Alcohol Abuse Sufferers Are Ill-Informed About Medication Therapy

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Alcohol Abuse Sufferers Are Ill-Informed About Medication Therapy

According to health officials, medications that effectively help treat alcohol abuse are often overlooked by both doctors and patients. Two such medications are acamprosate and naltrexone, both indicated to minimize alcohol cravings.

George Koob, director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

“They’re very safe medications. And they’ve shown efficacy.”

In a 2014 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association findings revealing that both medications were associated with “reduction in return to drinking.” While addiction is best treated using multiple approaches, such as group support, therapy, and counseling, medication can be an important component – especially in the prevention of relapse.

According to the NIAAA, 18 million American suffer from alcohol use disorders, yet only 1.5 million adults actually received treatment at a facility.


“We want people to understand we think AA is wonderful, but there are other options. Let a thousand flowers bloom, anything helps.”

About the Drugs

Naltrexone is currently available as an oral tablet and injection (Vivitrol.) It was approved in 1994 for the treatment of alcohol addiction. It is also commonly used for opioid addiction. It is generally reported as having few side effects.

Acamprosate is a tablet approved in 2004 for the same purpose.

A third drug, which not work against alcohol cravings, is disulfiram (Antabuse). It makes people severely ill when they consume alcohol, but has been found less effective at treating alcohol abuse than the other drugs.

It is actually somewhat rare for a person suffering from alcoholism to known about medication therapy. This is partially due to the tradition of approaching addiction 12-step programs and group support, and also due to to poor marketing of the drugs. For example, when naltrexone was released, there were misunderstandings about how the drug worked, and to whom it should be prescribed. The makers of naltrexone ceased marketing the medication in the late 1990’s.

In addition, the use of naltrexone for opioid addiction has also confused the issue. Because the drug blocks the effects of opioids in the brain, users who have not already detoxed will soon begin suffering from significant withdrawal symptoms.

Drinkers, however, do not have the same experience as opioid addicts. Alcoholics who continue to drink on the drug will still have some effects of drinking, but will not achieve the same reward reinforcement in the brain. Over time, alcohol becomes less and less interesting to the alcoholic brain.


Of note, in some areas it is difficult to obtain these medications without specifically seeing an addiction specialist. That is, regular family physicians may not be able to authorize them.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A, Psychology

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