Testing on drugs to treat alcoholism in the US began in 1998, when it was reported that European medication had the potential to help addicts maintain their sobriety. The drug in question, acamprosate, is a type of calcium that enables addicts to fight the urge to consume alcohol because of the stabilizing effect that the drug had on the brain.
However, when it emerged that acamprosate was being tested and considered as an option for treating alcoholics, a hotly contested debate soon began among medical professionals throughout the US. Moving forward more than 15 years, acamprosate and other recovery drugs have been used to great effect with many alcoholics.
Although medication is now a clear option for treatment, is it actually necessary for all addicts?
Positive Acamprosate Results
Prior to the US testing, clinical trials had been conducted extensively by Merck to ascertain the viability of acamprosate. Across 11 clinical trials, the global pharmaceutical giant found 3,338 alcoholics to participate.
Over a period of three months, statistics showed that 50% of addicts who used acamprosate were able to maintain their sobriety, where the rate declined to 39% for those who used the placebo.
One of the most notable cases from the European research came from a 57-year-old Germany lady who could never manage more than two months of sobriety, and she eventually felt suicidal and had to be hospitalized. After a six-month course of acamprosate meds, this is her long-term experience: “I’ve been sober for three years. I Just didn’t want a drink anymore.”
While acamprosate can provide vital reinforcement to many alcoholics, it is not a miracle cure. Prior to using acamprosate, addicts have to start their treatment with detox. In some cases, undertaking counseling with a therapist can further help the preparation ahead of taking acamprosate.
How the Medication Works
In the US, naltrexone, acamprosate (‘Campral’), and disulfiram are three alcohol addiction drugs with FDA approval. Starting with naltrexone, this drug acts to block the opioid receptors in the brain of an addict. By blocking those sensors, the drug essentially prevents the addict from experiencing any positive feelings from consuming alcohol. The effectiveness differs from person to person.
While naltrexone is quite specific, acamprosate, which is sold under the brand name Campral, acts in a number of different ways, helping to block the symptoms of withdrawal. Most notably, addicts taking this medicine will find that their levels of anxiety, emotion, insomnia, and restlessness all improve for the better.
Of the three drugs, disulfiram has perhaps the most unpleasant side effects. Disulfiram basically works to prevent the break down of alcohol, which results in a build up acetaldehyde. The purpose of elevating acetaldehyde is to encourage nausea and palpitations every time an addict drink alcohol. The idea is that they will feel so unpleasant while drinking that they will stop doing so. Mouthwash and perfume can even react with disulfiram, so they must be avoided.
Who Needs Medication?
As with any addiction, there are some people who consume to a much greater extent than others. In the case of alcohol, there are some people who are drinking too much and are at risk of developing health conditions if they persist. These are the individuals who can function without alcohol and are not yet dependent. Alcohol rehab medications are generally too extreme, as effective counseling can help these individuals to overcome their problems.
Alcohol medication is instead intended for alcoholics who are entirely dependent on the substance to function throughout each day. Their bodies are no dependent on it to function normally, so that will make treatment and recovery more difficult. Medication can provide an added level of support in the treatment process and help for alcoholics to maintain their sobriety.
Medication in the Treatment Process
Eight years on from the initial research into acamprosate, medical researchers had further revelations for the use of alcohol medication in addiction treatment. Released in 2006, a study revealed that 80% of heavy drinkers with a treatment program combining medical attention, therapy, and anti-addiction medication were able to control their drinking or else stop entirely.
The role of medication in the alcohol treatment process has to be managed carefully, as drugs are unlikely to prove effective on their own. And this is due to the fact that drugs are not designed for use during the rest of an addict’s life. However, integrating medication into a wider treatment program will provide addicts with vital support during the difficult the weeks and months after ending alcohol consumption.
The 2006 research study, undertaken at the Medical University of South Carolina, also revealed that talk therapy enabled addicts to identify the stimulating factors that triggered their addictive behavior. The purpose was to provide them with a longer-term approach than medication for battling against dangerous cravings. Medication alone is not a miracle cure, but it can be effective in the treatment programs of many.