Can Campral Help Your Recovery?

It may help reduce your symptoms and alcohol cravings once you've quit

Campral
Campral. Merck

If you are struggling with anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness since giving up alcohol—and you're feeling tempted to hit the bottle again for relief—the medication Campral (acamprosate calcium) may help restore the balance of your brain's neurotransmitters and ease your symptoms, thereby reducing your cravings. 

Campral was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of alcohol dependence or alcoholism in the United States in 2004, but it has been used widely in Europe for many years.

More than 1.5 million people have been treated worldwide with Campral.

Campral is given to people who have already stopped drinking alcohol. It does not work in a person who continues to drink alcohol, nor does it help ease withdrawal symptoms. Rather, it helps the person who has given up drinking to maintain sobriety by reducing the desire for alcohol. 

However, Campral is not a standalone treatment for alcohol addiction. In someone who has been drinking heavily or for a long time, treatment for alcohol withdrawal under a trained healthcare professional is absolutely crucial, as symptoms can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. 

Overview

Campral is believed to restore chemical balance in the brain that is disrupted by long-term or chronic alcohol abuse. In other words, it helps the brain begin working normally again by correcting the underlying neurochemical changes caused by chronic drinking.

In this way, it helps people maintain alcohol abstinence.

When a person drinks heavily or frequently, the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain changes. Specifically, drinking decreases the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, creating a sedative effect. When someone with alcohol dependence quits drinking, glutamate increases, resulting in central nervous system hyperactivity and excitability.

This can cause the person to crave alcohol to quell uncomfortable symptoms. Campral is thought to somewhat inhibit the release of glutamate as well as activate taurine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, ultimately decreasing the level of excitation the person experiences. 

While Antabuse works by making someone sick if they drink alcohol and Naltrexone blocks the "high" people get when drinking, Campral reduces the physical distress and emotional discomfort people usually experience when they quit drinking. According to Forest Laboratories, the distributor of the drug in the U.S., Campral reduces many of the post-acute withdrawal symptoms that many people experience during the early stages of alcohol abstinence, such as sweating, anxiety and sleep disturbances.

Dosage

Campral is prescribed in 333mg time-release tablets that are usually taken three times a day. For some patients, such as those with kidney disease, the standard dose may be adjusted by a physician. Because Campral tablets are time-release, they should be swallowed whole and never crushed, cut or chewed.

Because the side effects of Campral are few and mild and because Campral is not addictive, it is usually prescribed for up to 12 months after ceasing alcohol consumption.

Side Effects

Campral was "generally well-tolerated in clinical trials" according to the FDA. The side effects that were reported are usually mild and temporary. They include:

However, in rare cases, Campral can cause more severe side effects. Anyone who experiences any of the following symptoms should stop taking Campral immediately and contact their healthcare provider:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Burning, prickling or tingling in arms, legs, hands, or feet
  • Depression
  • Chest pains
  • Passing urine less often
  • Suicidal thoughts

Who Should Take It

People who have stopped drinking alcohol can begin taking Campral. It does not work if you are still drinking, or if you are using illicit drugs or abusing or over using prescription medications.

Campral should not be taken if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Depression
  • Kidney disease
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Allergic reaction to Campral, sulfites or other medicines
  • Allergic reaction to foods, dyes or preservatives
  • Pregnant or trying to get pregnant
  • Breastfeeding

What It Does Not Do

Campral does not help someone quit drinking; it helps those who have already withdrawn from alcohol to maintain abstinence. Campral does not help with withdrawal symptoms experienced while going through early detoxification from alcohol. It's extremely 

However, Campral has been shown to reduce sleep disturbances commonly experienced during early sobriety by recovering alcoholics.

Effectiveness

As with all other medications approved for the treatment of alcohol dependence, Campral is most effective as a part of an overall program of recovery including therapy, counseling and/or support group participation.

During the FDA clinical trials, Campral was three times more effective than a placebo in maintaining abstinence from alcohol as part of an overall support program. However, the more recent COMBINE (Combining Medications and Behavioral Interventions for Alcoholism) study, surprisingly found that Campral was no more effective than a placebo.

In other words, like all other treatments and approaches to maintaining alcohol abstinence, Campral does not work for everyone. It's not a magic bullet. But it may be a useful tool in your recovery arsenal. 

Sources:

CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. Acamprosate: A prototypic neuromodulator in the treatment of alcohol dependence. 2010 Mar; 9(1): 23–32. 

Forest Laboratories. "Campral full Prescribing Information." Products 

Ther Clin Risk Manag. Acamprosate for treatment of alcohol dependence: mechanisms, efficacy, and clinical utility. 2012; 8: 45–53.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. "Acamprosate." Drugs, Herbs, and Supplements Revised July 2014

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Guidance on Acamprosate Calcium." May 2008

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