An estimated 88,000 individuals die from alcohol-related causes each year, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Alcoholism, formally referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state in the absence of alcohol. According to statistics, an estimated 16 million individuals in the United States have alcohol use disorder. Alcohol affects nearly every organ in the body. It can result in severe chronic diseases, create turmoil in relationships, lead to depression and anxiety, and cause trouble at work and in the home. First-line treatment for alcohol abuse includes a combination of psychotherapy and medications.
Medication-assisted therapy for alcohol (MAT) consists of administering medications to relieve acute withdrawal side effects and prevent future cravings. Alcohol withdrawal side effects can be very uncomfortable and even life-threatening, and by providing relief through medications, individuals have a higher chance of overcoming their addiction. Detoxification is the initial step in treating alcohol use disorder. During detoxification, alcohol is eliminated from the body, and as a result, the individual can experience nausea, vomiting, confusion, mood swings, headaches, hallucinations, and seizures. These alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin six hours after the last drink and last up to seven days. The most critical period is 24-72 hours after the last drink, as this is the most high-risk timeframe for delirium tremens.
When an individual enters detoxification at an alcohol treatment center, medications are administered to minimize or even eliminate these withdrawal effects. Naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate calcium are the three FDA approved medications for alcohol use disorder. Benzodiazepines may also be used in the acute detoxification phase. Medication-assisted treatment is a necessary step in the alcohol detoxification and recovery process.
Benzodiazepines commonly referred to as “nerve pills”, are used to help manage anxiety disorders and are only recommended for a short-term basis. Benzodiazepines, just like alcohol, are incredibly addictive and can result in severe withdrawal side effects. Since benzodiazepines act on the same receptors in the brain as alcohol, they are commonly used to help minimize alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Long-acting benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium), have a slower onset of action and stay in the body longer, lessening the effects of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These long-acting benzodiazepines can be administered immediately to anyone who is in danger of alcohol withdrawal and can be slowly tapered off once the individual is out of the dangerous withdrawal phase, approximately five days after the last drink. Since benzodiazepines have a high addiction potential and can result in dangerous withdrawals, it is highly recommended that these medications be administered only in a supervised setting.
Naltrexone, commonly known under the brand names ReVia, Depade, and VIVITROL, is FDA approved for medication-assisted treatment for alcohol. Naltrexone is also used to treat opioid abuse as it works by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain. Naltrexone was initially used for opioid use disorder and was later discovered that it also works in alcohol abuse treatment. Naltrexone does not work to minimize alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and therefore the individual must complete alcohol detoxification before he/she can undergo treatment with naltrexone. It is thought that the brain interacts with alcohol in the same manner that it interacts with opioids, and therefore naltrexone suppresses the euphoric and pleasurable effects associated with alcohol. If the individual drinks alcohol while on naltrexone, he/she will not experience the pleasurable effect of addiction. Additionally, naltrexone may also prevent alcohol cravings.
Disulfiram, commonly known under the brand name Antabuse, produces a biochemical reaction in the body, resulting in hangover-like effects when alcohol is present. This medication is mainly used to deter individuals from consuming alcohol. These hangover effects include facial flushing, headache, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, weakness, and sweating and begin 10 minutes after alcohol enters the body and usually lasts for one hour.
Acamprosate, commonly known under the brand name Campral, reduces alcohol cravings and helps minimize alcohol withdrawal symptoms; however, this medication should only be taken once the individual has completed detoxification. Acamprosate is the most commonly used medication for alcohol use disorder in the United States. Campral works by changing brain chemistry and therefore reducing the brain’s dependence on alcohol. This medication is often taken in combination with other medications such as naltrexone and disulfiram.
Casa Palmera can help
At Casa Palmera, our goal is whole-person healing; we treat the whole person and not just the disorder. Our dedicated treatment team goes underneath the surface of a presenting problem to determine the underlying triggers and address the root so that it doesn’t manifest itself in other ways. Our goal is not to treat the wound with a Band-Aid but instead develop a permanent solution to problems that are preventing you from living your happiest and healthiest life. Our clinical staff works with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that includes therapy approaches for your specific needs, as well as tools that will improve your life on a holistic level. Learn more about Casa Palmera here and see how Casa Palmera’s programs can help you transform your mind, body, and soul.