The Effectiveness of Drug Treatments for Alcoholism

Man struggling with alcoholism

The FDA has approved three drugs for the treatment of alcoholism and a fourth has been showing significant promise in clinical trials. The three drugs are Antabuse, Naltrexone, Campral, and Topamax.

Use of Drugs for Alcoholism

Antabuse was approved over 50 years ago for the treatment of alcoholism. It works by interfering with the body’s ability to absorb alcohol. It interferes with the absorbson of alcohol, resulting in the accumulation of acetaldehyde, which can produce unpleasant reactions to ingesting alcohol, such as, flushing, nausea, and palpitations.

One of the limitations for this drug is that individuals decide that the drug is not a ‘good’ thing to take due to the side effects, and they stop taking it. It does not take away the addicts craving and when treating alcoholics with

Antabuse, it is most effectively done so when it is monitored by a professional or expert.
Naltrexone is the second drug that can help reduce the ‘high’ that alcoholics get from drinking and blocks receptors in the brain for endorphins, which elevate mood. Naltrexone works by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for ‘reward’ and ‘feel good’ center in the brain. It also blocks the region for cravings of alcohol, and reduces those urges.

In some studies, it has shown to reduce relapse in problem drinkers. In clinical studies, Naltrexone has shown to reduce the amount of relapses of those who drink 4 or more drinks per day. This drug stops the pleasure of drinking so those who take this drug will still engage in alcohol, but do not ‘feel’ like have more than 1 or 2 typically.

Man thinking and watching the sea on the beachThe third drug, Campral, responds to chemical messengers in the brain. This drug has been shown to help alcohol dependent persons maintain abstinence for several weeks to months. It reduces the symptoms that addicts experience when they are abstain from alcohol for long periods of time, such as insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and mood shifts that could lead to relapse. This drug has been tested in European studies

Topamax is still in trial studies for use with alcoholism. It is currently approved by the FDA for the treatment of seizures. It acts similarly to Campral and could help individuals avoid or reduce the symptoms associated with long-term abstinence.

Benefits and Risks With Medication Management

Even though these drugs are effective in helping with cravings, pleasure effects of intoxication, and abstinence, a number of behavioral therapies have also been shown to be effective in treatment of alcoholism. There does not seem to be a strong indicator for a combination of behavioral or medicinal treatment.

The research shows that seeking and receiving help is one of the most important factors in recovery. The National Institute on Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Naltrexone was found to be as effective as 20 sessions of behavioral psychotherapy (when monitored and administered by a medical doctor).

In another study by the NIAAA, Campral (studied both in singular use and in conjunction with Naltexone) showed that there was no apparent benefit to using the drug. The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 found that Topamx was better than placebo at reducing the rates of intense drinking in days over a 14-week period.

Understanding Your Options

Clinical Director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts states that “medications can sometimes reduce the desire to drink. It can weaken the response that people get to alcohol, to make it less reinforcing, and the can, depending on which medications used, can help reduce protracted, longer-term withdrawal symptoms.”

Addiction can be managed successfully due to the fact that treatment can counteract addictions powerful disruptive effects on the brain as well as behavior to regain control over personal lives.

Woman struggling with alcoholismAccording to various research which tracks individuals in treatment over extended periods and most people who get into and remain in treatment, stop using drugs, decrease criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning.

In conclusion, drug therapy can be very effective in the treatment of alcohol addiction. Using with the direction of a medical doctor or at a higher level care facility is the most effective way to start treatment. Even though drug therapy can aid in many of the symptoms and urges of addiction, therapy can help get at the root causes of the addiction itself.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Which do you find most effective in treatment? Do you feel that counseling is better than medicine treatment (or vice versa) and why?

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) who works with individuals and families in the area of eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons works in the metropolitan St. Louis area and has been practicing in the field for 11 years. Libby is also trained in Family Based Therapy (FBT) to work with children-young adults to treat eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons has prior experience working with the United States Air Force, Saint Louis University, Operating Officer of a Private Practice, and currently works with both Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute within their Eating Disorders Program and Fontbonne University



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 7, 2016
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.