Medications For Alcoholic Treatment

by Christian Miller

Posted on Friday 13th of March 2009

Alcoholism is a problem which afflicts over 14 million Americans, almost 8% of the population of the United States. The majority of alcohol rehabilitation programs in use today have a low success rate, as a result many people have turned to medications in order to limit or stop their drinking problem. Two types of medications are currently used in the treatment of alcoholics, Aversive Medications and Anticraving Medications.

Aversive Medications stop a person from drinking and were one of the first types of medications used in the treatment of people with an alcohol problem. Disulfiram was being used as early as the 1940's. This early aversive medication caused nausea and even vomiting and other reactions when the person taking it also ingested alcohol. Frequently this is how these types of medications work. Unfortunately many studies have shown that unless properly supervised many of the people on aversive medications will continue to drink despite the physical symptoms that it produces. Indeed prolonged drinking while taking the medication can hinder its effectiveness.

Anticraving Medications are taken to reduce an individuals desire to drink. It is many pharmacologists belief that the desire to drink is caused by brain chemicals, and that these chemicals can be blocked with the right drugs. The two most common medications in use today are Naltrexone and Acamprosate.

Naltrexone is one of those medications that made headlines when it was one of the first to be approved by the FDA for the treatment of alcoholism. Naltrexone works by blocking the actions of certain brain chemicals called endogenous opioids. The endogenous opioids work with alcohol in a persons system to create feelings of euphoria and reducing anxiety. By blocking this effect Naltrexone is believed to lessen or completely eliminate the positive side effects from consuming alcohol. The theory is that without the positive effects a person will no longer sustain the desire to drink.

Acamprosate also works to eliminate the desire to drink by eliminating the the cravings for drinking alcohol. The major difference between Naltrexone and Acamprosate is that Acamprosate is not yet available in the United States. While it has been widely studied in Europe the exact chemical reason that it works is still unknown. It is believed that it interferes with receptors in the brain which process glutamate, which in effect alters the way ones body reacts to alcohol intake. Several of the European studies show a lot of promise with Acamprosate in that some of the patients had an almost double success rate for staying sober.

The problem with relying on just one or two medications for the treatment of alcoholism is that there are often other physical and mental health issues from the long term consumption of alcohol. Frequently long term alcoholics suffer from other psychiatric issues such as depression and anxiety. These other factors have to be taken into account when considering the overall treatment of the individual patient. In many cases it will be unclear as to wether the psychiatric problems started the drinking problem or vice versa. Alcoholism is a complex problem that requires everything in a caregivers arsenal to help the patient back on the road to sobriety.

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