Is There Medication That Will Reduce Alcohol Craving?

Cravings Cause Many to Relapse

Many drinkers who have become alcohol dependent then try to quit experience not only withdrawal symptoms but also report having cravings for alcohol. This craving for alcohol is one of the reasons that a large majority of those who try to quit drinking fail to do so the first time they try.

As Mark describes in a post to thisĀ Alcoholism / Substance Abuse Forum, the cravings seem to increase as the days go by and become overwhelming without some form of help.

Mark's Story

My withdrawal symptoms have all but subsided except for the occasional "more nuisance than painful" headaches, but exactly how bad are cravings supposed to be? Because I've been having severe cravings for the last couple of weeks.

I finally made arrangements for my friend to come to my house tomorrow and drag me to a meeting, kicking and screaming notwithstanding. Are there any forms of medications to help reduce the cravings?

It's Getting Harder

I can't get it out of my head. I'm even having dreams about drinking, which leave me with massive headaches when I wake up. I almost said, "to hell with it," last night and walked around the corner to get a six pack, but I decided to read another 30 or 40 pages of my Big Book instead.

I'm trying not to think of it as "fighting" the temptations off, rather accepting them as a face of the recovery process, but it still seems like it's getting harder as the days go by.

Are there any medications that help with the cravings?

-- Mark

Medications for Cravings

Currently only three medications are approved by the FDA for the treatment of alcoholism. Antabuse works by causing a severe adverse reaction when someone taking the medication consumes alcohol. Naltrexone, marketed as Revia, works by blocking in the brain the "high" that people experience when they drink alcohol. By blocking the pleasure the drinker receives from alcohol, naltrexone eventually reduces cravings.

Acamprosate, marketed under the brand name Campral, is the only medication available in the U.S. that claims to reduce alcohol craving. It also reduces the physical distress and emotional discomfort people usually experience when they quit drinking.

Helps Restore a Chemical Embalance

How Campral works to reduce the craving for alcohol is not completely understood, but researchers believe that it helps restore a chemical embalance in the brain's reward system that is altered by long-term alcohol abuse.

Campral does not help someone quit drinking. It is prescribed - usually 3 time-released pills a day - for those who have already stopped drinking alcohol. Because the side effects are mild and well tolerated, it is usually prescribed for up to 12 months following alcohol abstinence.

A Spiritual Solution?

It should be noted that many members of Alcoholics Anonymous report that their cravings for alcohol were removed through the spiritual experience of working the twelve step program, without medication.

As it says in the "How It Works" section of The Big Book: "... our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas: (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. (c) That God could and would if He were sought."

Being a member of A.A. and working the 12-step program does not mean that you cannot also take medication to help reduce your cravings. The combination of medication and support-group participation has been shown by research to produce better outcomes.

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