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How to Get Access to Medication for Alcoholism

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

The condition known as alcoholism is now considered a medical condition by the healthcare community. Whether you call it a medical condition, a disease, or something else, there are numerous treatment options available to anyone suffering from an alcohol problem. Those treatments may or may not include medication for alcoholism as determined by a physician.

It should be noted that alcohol medication is not a cure in and of itself. As we say in the recovery community, the only true cure for alcoholism is abstinence. Medication is only used to encourage abstinence and reduce alcohol cravings. It cannot force abstinence; therefore, medication is not a cure by itself. Doctors who prescribe medications always do so in concert with additional therapies that can include counselling and group support.

Our question for you is this: do you suspect you are suffering from alcohol abuse or dependence? If not, are you concerned about a friend or family member who may be an alcoholic? We can help in both cases. We are an independent organisation that specialises in helping those struggling with alcohol get connected with treatment providers and support systems. All of the services we offer are fully confidential and completely free.

Getting Medication for Alcoholism

It should be obvious that anti-alcohol medication is not available over-the-counter in your local pharmacy. You can only get it with a prescription from your doctor or from a nurse practitioner who is providing outpatient alcohol treatment. That means the first step in taking advantage of medication is to either make an appointment to see your doctor or enrol in a private treatment programme at a residential clinic.

Medications designed for alcohol treatment work in one of two ways. First, three of the four drugs recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence help alcoholics by reducing cravings. The first of these drugs is known as acamprosate. It works by controlling the levels of gamma-amino-butyric acid in the system, thus helping to reduce cravings for alcohol.

The other two drugs, known as naltrexone and nalmefene, also reduce cravings. The main difference is that these target opioid receptors rather than gamma-amino-butyric acid. Opioid receptors are responsible for the feelings of pleasure induced by drinking, so blocking them reduces the pleasurable effects of alcohol. When drinking does not produce pleasurable feelings, cravings are reduced.

The second method for using medication for alcoholism is to prescribe a drug that actually makes drinking unpleasant. That is the entire purpose of a drug known as disulfiram. This drug creates symptoms, very similar to a severe hangover, within minutes of drinking. The drug makes the body so sensitive to alcohol that doctors who prescribe it also warn patients to stay away from things such as aftershave, mouthwash, and certain kinds of perfumes that may include alcohol.

Disulfiram is a drug that is typically used to prevent relapse after a formal treatment programme has been completed. It is one medication for alcoholism that can act as a very strong motivator not to return to drinking.

Undergoing a Medical Assessment

Because medication for alcoholism is prescription-based, you would need to undergo a medical assessment before having access to it. A medical assessment is necessary in light of how seriously alcohol affects the mind and body. For the alcoholic, that medical assessment is even more necessary. Why? Because withdrawing from alcohol is considered a medical emergency that, if unsupervised, could lead to severe injury or eventual death.

You would undergo a medical assessment conducted by a doctor, nurse or recovery specialist prior to determining what kind of treatment programme is right for you. In the event you chose to be treated at a private residential clinic, you would receive your assessment immediately upon arrival. The care team assigned to your case would then use the results of that assessment to create a bespoke treatment plan for you.

A good medical assessment looks at a number of things, including:

  • your overall health
  • how much alcohol you normally consume
  • the length of time you have been drinking
  • any additional physical or mental conditions
  • your past medical and substance abuse history.

One of the things a medical assessment is designed to do is to reveal the presence of a dual diagnosis scenario. A dual diagnosis occurs when a person is diagnosed with both alcohol addiction and another competing psychological condition. A simultaneous occurrence of alcoholism and depression is a good example. The reason that doctors need to identify a dual diagnosis is because such scenarios require an entirely different kind of treatment.

Dual diagnosis treatment will likely include medication for alcoholism. Yet it would also include medication for the underlying psychological problem. The tricky thing for doctors is to treat both problems simultaneously without the treatment for one negatively affecting the other. It is not an easy thing to do.

Our experience as an independent advice and referral organisation has allowed us to develop working relationships with literally dozens of private alcohol rehab clinics around the UK. We have access to clinics specialising in dual diagnosis for the benefit of our clients. We can get you connected with such a clinic if it is necessary in your case.

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Other Treatment Options

We do not want anyone reading this guide to come away with the wrong impression about anti-alcohol medication. Please understand that medication for alcoholism is not a cure all by itself. It is just a tool to be used alongside other forms of alcohol treatment. If you are expecting a prescription drug to be a 'magic pill' capable of fixing your alcohol problem instantly, you need to rethink your expectations. It does not work like that.

Depending on the severity and scope of the problem, you may also need:

  • medically supervised detox
  • psychotherapeutic rehabilitation
  • group counselling and support
  • help with nutrition and exercise
  • counselling for your family
  • life skills training.

As far as detox is concerned, it is an absolute necessity for anyone who is currently dependent on alcohol. Dependence is both a physical and psychological issue that cannot be overcome without completely eliminating alcohol from the affected person's life. The fastest and most effective way to do this is detox. The good news about detox is that it is medically supervised at all of the private clinics we work with. Clients can typically complete detox within 7 to 10 days.

You may be eligible for a home detox programme if you are unable to attend an outpatient or inpatient treatment programme and your home environment meets certain conditional requirements. In the case of home detox, you would be visited by a registered nurse who would administer prescription medication and monitor your progress. Home detox would be followed by counselling and group support therapy.

The Time to Act Is Now

We have explained how to get access to prescription medications for alcohol treatment. What you do with this information is entirely up to you. But know this, only you can make the decision to recover from alcoholism. Only you can decide to seek treatment and to commit yourself to that treatment 100%. If anyone tried to force you into wellness, you would probably resist and ultimately fail in treatment.

The time for you to act is right now. If you think you may have an alcohol problem requiring professional treatment, you can contact us on our 24-hour helpline for a full and comprehensive assessment. We would love to be able to tell you that you are not an alcoholic and that you just need a prescription and some counselling. But we also want to help you find a residential treatment programme for alcoholism if that is what you truly need.

Remember, medication for alcoholism is not a cure. Abstinence is. Residential treatment at an inpatient or outpatient clinic is your best chance of achieving and maintaining abstinence for the rest of your life. You can do it, and we want to help. Contact us right away.

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