Thursday October 30th 2014

Pills to help you stop drinking

If you ask yourself, “Why can’t I stop drinking?” and are ready to quit alcohol, there is good news. Medications can help you reduce drinking, avoid relapse, or abstain from alcohol … even if you’ve already tried 12 step meetings or psychotherapy.

FDA approved medications such as acamprosate, disulfiram and naltrexone can both reduce your desire to drink and promote abstinence. Here, we review how well these medications work and evaluate whether or not more is needed from you.  Can you really stop drinking just by taking pills? We explore here.

Medications to stop drinking

Alcohol use disorder is a medical term for problem drinking. Check out the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test on page 17 of the WHO guidelines for alcohol screening to learn more about how doctors diagnose problem drinking. If you think that you have a drinking problem (or have been diagnosed with one) and want to cut back or stop drinking totally, there are medications which can help you.

The medication you use will depend on your doctor’s judgment and your personal preferences and goals. Be prepared to try the medicine for at least 3 months, although your doctor may recommend that you stay on the medication for a year or longer if the treatment is working. Why so long? Well, because relapse to heavy drinking is very common within the first year of sobriety. But as each medicine has a different mechanism of action and your response may be better to one type of medication than another, be flexible and work with your doctor to achieve your goals. The main pills used to help you stop drinking include:

Acamprosate – Acamprosate acts on the GABA and glutamate neurotransmitter systems and is believed to reduce insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and unpleasant mood which is usually characteristic of intermediate term abstinence from alcohol. Although the effectiveness of Acamprosate is still not proven, Acamprosate has been helpful to people who have determined a goal of abstinence.

Disulfiram – Commonly known as Antabuse, this medication inhibits the intermediate metabolism of alcohol. The idea is that taking Antabuse will motivate you to stay away from drinking in order to prevent the symptoms that drinking will cause. In other words, if you take a Disulfiram tablet and THEN drink, you will get sick. The result is a buildup of acetaldehyde and common reactions include flushing, sweating, nausea, and increased heart rate.

Naltrexone – Naltrexone works by blocking opioid receptors, which results in reduced alcohol craving and reduced reward in response to drinking. Naltrexone particularly helps reduce relapses and is often used for people who experience occasional slips in the first months of sobriety. Naltrexone is less effective in maintaining abstinence.

Can pills help you stop drinking?

Given the evidence from clinical trials, and anecdotal experience…yes, medications such naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram as can help you stop drinking. In fact, people who do not respond to psychosocial approaches alone are particularly strong and responsive candidates for medication treatment. But you must have a willingness to be and stay sober in order to stay off the booze. And furthermore, no single approach is universally successful or appealing to everyone. So, experts recommend that you COMBINE alcohol dependence medications with the full range of effective treatments to increase your chances of staying sober. These include:

In sum, no matter which alcohol dependence medication you use, if you have a goal of abstinence, or if you can abstain from drinking even for a few days prior to starting the medication, you are more likely to have better outcomes. And you cannot rely on medications alone. You will need to identify other treatment options that can work for you in the long run, if you want to stay sober.

Got questions or comments? Leave them in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you.

Reference sources: Medications To Treat Alcoholism
HHS and NIAAA Clinician’s Guide to Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much

Photo credit: the|g|tm

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19 Responses to “Pills to help you stop drinking
J. Hart
5:56 pm October 2nd, 2011

Curious to know if any of the experts are recovering addicts that used any of the pills to aid in their recovery process, and are there any stats available to support the use of the pills efficacy when used in conjunction with other methods?

Doris
9:55 am October 5th, 2011

Dear my 57 years old brother with COPD+CAD+FATY LIVER+Diabeth+Drug&Alcohal abuse, does not stop drinking.
Please tell me how can i help him to stop just alcohal abuse.

8:59 am October 6th, 2011

Hi Doris. I feel your love for your brother as you write about him. You do not have the power to make your brother stop drinking. It is his problem. If he wants help, you can learn about treatment options in your area. Until then, you might want to try out AL-ANON and learn new coping skills for yourself. If it VERY DIFFICULT to have someone in the family drinking themselves to death, but you can remove yourself from the drama and feel healthy again. This is important. Please let me know if we can help you find Al-Anon meetings in your area.

