For half a century now, the drug Disulfiram (Antabuse®) has been used in conjunction with other treatment methods to deter the patient from drinking alcohol. In more recent decades, the Opioid-blocker Naltrexone (brand names Depade® and ReVia®, formerly Trexan®) has been utilized with some success in the treatment of both alcoholics and those with substance abuse problems. Most recently, Acamprosate calcium (Campral®) has been added to the options available for health care providers to prescribe to those who are having sustained problems with their drinking.
While taking the drug Disulfiram (Antabuse®), a person will experience terrible reactions if they ingest alcohol – basically, mixing the medication with alcohol causes a person to become violently ill, including vomiting, headaches, and severe flu symptoms. Yet another reason to quit alcohol before becoming a full blown addict. When the prescription is taken as directed, the drug can be very effective in preventing relapse on alcohol. The drawback to this medication is that the drug must be taken regularly, and if the individual wants to drink, he or she may simply choose to not take the prescription. Known as treatment compliance, this is one of the largest problems facing health care professionals when trying to help the struggling alcoholic who may be ambivalent about their abstinence.
A major benefit of the drug naltrexone (known as Trexan®, ReVia®, and Depade®), is its action as an Opioid-blocker within the body. In other words, if an alcoholic chooses to drink while taking this medication, the euphoric effects of the alcohol would be significantly less than if they were not on this medication. Since the drug does not cause a severe allergic-type reaction when a drink is taken, patient compliance has been higher in general than with disulfiram. Naltrexone also effectively blocks the effects of drugs in the opiate class including heroin, morphine, codeine, and others, and is considered to reduce the craving for both alcohol and opiates. This drug is not however recommended for patients with liver damage or disease, which may limit its availability to many who have already incurred such damage from previous years of alcohol or drug abuse, or from having contracted Hepatitis C from needles, risky behavior, or other avenues associated with substance abuse.
The newest drug to hit the market is Acamprosate,(Campral®), which was used in Europe for years before finally being approved by the FDA for use in the United States. Acamprosate has been credited with reducing craving symptoms for alcohol, and is considered an effective addition to treatment plans that include individual and/or group counseling & support. Instead of causing adverse reactions or changing the effects of the alcohol, Acamprosate affects certain neurotransmitters and other brain functions so that the person experiences fewer and less severe symptoms associated with early sobriety, such as difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and general uneasiness.
Disulfiram (Antabuse®), Naltrexone, and Acamprosate (Campral®), each work differently in the body as tools to aid in the recovery and abstinence from alcohol dependence. Even with promising research and study results, health care professionals agree that these medications are simply one part of the larger picture and need to be used in conjunction with substance abuse counseling, support groups, and other tools to help change the daily habits and thinking of an individual struggling with their addictive behavior.