EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


August 7, 2009

Take The First Step: Medications to help people stop drinking

I have heard that there are a lot of medications that people can take to help them to stop drinking. Can you tell me what they are? Also, do all of them have to be prescribed by a doctor, or can you get them over the counter?

There are basically three medications that have been developed to help individuals who experience an alcohol problem. However, I need to say that all of these should be used in conjunction with psychosocial treatment. While research has shown that they can be helpful, they are not magic pills, and other supports, such as therapy and self-help meetings, should be utilized as well. And let me also say up front that all of them must be prescribed by a physician. There are no medications for the treatment of an alcohol problem that I am aware of that can be purchased over the counter.

The oldest medication that has been around for a long time is Antabuse, or disulfiram. This is an agent that makes people extremely ill if they drink while taking it. Symptoms can include flushing of the skin, a throbbing headache, nausea and severe vomiting, sweating, anxiety, chest pain, respiratory distress, and cardiac arrhythmia. As people who take this medication know that they will get very sick if they drink, it can be used as a deterrent to drink. In addition, people must be very motivated to stop drinking.

Another newer medication is Campral, or acamprosate. Research has shown that this medication helps to reduce strong cravings to drink when a person first stops drinking. It has also been shown to increase rates of abstinence and to decrease the number of days that a person drinks. This medication may be particularly useful for people who experience strong cravings to drink, particularly when they first stopping drinking. If a person drinks when taking this medication, they will not get sick.

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