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.
The third medication is Revia, or naltrexone. This medication has also been shown to increase rates of abstinence, as well as decreasing the amount a person drinks if they drink. It also seems to help decrease urges to drink. As with Campral, a person will not get sick if they drink while taking this medication. I should also mention that this medication is available in an injectable form, which is called Vivitrol. Vivitrol must be taken monthly and is given by a shot at the doctor's office.
Again, all of these medications must be prescribed, and if interested, the person's doctor can discuss each of them, including possible side effects. Also, some people may not be able to take these medications for a number of different reasons, and only the person's prescribing doctor can determine whether these medications make sense.
I also want to again state that these medications should be used in combination with other psychosocial treatment. I hope this helps, and if you have any other questions, please let me know.
Send questions about addictions or related problems to: Take The First Step, c/o The Eagle-Tribune, 100 Turnpike St., North Andover, MA 01845; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions will be answered in confidence by a clinical team led by Dr. Michael Levy, director of clinical treatment services at CAB Health & Recovery Services in Peabody and author of "Take Control of Your Drinking...and You May Not Need to Quit."