SAMHSA’s National Helpline phone 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Medications for Alcoholism and How They Work

Medications for Alcoholism and How They Work

Medications for alcoholism help get rid of alcohol addiction, as well as cope with a hangover syndrome. Alcoholism is a dependence on ethanol-containing drinks, a form of substance abuse when a person cannot cope with the desire to consume alcohol.

How do alcoholism medications work?

Modern drugs for alcohol dependence have a different composition and different effects, for example:

  • cause an aversion to alcohol, its taste and smell, lower the level of craving for alcohol;
  • block its effect on the nervous system, preventing euphoria from taking the next dose of an alcoholic drink;
  • relieve withdrawal symptoms, relieve intoxication symptoms when leaving a state of intoxication;
  • eliminate mental changes associated with alcohol intake;
  • reduce the degree of exposure to the body of ethanol, neutralizing its effect.

Medications for alcoholism treatment help to cope with this ailment that causes destruction in the family, personal and professional life of the patient. Not everyone can overcome the disease on their own, as proved by scientists. This is based on the launch of a mechanism that gradually causes addiction, slowly but firmly subjugating the patient’s will, forming a stable physical, mental and psychological dependence. Teenage and female alcoholism is especially terrible, which destroys health quickly and irreversibly.

Drugs for alcoholism help to cope with this problem when a person becomes unable to fight the craving for alcohol, regulate the amount of alcohol consumed, and control his or her behavior.

There are 4 main directions in the drug treatment of alcoholism:

  1. Sensitizing anti-alcohol therapy (elimination of pathological craving for alcohol);
  2. Relief of withdrawal symptoms;
  3. Therapy of mental disorders caused by alcohol;
  4. The relief of the pharmacological effect of alcohol (ethyl alcohol).

1. Sensitizing therapy

The purpose of this method is to create a clear conditioned-reflex connection between alcohol intake and the extremely unpleasant consequences of alcoholism. There are many drugs that make alcohol intake physically impossible (for a certain time). This is called “sensitization” (increased sensitivity).

All sensitizing drugs can be divided into 2 groups:

  1. Disulfiram and cyanamide preparations blocking the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme and making alcohol consumption impossible;
  2. Systemic drugs that reduce the desire for alcohol, affecting metabolic processes.

Disulfiram preparations (Antabuse) and cyanamide are widely used in the treatment of alcoholism.

These drugs delay the metabolism of alcohol at the stage of acetaldehyde, which has a toxic effect on the body, so taking alcohol while taking drugs leads to a powerful (to a degree dangerous) somatic and vegetative reactions similar to severe withdrawal symptoms.

The patient experiences a feeling of shortness of breath, shortness of breath, nausea with vomiting, fever, and acute anxiety, reaching the fear of death.

The action of disulfiram (Antabuse) can be demonstrated to a patient in a hospital (inpatient basis). Further use of these drugs causes a persistent conditioned reflex to the taste and smell of alcohol.

While the patient does not drink alcohol, he or she does not feel any changes. However, as soon as the patient drinks even a small dose of alcohol, all the above-described symptoms appear.

Treatment with disulfiram (Antabuse) should be strictly voluntary – if the patient is given such drugs “secretly”, he or she can take their action for withdrawal and try to remove the effects of repeated intake of alcohol. And this can lead to life-threatening consequences.

Disulfiram implant

Since patients who voluntarily take disulfiram can change their mind and stop taking it, they often get implants – the creation of a disulfiram depot in the body.
Sterile tablets of the drug are implanted into the patient subcutaneously or intramuscularly. Such an implant exerts its effect for several months, creating a stable stereotype of a sober lifestyle in a patient.

Systemic drugs

These drugs belonging to different pharmacological groups have a systemic effect on the patient’s body. They improve metabolic processes, relieve anxiety and fear causing a sedative effect. This, in general, helps to reduce the craving for alcohol.

Systemic drugs are not specific for the treatment of alcoholism and do not give an absolute guarantee that the patient will completely refuse to take alcohol.

Nevertheless, such drugs as glyceride are of great importance in the complex treatment of alcoholism. They have anti-hypoxic, neuroprotective, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), anti-withdrawal effects.

Drugs containing glycine are one of the important mediators that regulate the brain. They have a mild sedative, anti-anxiety and nootropic effects. Due to this, the expressed psycho-emotional reactions are mitigated, the ability to social adaptation increases, irritability and increased conflict decrease. The nootropic effect of the drug is expressed in improving the concentration of attention, memory and psychomotor functions, sleep quality.

Drugs containing glycine are homeopathic remedies that positively affect various links in the pathogenesis of alcohol addiction: dysfunction of the internal organs, central and autonomic nervous system, poor health with withdrawal symptoms, etc.

2. Relief of withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are treated with an integrated approach, which is determined by the severity of the patient’s condition and the individual characteristics of the symptoms. First of all, it is necessary to restore the water-salt and electrolyte balance, acid-base balance, and normalize the normal metabolism of the patient’s body and its psycho-emotional state.

Detoxification is carried out with the help of intravenous polyionic solutions in combination with the introduction of a glucose solution and the administration of diuretics (under the control of diuresis).

In addition, it is necessary to get vitamin therapy (B vitamins, nicotinic and as-carboxylic acids). Symptomatic agents are prescribed that normalize the work of the cardiovascular system – hypotensive (reserpine), beta-blockers (Inderal), calcium channel blockers (Cardizem, Adalat), alpha-blockers (Proroxan).

An important component of the withdrawal symptom relief is the introduction of nootropic drugs.

Psychotropic drugs are used to relieve anxiety, normalize sleep, and improve the autonomic nervous system. These are tranquilizers (phenazepam, clonazepam, phenibut, tenoten) and antipsychotics (penfloridol, pimozide, perphenazine, clozapine, fluphenazine, and pipothiazine).

3. Therapy of mental disorders in alcoholism

Mental disorders caused by alcoholism are extremely diverse in their clinical manifestations and in severity.

They can manifest as usual insomnia, anxiety, depression, and can reach a level of confusion, called alcoholic delirium (delirium tremens).

Therefore, specialists use the entire spectrum of psycho-pharmacological drugs in the treatment of alcoholic mental disorders. These are antidepressants, tranquilizers, anti-psychotics, nootropics, analeptics, psychostimulants, and adaptogens.

For the most part, these medications can only be purchased with a doctor’s prescription, so it’s important to contact medical specialists who are not only able to prescribe adequate and balanced therapy but also carefully monitor possible side effects, adjust the dosage of the drug, and take into account individual effectiveness and portability.

If the patient has severe panic attacks with pronounced motor activity, specialists prescribe drugs with a quick action aimed at normalizing the patient’s psychoemotional state.

These drugs include Diazepam, Valium, Cyclobarbital, Phenobarbital, Imovane, Ambien, and Librium.

4. The relief of the pharmacological effect of alcohol

Currently, pharmacies offer to buy various drugs that reduce the symptoms of alcohol intoxication.

These drugs include medicines based on calcium pantothenate, which is able to quickly remove ethyl alcohol and its metabolic products from the body. As a rule, such drugs are taken with the purpose of prevention but on the eve of the possible use of alcohol. Aspirin, paracetamol, metamizole can also be attributed to the same group.

You should understand that alcohol in any dose has a toxic effect on all systems of the body, and its uncontrolled frequent use (in combination with the individual characteristics of a person) can cause alcohol addiction.