Inpatient and outpatient alcohol treatment focuses on reducing the physiological dependence on alcohol. Alcohol’s addictive properties change basic functioning and reasoning processes with the brain, and suddenly halting excessive drinking habits can be extremely stressful and even life-threatening. Fortunately, a variety of medications can lessen the withdrawal symptoms from alcoholism and reduce the urge to drink. However, some medications can be dangerous when used inappropriately, and those with a history of problem drinking or alcoholism need to know what medications can help achieve and maintain lasting sobriety.
Benzodiazepines During Detox.
The initial withdrawal symptoms from alcoholism can be quite severe, according to MedlinePlus, which include the following:
- Severe anxiety.
- Mood swings.
- Excessive sweating.
- Increased heart rate.
- Dilated pupils, resulting in temporarily impaired vision.
- Loss of appetite.
- Vomiting. and nausea.
- Delirium tremens, which may include seizures, fever, hallucinations, and severe confusion.
This extensive list of symptoms directly influences how medical and mental health professionals treat cases of alcohol dependency during detox. Benzodiazepines mirror the effects of alcohol, and in small doses, benzodiazepines,will keep these withdrawal symptoms minimal, while reducing the level of alcohol dependency.
Additionally, some of these withdrawal symptoms may last beyond withdrawal. In other cases, these symptoms may actually allude the existence of another co-occurring mental health condition. As a result, many of the alcoholism medications focus on treating these symptoms.
Prevention of Long-Term Withdrawal Symptoms
Long-term withdrawal symptoms from alcoholism may include insomnia, anxiety, restless, and a general feeling of being unwell. Acamprosate has been used to reduce these long-term symptoms by slightly impacting and triggering opioid receptors. Although this seems unrealistic, this type of medication can be most effective in those with severe alcoholism. However, the existence of acamprosate does not imply other mental health medications cannot be used.
Anti-Anxiety Medications to Manage Stress
Anti-anxiety medications may be used to help those in outpatient addiction treatment improve response and impact from stress. This largely focuses on how addiction or alcoholism contributes to and worsens when another mental health disorder, such as an anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder, exists concurrently. Although anti-anxiety medications are not expressly approved by the FDA for the treatment of alcoholism, they may be used to treat the potential influences of addiction.
Antidepressants to Help With Guilt or Remorse.
Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and results in a sedated effect. Yet, some consume alcohol in an attempt to cope with guilt, remorse, or depression. Similar to the use of anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants may be used to help those in outpatient addiction treatment maintain sobriety and encourage a successful recovery. However, antidepressant dosage should be carefully monitored by a mental health professional.
If a person suddenly stops taking an antidepressant, especially in young adults, the risk for suicidal thoughts or actions could rise dramatically. As a result, those with a history of alcohol or substance abuse who are taking antidepressants as part of treatment should continue to see a mental health professional on a regular basis.
Blockage of “Alcohol-Recognizing” Receptors in the Brain.
Alcohol binds to opioid receptors in the brain, asserts the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These receptors are sites for the binding of morphine, heroin, and other highly-addictive substances as well. When alcohol binds to the receptors, the brain enters a “euphoric state.” However, one medication, naltrexone can actually block these receptor sites.
Naltrexone medication prevents a person from being able to “feel” the effects of alcohol consumption and should only be used after completing detox. Unfortunately, genetics often play a significant role in how well naltrexone works in different individuals.
Taste aversion is a psychology term that describes how a person may grow to dislike a food item if the item made him or her sick previously. Disulfiram (Antabuse®) functions discourage relapse through this process. Disulfiram inhibits the body’s ability to breakdown alcohol, resulting in the buildup of acetaldehyde. This buildup results in flushing, nausea, irregular heart rate, and vomiting. Essentially, a person who takes this medicine will become ill if a he or she consumes alcohol.
Medications can help those with alcoholism maintain sobriety, and the “FDA has approved naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram to treat alcohol dependency.” Yet, new medications are being tested for effectiveness in treating alcoholism in an outpatient setting, reports the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Until newer, more advanced medications become available, those with alcoholism need to understand what medications can help maintain sobriety and improve the chances of successful recovery.