Medications for Alcohol Treatment
Alcohol is widely used throughout the United States. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that an estimated 50% of Americans aged 12 or over (138.5 million people) reported that they had consumed alcohol within the previous month (a time frame that indicates “current use” of alcohol).1 While many of these instances no doubt involve drinking responsibly, alcohol misuse and addiction can and does occur.
When someone drinks alcohol heavily for extended periods of time, they run the risk of experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal if they cut back on their alcohol intake or stop drinking completely.2 Withdrawal from alcohol can be uncomfortable, painful, and even life threatening. Alcohol withdrawal side effects range from mild to severe and may include anxiety, nausea and vomiting, increased blood pressure and heart rate, tremors, and seizures. As someone goes through withdrawal, during medically managed detox, there are medications that can help them more comfortably and safely go through the process.
This page will explain more about what an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is, what to expect from alcohol withdrawal, how medication for both alcohol withdrawal and longer-term treatment can facilitate detox and recovery, what other supports are available, and how insurance plays a role in accessing these treatment medications for alcohol.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
An AUD is a chronic brain condition characterized by continued drinking despite alcohol’s ongoing negative impact to your thoughts, behaviors, and various aspects of your health.2 People with an AUD often struggle to stop drinking even if they want to or have experienced a wide range of negative consequences to various areas of their lives.3 Contributing to the cycle of compulsive drinking is the fact that chronic heavy alcohol use can lead to changes in the brain such that when alcohol use is stopped, uncomfortable and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms may arise. The phenomenon of withdrawal is taken into consideration as one of several diagnostic markers for alcohol use disorders. When it is present, it can make it additionally difficult to stop drinking without help.4,5
Other signs and symptoms that professionals use to make a diagnosis of an AUD include the following:2,3
- Drinking more or drinking over a longer period than intended.
- Having a hard time cutting back or stopping drinking, even if you really want to.
- Spending a lot of your time getting alcohol, drinking it, or recovering from its effects.
- Experiencing cravings or strong urges to drink.
- Alcohol gets in the way of important responsibilities, such as those at school, work, or at home.
- You can’t stop drinking even if it has caused or worsened problems with other people or in your relationships.
- Taking time away from activities you once enjoyed because of your current alcohol use.
- Repeatedly showing impaired judgment while drinking, such as getting behind the wheel or having unprotected, risky sex.
- Inability to stop drinking even after you know it has caused or worsened a physical or mental health issue.
- Developing tolerance or needing increasing amounts of alcohol to become intoxicated.
Am I Addicted to Alcohol?
Take our “Am I Addicted to Alcohol” self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with alcohol addiction. The self-assessment consists of 11 “Yes” or “No” questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the probability and severity of a substance use disorder (SUD). The test is free and confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.
Check Your Insurance for Alcohol Addiction Treatment
If you are looking for alcohol addiction treatment, it can feel overwhelming. As you consider your options, knowing exactly what your insurance plan covers can give you peace of mind while you or your loved one is in rehab. You can do the work of getting and staying sober without worrying about unexpected costs or financial struggles. For more information on what your insurance plan covers, call AAC at , click here, or fill out the form below.
What is Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT)?
Medication for addiction treatment (MAT) refers to using medications paired with behavioral therapy to treat an AUD.6 There are currently three medications that are FDA-approved to treat AUD. Though each of these works quite differently from each other, they all can be used to decrease continued drinking and help improve treatment outcomes.7 Alcohol use disorder medications include acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.6,7 All three can be taken orally, and naltrexone for alcohol use disorder may also be offered as a long-acting injectable, to be administered once a month.3,7
Alcohol treatment medications function very differently from one another and are ideally used as one part of a larger treatment plan that is developed to meet your needs.6 Since everyone will respond to a medication for alcoholism differently, it is important to meet with a medical provider to discuss your needs and preferences so you can work together and figure out which medication and other supports will best help you achieve your goals.7
The various medications for alcohol addiction can help decrease the likelihood of relapse and deter continued drinking by limiting the rewarding or euphoric effects associated with alcohol, providing an aversive response to alcohol consumption, and balancing brain chemistry previously disrupted by chronic alcohol exposure and alcohol withdrawal.11 These medications to stop drinking alcohol and reduce cravings are not habit-forming and can be used alone or combined with behavioral therapy or mutual-support groups.3,6
An FDA-approved medication to treat AUD, acamprosate is for individuals who are in recovery and are no longer drinking.
