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Acamprosate as an alcohol dependence treatment

Acamprosate is a drug that is sometimes prescribed to help someone who has stopped drinking to maintain abstinence from alcohol.

It works by acting on the central nervous system and countering the changes caused by heavy drinking.

Acamprosate can be prescribed as soon as someone gives up drinking with the hope that it will help reduce cravings. It may be advised to delay beginning taking acamprosate until withdrawal symptoms have passed, often around a fortnight after a person’s last drink.

Acamprosate may sometimes be referred to by the brand name Campral.

Man taking medication and emptying pills into his hand

What is acamprosate used for?

Acamprosate is one of a number of medications regularly prescribed to support people to stay sober.

It is thought to work by affecting the gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) chemical in the brain, which is believed to contribute to cravings.

It is used to help someone who has already stopped drinking by reducing their desire to drink.

It will be less effective – or possibly entirely ineffective – if someone continues to drink when taking it.

Will acamprosate cure me of alcoholism?

Acamprosate alone will not cure anyone of addiction. There is not a drug that is capable of curing addiction on its own.

Acamprosate is a tool to be used alongside other support mechanisms and is most likely to be effective if combined with counselling or other appropriate support.

It is advised that patients taking acamprosate should be closely monitored for signs of depression due to a lot of people with alcohol dependence also suffering depression.

Acamprosate is approved for use in relation to helping people with alcohol dependency in Europe, America, Canada and Japan. It was first used in Europe in 1989. 

Some studies have suggested that acamprosate may be most effective for those who drink to relieve negative affect rather than those who drink for the rewarding effects.

Risks of taking acamprosate

Not everyone who takes acamprosate will experience side effects but, as with all medications, there is a risk they will occur. Common side effects of acamprosate include:

  • stomach ache
  • diarrhoea and/or vomiting
  • wind 
  • nausea 
  • sexual dysfunction or reduced sexual desire
  • skin reactions

Acamprosate is not usually appropriate for anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding. There may be cases where it is felt the benefits of prescribing acamprosate during pregnancy outweigh the risks but this is a call for an experienced medical professional to make.

Caution is advised in terms of prescribing the drug to anyone with severe liver problems or kidney disease. It is not usually advised that people with liver or kidney problems take acamprosate.

It is possible that an allergic reaction, including facial swelling and breathing difficulties, could be caused by acamprosate or ingredients within drugs containing it. Use of the drug should be immediately stopped – and a doctor consulted – if this occurs.

Acamprosate is not recommended for under 16s or the elderly.

Acamprosate does not usually interfere with other medications, but it is advised that you consult your doctor if you are taking water tablets. It does not usually cause any issues with tiredness, the ability to drive or operate machinery.

How long is an acamprosate course?

Acamprosate is likely to be prescribed over a course of six months to a year.

What other drugs may be used to aid recovery from alcohol abuse?

Other drugs that are regularly prescribed and approved for use to aid recovery from alcoholism and quitting drinking include:

  • Nalmefene – this is said to have the potential to reduce alcohol cravings
  • Disulfiram – intended to act as a deterrent to drinking by causing unpleasant reactions if alcohol is consumed
  • Naltrexone – used to help block certain pleasant sensations usually experienced from drinking alcohol

Will acamprosate help me to stop drinking?

Acamprosate will only be prescribed in cases where someone has already given up alcohol and isx trying to maintain abstinence.

Whether it is a drug that is likely to be appropriate for you is something to discuss with your doctor and consider alongside a programme of recovery support and help.

The manufacturers of acamprosate based medications make clear that it should only be used in association with other appropriate support, such as counselling. Taking acamprosate without having the benefit of other help and support will reduce the chances of it helping you to stay away from drink.

Achieving sustained recovery from alcoholism involves implementing a number of changes. Addiction is usually a coping mechanism that someone has come to rely on to get through life. As well as dealing with the physical cravings, it is necessary to address the emotional issues that underpin addiction and alcoholism. 

People who receive intensive expert support, especially in the early stages of detox and recovery, are most likely to stay sober and move on to enjoy a life free from alcohol dependency. 

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About the author: Martin Preston

Martin is our Founder and Chief Executive. Martin is himself in long term recovery and started Port of Call to help families navigate treatment options. In 2020 Martin will open Delamere Health Ltd, the UK’s first purpose built addiction treatment clinic.

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