5:23 pm October 12th, 2011

Hi J. Hart – I will look into reports for the efficacy of these pills. That is an interesting point.

J. Hart
10:06 pm October 13th, 2011

Thanks for looking into my questions, i look forward to hearing on any results. J.

ravi sharma
9:13 am December 24th, 2011

my father drink alot alocohol and usually fight with mom and me and his brother without any reason.he is getting weak day by day and say no to go to doctor….plz help me give me some suggestion what should i do?

Darlene
7:18 pm August 3rd, 2012

Are these only available from your Dr.??? Thank you!

11:04 am August 4th, 2012

Hi Darlene. Yes, legally these prescription drugs are only available with a doctor’s prescription.

Marina
7:32 am March 17th, 2013

Are any of these chemicals in anaesthetic? I’ve had three operations in the past year. Following each one for several months I had no desire to drink. It was fabulous. The same has also happened to two friends following operations

Sarah henby
5:25 pm March 20th, 2013

I am 28 years old and addicted to alcohol, I have been drinking for 10 years now on a daily basis. I do not have the money to goto rehab and get detoxed properly. Any suggestions?

2:42 pm March 25th, 2013

Hi Sarah. You can call 1-800-662-HELP and get connected with the National Drug Abuse hotline. They can recommend sliding scale treatment centers or local resources in your area to help.

pulakguha
7:30 am April 27th, 2013

Suggest the best way to leave hard drinking. In case of any medicine can help out, pls specify the name/s with side effect, if any, for Male & Female both.

liam
7:54 pm June 16th, 2013

my prob is, i can drink 10 pints of larger every night, get up the next morning as if nothing happened. i will work 12 hours a day, every day coz im self employed. if i take tablets to stop drinking, will i be drouzey ro will i be capable of working these hours? please some 1 help and give me an answer

aimalkhan
3:58 pm July 2nd, 2013

my elder brother drink very much and he his not willinghly ready to leave drinking please tell me some medicines dr plz

maria wiker
7:28 pm January 11th, 2014

hi,i am a recovery addict(mostely alcohol was my drug of choice) i am sending you this e-mail because i have a question,and that is can i get naltrexone from my family doctor? to block that and is it really true that this works. and does it cost alot of money? thank you,maria

ed w.
10:23 am March 29th, 2014

i have a psychological addiction to beer, just beer. i drink slow and steady so never get drunk as some of my friends might. in fact, i always need to be in control so drink short of a buzz. i have to ask myself, where is the value….why….it has to be psychological.
i used Wellbutrin to stop smoking, it was easy and painless. no cravings for years. i’m looking for a similar medication to get me to stop drinking beer. My liver will be happy and healthier plus i’m sure to lose weight..
recently i had to stop beer for 2.5 days for a medical procedure. i did without a flaw. i did not get the shakes or any negative physical reactions. i only felt anxious, my life was missing something……beer.
i”v e read about a number of potential medications. can someone comment on which may be most appropriate for me. my doctor, and i need to be educated. i do not need beer in my life thus i am motivated.
any feedback or advice would be greatly appreciated

12:56 pm March 31st, 2014

Hello Ed. You’ll need to work with a psychiatrist or medical doctor to figure out which drugs may/may not work for you. A detailed physical and medical history goes into any diagnosis and/or administration of prescription medication.

Lynne
3:28 am May 24th, 2014

I am in my 40′s. I am am alcoholic!! And a cicaine abuser. I have Adhd. The adderal took my cocaine craving away! Does lamictal make your alcohol craving go away from lamictal? I got hormonal aging going onto.?obgot a DUI!! I’m a binge drinker! Need help! In rehab! Not working cuz I love beer!

jason
12:30 am September 9th, 2014

ive been drinking just about every day for 16 long years recently ive tried to stop a few times but always go back to whisky after a month or so do these pills help long term

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