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The Ultimate Guide to Anti Alcohol Drugs

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Government statistics over the last five or six years have shown an alarming increase in the number of people being admitted to NHS facilities for alcohol treatment. More people than ever before are having to undergo medical withdrawal from alcohol while others are suffering the ravages of liver disease or alcohol-related injuries. It is a problem the medical community is struggling to keep contained.

Treating alcohol abuse or dependence as a medical problem has helped us make great strides in bringing more people to complete recovery. At the heart of many treatments is one of several prescription medications doctors can prescribe to increase the chances of successful recovery. This guide will detail each of the medications and how these work.

If you are suffering from an alcohol problem, you may benefit from one of these medications. However, it is up to a doctor to decide whether or not a prescription is right for you. Please bear in mind that there is no 'magic pill' that can make you stop drinking instantly. All of the anti-alcohol drugs mentioned in this guide will only work if they are accompanied by counselling, support, and any other necessary treatments prescribed by a medical professional.

Acamprosate – Relapse Prevention

Perhaps the most easily recognised anti-alcohol medication on the market is known as acamprosate. This drug is frequently used to assist alcoholics in recovery in order to help prevent relapse. What is relapse? It is returning to one's drinking behaviour after having been free from drinking for a period of time. Most people who relapse do so within the first year of completing an alcohol recovery treatment programme.

Acamprosate works to reduce or stop alcohol cravings altogether by controlling the levels of a particular chemical in the brain known as gamma-amino-butyric acid. This chemical is thought to be a contributor to alcohol cravings. By controlling how much of it the body produces, cravings can be reduced or eliminated entirely.

Acamprosate is prescribed in conjunction with counselling. Counselling is necessary to counteract the psychological effects of alcohol that drug treatment alone cannot address.

Disulfiram – Alcohol Abstinence

People recovering from alcohol may be prescribed disulfiram in order to encourage abstinence. It is a daily medication that is also prescribed to problem drinkers who have not yet reached the level of clinical abuse or alcoholism. It works by creating very unpleasant symptoms should a person consume alcohol while taking the drug.

Have you ever experienced a very severe hangover? Those are the kinds of symptoms produced by disulfiram. If you were to be taking these pills on a daily basis, any consumption of alcohol would bring on the symptoms of a severe hangover within minutes. Those who are given the drug are also warned to be careful of consumer products that may contain alcohol, including mouthwash, aftershave and perfumes.

Disulfiram is not intended as a long-term drug treatment. It is prescribed for a limited amount of time and will require regular visits to a healthcare professional for the purposes of monitoring the patient's health. Medical visits are required every couple of weeks for the first two months and then once per month through until the fourth month of treatment.

Naltrexone – Opioid Blocker

One of the biggest problems in overcoming alcohol dependence is the constant risk of relapse. Naltrexone is yet another prescription medication that can be used to help prevent it. It works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain. This is key because opioid receptors are partly responsible for producing the physical effects associated with drinking, including feelings of pleasure and euphoria. As the thinking goes, people are less likely to consume alcohol if they no longer derive pleasure from it. That's what naltrexone is all about.

A typical treatment involving naltrexone lasts about six months. The drug is often prescribed along with counselling and other medications as determined by a physician. Please note that naltrexone also inhibits the effectiveness of opioid-containing prescription medications. It may not be useful for you if you are taking any of those other prescriptions.

Nalmefene – Alcohol Reduction

There have not been that many new anti-alcohol drugs introduced over the last few decades. But in 2013, the NHS approved a brand-new medication known as nalmefene. Despite quite a bit of controversy, it is now in the same company as the previously medications as a drug recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Nalmefene is designed to help alcohol abusers significantly reduce the amount they drink. It is ideally recommended for problem drinkers who have not yet been clinically diagnosed as alcoholics. However, it can be prescribed to alcoholics as well. It all depends on the decision of the doctor who makes the initial diagnosis.

This drug is similar to naltrexone in that it blocks opioid receptors in the brain. It is believed to be more effective than naltrexone – even for very serious problems – although medical science has not determined exactly why this is the case. It can be prescribed either to prevent relapse or to simply reduce the amount of alcohol consumed.

Nalmefene is always prescribed in conjunction with counselling and other alcohol treatment. The one danger with this drug is that it loses its effectiveness over time if a person either does not reduce alcohol consumption or decides to increase the amount of alcohol consumed in order to enjoy the same amount of pleasure.

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Medication Is Not the Only Solution

It cannot be stressed enough that the prescription medications listed above are not magic pills capable of solving an alcohol dependence problem by themselves. Medications are tools that can be used alongside other treatments to help the alcohol abuser stop drinking once and for all. However, if you rely solely on medication to solve your drinking problem, you will most certainly fail in the end.

Anti-alcohol drugs are intended to help a person who has already made the decision to reduce or stop drinking. Our question to you is this: are you ready to take action yourself to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume? If so, one of these prescription medications might be appropriate for you. That is for a doctor or other alcohol professional to decide.

As an independent referral and advice organisation, we can help you get a good idea of how severe your alcohol problem is. We can walk you through the signs and symptoms you display, then use that information to determine whether you are a problem drinker, alcohol abuser, or alcoholic. We can then refer you to specific treatment programmes available in your local area.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to look at new drugs that might help people overcome drinking problems. Yet you cannot wait to see what may come to market in a few years if you are suffering from an alcohol problem now. We encourage you to call us for a free and comprehensive assessment of your situation. You may discover that you can overcome alcohol with a minimal amount of counselling and one of the anti-alcohol drugs listed above. Or you may find that you need residential treatment at a private alcohol clinic. In either case, we are here to help you with free advice and treatment referrals.

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