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Detoxing with Alcoholism Treatment Medications
Depending on the severity and length of an individual’s alcohol use disorder (AUD), detoxing from alcohol can be uncomfortable or downright painful. Some may try to begin the recovery process with a detox at home. Yet the discomfort others experience during the initial days of detox can be too much to handle, causing them to give up and relapse. Those who relapse during detox are less likely to try again. Even worse, some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as delirium tremens and the associated seizures, can be fatal in severe cases. Thus, clinics often prescribe alcoholism treatment medications to ease the process, help with pain, reduce urges to drink, decrease chances of relapse, and keep patients safe.
The most common alcoholism treatment medications are Acamprosate, Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Benzodiazepines. Each affect people in distinct ways and employ different methods in curbing alcohol consumption.
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Acamprosate is a non-narcotic prescribed once the body is free of alcohol. Because, alcohol changes how pleasure sensors in the brain are triggered, Acamprosate works by mending these pathways. The end-result is reduced cravings for alcohol.
After drinking, endorphins flood the brain, creating feelings of extreme happiness. Addictions occur when individuals abuse alcohol for the continued release of endorphins. Studies suggest that heavy drinkers’ brains release more endorphins as they drink; these added effects could contribute to severe alcohol addictions.
Acamprosate is different from other alcoholism treatment medications in that it doesn’t create an alcohol aversion or mitigate its pleasurable effects; it repairs neurochemical pathways to free the brain of cravings. It also doesn’t reduce or stop alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This alcoholism treatment medication hasn’t been shown to work in people who continue to drink. It works best in conjunction with clinical therapy, which promotes abstinence through a holistic approach. The most common brand name for Acamprosate is Campral.
Some side effects of Acamprosate include:
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty falling/staying asleep
Disulfiram was first discovered in the 1930s as an aversion-causing substance when workers handling certain chemicals in a rubber factory became ill after drinking. Today, the odorless, tasteless medication causes an acute, toxic physical reaction when taken before the consumption of alcohol. In the US, Antabuse is the most common brand name for Disulfiram.
The therapeutic reasoning behind Disulfiram as an alcoholism treatment medication is its ability to discourage users from drinking. Whether or not it directly reduces alcohol cravings is unclear. Still, it does prevent the metabolization of alcohol, instead causing intense, adverse reactions.
Negative reactions to alcohol generally start between 10 and 30 minutes after drinking and last an hour or more. Reactions to drinking may still occur up to 2 weeks after the last dose of Disulfiram. Reactions may include:
- Flushed skin on the upper chest and face
- Difficulty breathing
- Breath odor
- Blurred vision
- Head and neck throbbing
- Chest pain
Naltrexone, commonly known as the brand name Revia, blocks “high” feelings that alcohol and some narcotics produce. However, those taking Naltrexone will still experience feelings of impairment associated with alcohol (i.e. loss of balance, confusion, nausea, etc.).
Naltrexone is not a narcotic, nor will it cause any narcotic-like effects or cause a dependence. It works by blocking receptors in the brain from receiving pleasure signals from substances like alcohol or opioids. While taking Naltrexone, some with an alcohol addiction may try to overcome its effects by drinking even more. This can lead to alcohol poisoning or even death.
Common side effects include:
Generally, side effects are mild, resolve without treatment, and take place only during initial therapy.
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Benzodiazepines, commonly known as Benzos, are psychoactive medications that slow the central nervous system. As alcoholism treatment medications, Benzos provide a variety of tranquilizing effects that can be beneficial during alcohol detox. They increase comfortability through the treatment process by preventing the onset of withdrawal symptoms (i.e. insomnia, muscle spasms, seizures, and anxiety disorders).
Two of the most commonly prescribed medications are the long-acting Chlordiazepoxide (brand name, Librium) and Diazepam (Valium). Long-acting Benzos are praised for their delirium prevention and a smoother withdrawal experience. However, Benzos have their own potential for addiction and, ironically, withdrawal symptoms are similar to that of alcohol. Thus, they are usually prescribed for short-term treatment and “as needed.”
Common side effects are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Dependence and abuse
Alcoholism Treatment Medication and Rehab
While some may detox from alcoholism without outside help or medication, a large number of individuals will find greater success in recovery when they contact an addiction treatment facility. Rehab centers are best equipped to handle alcohol detox and withdrawal symptoms that may accompany it and can prescribe medications to ease the process. Clinics and addiction medical providers are also able to prescribe certain alcoholism treatment medications.
If you’re ready to find a treatment facility and start your path to recovery, talk to a provider today.
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