patients received medical management and specialist counseling. My addiction medicine specialist eventually prescribed me naltrexone, a drug approved by the FDA nearly 30 years ago and recommended in leading clinical guidelines as a front-line treatment for alcohol use disorder.