What Does it Do?
Acamprosate helps prevent individuals from drinking but does not help with withdrawal symptoms after an individual consumes alcohol. It is recommended for those who are not drinking and do not want to resume drinking. This medication must be started after you have fully detoxed from alcohol and does not work if you are currently drinking or abusing any type of substances. Acamprosate must be taken regularly, three times a day, and works by relieving some persistent withdrawal symptoms that can linger for weeks or months in certain people. It also works to lessen cravings to drink, especially early in recovery, and may work best on people with severe dependence.6-8
How Does it Do That?
Acamprosate works by counteracting the imbalance between the GABAergic and glutamatergic systems which are linked with alcohol withdrawal and chronic alcohol exposure. This helps reduce protracted symptoms of protracted abstinence, which sometimes includes anxiety, insomnia, and dysphoria.7,8
Possible Side Effects
Side effects that may occur with the use of acamprosate include nausea, diarrhea, appetite loss, dizziness, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.6
Who’s it Good For?
Acamprosate may be most effective in individuals with severe addictions.7
Another medication that is commonly used to treat AUD is disulfiram, sometimes known as Antabuse.
What Does it Do?
Disulfiram works by impairing alcohol breakdown in your body, resulting in a very unpleasant reaction should you consume alcohol while this medication is in your system. If you drink alcohol while taking this medication, you may quickly experience unpleasant symptoms such as flushed skin, headaches, and nausea. Such symptoms can make you much less likely to drink while regularly taking it.9
How Does it Do That?
Acetaldehyde builds up in the body because disulfiram interferes with the breakdown of alcohol. Knowing that unpleasant symptoms may occur may act as a deterrent to drinking.7,8
Possible Side Effects
Potential, unpleasant side effects that can occur soon after drinking even a little alcohol can include allergic dermatitis, skin/acneiform eruptions, impotence, mild drowsiness, metallic or garlic-like aftertaste, and fatigue.6
Who’s It Good For?
This medication works best for people who are very focused on maintaining sobriety and can be used on an as-needed basis, such as situations where they will be exposed to alcohol and do not want to relapse. It is especially effective for those who have completed detox or are just beginning abstinence.6,7
The third medication used to treat an AUD, naltrexone is available as a pill that can be taken daily or as a long-acting injection given monthly to make it easier for people who are less likely to take pills regularly.8
What Does it Do?
Naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist, blocks opioid/endorphin receptors, thus interfering with some of the reinforcing or rewarding effects of drinking and alcohol craving.7 This can help to reduce the urges you have to drink, make you less likely to continue drinking, and lessen the likelihood of relapse.7
How Does it Do That?
Naltrexone binds to the body’s endorphin/opioid receptors and blocks the feelings and effects of alcohol.10 Without those effects and feelings, people may maintain their sobriety and experience reduced alcohol cravings.6 This can reduce the risk of relapse for some patients.7
Possible Side Effects
Side effects from naltrexone may include headache, vomiting, sleepiness, decreased appetite, joint pain, muscle cramps, and trouble sleeping.10
Who’s it Good For?
