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Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol: How It Works

Substance Use Disorder

Recovering from alcohol use disorder is not as easy as it might seem. It requires a great deal of physical, mental, and emotional effort. Ending alcohol consumption for good is more than just no longer actively drinking. Thankfully, medication-assisted treatment for alcohol is one of the top options for those looking to break free from their alcohol use disorder once and for all.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol?

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is a type of treatment modality that works to address the physical and psychological components of a substance use disorder. Most commonly seen in treatment facilities that treat opioid use disorder, medication-assisted treatment is also applicable to those receiving treatment for alcohol use disorder. One of the goals of medication-assisted treatment, whether for opioids or alcohol, is to help control physical and psychological impulses to continue using. Another goal is to help individuals safely detox from alcohol without developing any further health-related complications. 

When medication-assisted treatment is utilized, those who are recovering from alcohol use disorder can benefit in a number of ways. Not only can they better manage their withdrawal symptoms and cravings, but they can also effectively deter themselves from drinking more effectively. Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol helps individuals place their full focus on their therapy, rather than how they are feeling physically. This allows them to gather as much information as necessary without the distraction of feeling unwell. Plus, this type of treatment approach takes a comprehensive approach, allowing for the care of all areas of one’s being. As a result, individuals recovering from alcohol use disorder with medication-assisted treatment can experience a more thorough, effective treatment program. 

Medications Used to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is an extremely serious disease that can be fatal if not properly treated. Not only can the continuation of alcohol consumption lead to physical, mental, social, professional, and legal repercussions, it can also cost a person their lives. Those who are dependent on alcohol (meaning they cannot stop drinking without developing withdrawal symptoms) can experience deadly effects when they make attempts to stop drinking. It is highly recommended for those wanting to end their alcohol consumption to do so in the care of medical and mental health professionals for this reason. The medications listed below explain how beneficial they are in keeping these individuals stable in the early stages of their recovery. 

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, Klonopin, and Xanax, are some of the most prescribed medications in the country. While most frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines can also be used off-label to help treat alcohol withdrawal. They work by depressing the central nervous system, which in turn helps to prevent serious side effects such as seizures, panic, anxiety, sweats, and nausea/vomiting. Typically, those who have benzodiazepines incorporated into their detox plan will be slowly tapered off of them as their symptoms begin to dissipate.

Naltrexone 

Most mentioned when discussing opioid addiction treatment, naltrexone is a medication that is also effective in treating alcohol use disorder. Available in pill form, naltrexone should only be consumed after a person has fully detoxed from alcohol. Failure to wait can result in the onset of withdrawal symptoms. But, when naltrexone is taken as prescribed, it can help to reduce cravings and even make it hard to acquire the feeling of being drunk if a person chooses to drink again. This is a result of naltrexone blocking the opioid receptors in the brain. 

Disulfiram

Disulfiram works in a unique way, as it does not prevent withdrawal symptoms or cravings like most other medications do. Instead, disulfiram works by producing a slew of negative effects if an individual does drink alcohol again. For example, someone who is taking disulfiram and who drinks alcohol is going to develop upsetting symptoms within 10 minutes of their alcohol consumption. These symptoms can include headache, nausea, flushed face, vomiting, chest pain, sweating and weakness. Most people will continue to feel sick for up to an hour after drinking. Disulfiram has proven to be an effective deterrent for those looking to keep from drinking again. 

Acamprosate

Long-term alcohol abuse leads to changes in the brain and its functions. Acamprosate is a medication that can help undo some of the damage the brain has experienced by aiding in the rewiring process. It should only be taken after a person has fully detoxed and may even be combined with other medications like disulfiram or naltrexone. When taking acamprosate, individuals will experience a reduction in lingering withdrawal symptoms and cravings for continued alcohol use. 

These medications should only be used when prescribed by a professional with knowledge of the individual’s substance use history. Depending on the needs of the individual, these medications may be taken for a few weeks, months, or potentially more than a year. It is important to add that these medications are most effective when combined with therapy, such as individual therapy, group counseling, behavioral therapy, etc. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol at My Psychiatrist

If you or someone you love is ready to stop drinking for good, contact My Psychiatrist. We understand how difficult it can be to end active alcoholism on one’s own. Allow us to help you or your loved one make the changes you want by calling us today.

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