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Anti Addiction Medications to Treat Alcohol Dependency

Naltrexone and acamprosate are approved by Health Canada for treatment of alcoholism. In lieu or in addition to counseling and rehabilitation therapy techniques, drugs are sometimes used to for additional treatment in some of the more severe cases. Some drugs are specifically designed to reduce the cravings for alcohol, while others cause one to experience symptoms of aversion if they have a drink; in essence conditioning their body to reject alcohol.

Canada has legally approved three drugs that can be used for treatment of alcoholism.

Drugs That Reduce Alcohol Cravings

Naltrexone and Acamprosate, classified as opioid antagonists, help to reduce the craving feeling for alcohol in a recovering alcoholic, and also serve to alleviate some of the effects of alcohol on a person's system.

Naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol)

This anti-craving drug is a short-term use drug for individuals with serious alcoholism. There are two forms of this drug that can be administered: Vivitrol is injected once a month, and ReVia is a pill that is taken once daily.

There are some temporary side effects that can be associated with naltrexone, including nausea, headaches, feelings of fatigue, and pain in the stomach area. In rare cases, a high dosage of this drug can increase the risk for liver damage. It is not recommended that naltrexone be prescribed to a patient that has recently used other narcotic substances.

The injection Vivitrol is often prescribed in lieu of the pill form because many individuals find it hard to remember to take the pill each day. Sometimes there might be an infection or an abscess at the injection area, and patients are advised to report any bruising, swelling or pain to their doctors.

In some cases this drug does not deliver the desired effect. Some research attributes this to specific genes found in some patients that may not be in others. Naltrexone is often used along with the drug acamprosate, which is another anti-craving drug. There is currently research being conducted to measure the results of using the two drugs in conjunction with each other.

Acamprosate (Campral)

Antabuse is an aversion medication that makes one sick when they consume alcohol.

This anti-craving drug causes the brain to inhibit a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This causes the brain to enter into a more relaxed state and also serves to reduce cravings for alcohol. Several studies have been conducted with proven results that acamprosate successfully causes an individual to have the desire to drink less frequently. When prescribed along with psychotherapy, it has a proven effectiveness to enable patients to take steps to better their lives. It has proven effective even in individuals that have been diagnosed with severe alcoholism.

Common side effects associated with the use of acamprosate include headaches and diarrhoea. More severe side effects include problems with memory functions. It is recommended that people who have any problems with their kidneys take caution when on the drug. Acamprosate is also often prescribed in conjunction with other drugs such as naltrexone, another anti-craving drug, and disulfiram, which is classified as an aversion drug.

Anti-Addiction Medication That Causes Aversion to Alcohol

Disulfiram (Antabuse)*

Another type of drug that may be prescribed to inhibit alcohol use is Disulfiram, which is classified as an aversion drug. This drug causes the user to experience uncomfortable side effects when drinking, yet nothing that is ultimately harmful. The drug is meant to condition the mind and body to develop an aversion to alcohol. Some of the side effects a patient might experience when using the drug and having a drink include feeling nausea, headaches, hot sweats, and vomiting. As little as half a drink is all that is needed for the side effects to occur, and they may last up to two hours.

Typically, patients only require one dose taken every 1-2 weeks. There is a dangerous warning regarding an overdose of the drug, which could cause anything from chest pain and low blood pressure to the death of the patient. While taking this drug, it is important for the patient to have a support system in place through friends and family, or buddies in support groups that can ensure the drug is being taken regularly.

*no longer available for treatment in Canada

Additional Drugs

Topiramate (Topamax)

Normally prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy, this anti-seizure drug can also be used to keep impulses in check, and has been studied as a possible drug for the treatment of alcoholism. One study in which individuals with alcohol dependency had been prescribed topiramate resulted in longer periods of abstinence for the patients. Side effects that were exhibited included a loss of concentration, a sensation of itching and burning skin, and no appetite.

Baclofen (Lioresal)

This drug is currently being studied to see if it yields any benefit in helping patients stay abstinent. The drug is a muscle relaxant and anti-spasmodic, and is currently being researched with patients that have alcoholic cirrhosis.

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