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Medication for alcoholism and alcohol dependency

Sometimes finding the right support when you are trying to combat alcoholism or alcohol dependency can seem tough, but it is out there.

There’s no denying that overcoming alcoholism can only be achieved with determination and effort, but the right alcohol addiction help makes the difference between success and failure.

There isn’t a pill you can take to stop you being alcoholic, but there is medication for alcoholics to ease cravings and reduce the impact and risk of various withdrawal symptoms.

There are also alcoholism treatment drugs that help to offset some of the damage that alcohol may have done or be doing to your body.

Medications to help reduce your drinking

There are a range of medications available designed to reduce the craving to drink or to causes unpleasant side effects if you do drink. 

A doctor or clinical professional should advise and assess whether your individual circumstances and medical record make you suitable for these. As with all medications, there are risks and certain pre-existing conditions which make these drugs inappropriate for some people.

Man taking medication and emptying pills into his hand


Nalmefene, or Selincro, is a drug that may be prescribed to help in the reduction of alcohol consumption.

It works by affecting processes in the brain linked to the desire to drink and is prescribed to those who drink heavily. This is broadly and roughly defined as around a bottle of wine a day for a man and perhaps half to three-quarters of a bottle for a woman.

Nalmefene should only be used in association with other support, such as counselling, to reduce the desire and need for alcohol. Doctors are advised that Nalmefene should only be prescribed after someone has made a concerted effort to give up drinking without it for at least a fortnight.


Acamprosate or Campral is a drug that is intended to prevent someone from relapsing once they have stopped drinking.

It is used to reduce cravings for alcohol by affecting certain chemicals in the brain. The course of drugs may last up to six months.

Disulfiram may be used where acamprosate is not appropriate.


Disulfiram, or Antabuse, is a drug that aims to deter you from drinking alcohol by causing your body to react in unpleasant ways when you do.

Among these reactions may be sickness, chest pain or dizziness. The reactions can be caused by exposure to any products containing alcohol, such as mouthwash and perfume.

Disulfiram is used as a deterrent drug for those who fear they will begin drinking again.

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Naltrexone is a drug that helps people to maintain abstinence by blocking certain pleasant sensations related to drink by influencing receptors in the brain.

The drug is one also used to help those dependent on heroin and opioids. 

As an alcohol-related medication, naltrexone may be prescribed for six months or more.

Medications for alcoholics to manage withdrawal symptoms.

People who are assessed as being at high risk of developing alcohol withdrawal symptoms should be admitted to a hospital or clinic for a managed alcohol detox. This particularly applies to those who have a deep dependency.


Benzodiazepine is a drug that may be prescribed to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

A fast-acting benzodiazepine, such as lorazepam, may be used to prevent further seizures where alcohol withdrawal has caused them. 

Carbamazepine is another drug used to prevent and control seizures. It is a drug often prescribed to control epilepsy, has pain management properties and is occasionally used in the treatment of a bipolar disorder.

Another alternative may be clomethiazole, a type of strong sleeping pill. This should only be used for in-patients and not prescribed if there is any possibility of ongoing drinking.

These drugs must all be prescribed and used under medical supervision.


Lorazepam may be used as the first line of treatment when someone suffers the DTs (delirium tremens) as a consequence of alcohol withdrawal. 

The DTs are characterised by overwhelming confusion and agitation and may involve paranoia and visual and auditory hallucinations. This is a medical emergency that requires inpatient treatment and will not affect everyone who withdraws from alcohol, but is a risk in some cases. It’s one of the reasons that those with a strong dependency should only attempt alcohol withdrawal with clinical support.

Other medications you may need due to alcoholism or misuse.


Heavy drinkers are exposed to the risk of low levels of thiamine (vitamin B1), which the body uses to break down carbohydrates. 

As alcohol contains carbohydrates drinking a lot of it means the body uses a lot of thiamine. Alcohol also reduces your body’s ability to absorb thiamine and it is used during the detox process.

A dearth of thiamine can lead to a brain condition called Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, which if not properly treated can cause brain damage or even death. 

In some cases, thiamine may need to be given intravenously. Thiamine levels will usually return to normal after a month-long course of tablets, providing a healthy balanced diet is followed and alcohol avoided.

Alcoholism treatment drugs are not the total answer

As with all medication, it’s vital to have clinical guidance over which drugs are right and necessary for you. Some medications are appropriate for use under the guidance of a GP or community health service, whilst others must only be used as an inpatient in a clinical setting. Licensed private rehab clinics can also offer these drugs.

Medication for alcoholism, even when appropriate, should always only be one element of the treatment process. To stop drinking for good or gain control over your drinking you’ll need to unravel the reasons behind your drinking. This may be achieved through group work, counselling or other therapies. Residential rehab will always be the most effective method of launching an ongoing recovery when drinking has become dependent and entrenched.

Do get in touch with Port of Call for no-obligation advice and guidance on the specifics of private rehab centres across the UK.

Call today for free & confidential advice on 08000029010 (International: +44 161 674 9049)

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About the author: Alex Molyneux

Alex is our admissions team leader. Over the last 5 years he has spoken with more than 10,000 people via our helpline and has organised over 1,000 detox and rehabilitation placements.

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