Naltrexone helps reduce relapse to heavy drinking and works effectively in certain patients. It is useful for those who are looking to reduce alcohol cravings and how much alcohol they consume.10
Types of Medication for Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable, and, in severe cases, they can be life threatening.11 To make the withdrawal process more comfortable and safer, detox medication for alcohol can be prescribed. Relatively long-acting benzodiazepines, which act on similar areas of the brain as alcohol, are commonly used to manage alcohol withdrawal and minimize the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures.8,11 Once your condition is stable, your dose will be slowly decreased as you complete detox from alcohol and transition into additional rehabilitation or treatment.11 Two benzodiazepines indicated for use in managing alcohol withdrawal include:8,11
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium). This is a long-acting benzodiazepine widely used for alcohol withdrawal, as it lessens symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and provides prophylaxis against seizures.
- Diazepam (Valium). This is another relatively long-acting benzodiazepine that can relieve acute withdrawal symptoms such as agitation, tremor, and hallucinations, and reduce the risk of developing delirium tremens or seizures.
Do Rehab Programs Use Medication for Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol medications are commonly used to treat alcohol use disorder, but whether a program incorporates medications into your alcohol addiction detox, treatment and recovery can depend on various factors. Some facilities may not utilize medications in their treatment protocol, but even for those that do, not all treatment medications will be a good fit for everyone.7 Treatment plans, including which medications are used, should be tailored to each person’s individual needs.3,7 When you first begin treatment, a thorough assessment will be conducted to gather information about your substance use, physical health, mental health, and any other issues that you may have that might influence whether medications are used or not.8
The information provided during your assessment will be used to determine a treatment plan, which may include being prescribed medication to help with your sobriety, as well as incorporating other supports.7,8 These medications can’t cure AUD, but they can help you stay focused on reducing or eliminating your drinking and lower your risk of relapse.
Additional Support Provided for Alcohol Rehabilitation
Medication can be an extremely helpful tool in the recovery process, but it may be more effective when combined with other treatments and supports.6,9 Combining multiple techniques can be a good way to address the various ways in which AUD affects your life. Specific therapeutic types, settings, and additional supports that may be encountered during treatment may include:7-9,
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which works to change behaviors by addressing unhealthy patterns of thoughts, identifying risky situations, developing coping strategies to lessen risk, improving problem-solving skills, increasing motivation to stay sober, and learning how to manage stress.
- Family support, which can include attending family counseling sessions or support group meetings to learn how to work together to solve issues, communicate better, and support each other more effectively throughout the recovery process.
- Group and individual counseling, which provide different settings to receive therapy. Group counseling offers a setting where you can give and receive support, while individual counseling offers more privacy to address personal issues in depth.
- Self-help meetings, including 12-step meetings and similar mutual support groups where you can build peer supports as you develop healthy coping skills and strategies to prevent relapse. The incorporation of 12-step or other mutual support programs into treatment can be helpful long after the initial period of treatment has ended, often serving as a valuable recovery support for years, if not indefinitely.
How to Find Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs for Alcohol Addiction Near Me
For more information about medication-assisted treatment for alcohol addiction, you may want to reach out to your doctor. You can also call an alcohol hotline to speak with someone who can guide you. Or you can contact one of our admissions navigators at for the information and support you are looking for as you look for alcohol addiction treatment.
There are various treatment programs for individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, so don’t give up if the first program you check out doesn’t meet your individual needs or accept your insurance. There are rehabs near me that can provide the treatment you need. Check out the directory to find a list of facilities and programs.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) has various rehab facilities around the country that provide drug and alcohol addiction treatment. The following AAC facilities may incorporate MAT as part of your individualized treatment program.
- Desert Hope Treatment Center: Located in Las Vegas, Nevada.
- Greenhouse Treatment Center: Located in Grand Prairie, Texas.
- Laguna Treatment Hospital: Located in Orange County, California.
- Oxford Treatment Center: Located in Etta, Mississippi.
- River Oaks Treatment Center: Located in Riverview, Florida.
- Sunrise House Treatment Center: Located in Lafayette Township, New Jersey.
- Recovery First Treatment Center: Located in Hollywood, Florida.
- AdCare Rhode Island: Various facilities located in Rhode Island.
FAQs Regarding Alcohol Use Disorder Medication