MEDICATION FOR ALCOHOLISM WITHDRAWAL

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Medication For Alcoholism Withdrawal

In the United States there are four currently approved medications for alcoholism: disulfiram, two forms of naltrexone, and acamprosate. Several other drugs are also used and many are under investigation.

Acamprosate (Campral) may stabilise the brain chemistry that is altered due to alcohol dependence via antagonising the actions of glutamate, a neurotransmitter which is hyperactive in the post-withdrawal phase. By reducing excessive NMDA activity which occurs at the onset of alcohol withdrawal, acamprosate can reduce or prevent alcohol withdrawal related neurotoxicity. Acamprosate reduces the risk of relapse amongst alcohol dependent persons.

Benzodiazepines, while useful in the management of acute alcohol withdrawal, if used long-term can cause a worse outcome in alcoholism. Alcoholics on chronic benzodiazepines have a lower rate of achieving abstinence from alcohol than those not taking benzodiazepines. This class of drugs is commonly prescribed to alcoholics for insomnia or anxiety management. Initiating prescriptions of benzodiazepines or sedative-hypnotics in individuals in recovery has a high rate of relapse with one author reporting more than a quarter of people relapsed after being prescribed sedative-hypnotics. Those who are long-term users of benzodiazepines should not be withdrawn rapidly, as severe anxiety and panic may develop, which are known risk factors for relapse into alcohol abuse. Taper regimes of 6–12 months have been found to be the most successful, with reduced intensity of withdrawal.

Calcium carbimide (Temposil) works in the same way as disulfiram; it has an advantage in that the occasional adverse effects of disulfiram, hepatotoxicity and drowsiness, do not occur with calcium carbimide.

Disulfiram (Antabuse) prevents the elimination of acetaldehyde, a chemical the body produces when breaking down ethanol. Acetaldehyde itself is the cause of many hangover symptoms from alcohol use. The overall effect is severe discomfort when alcohol is ingested: an extremely fast-acting and long-lasting uncomfortable hangover. This discourages an alcoholic from drinking in significant amounts while they take the medicine.

Naltrexone is a competitive antagonist for opioid receptors, effectively blocking the effects of endorphins and opiates. Naltrexone is used to decrease cravings for alcohol and encourage abstinence. Alcohol causes the body to release endorphins, which in turn release dopamine and activate the reward pathways; hence when naltrexone is in the body there is a reduction in the pleasurable effects from consuming alcohol. Evidence supports a reduced risk of relapse among alcohol dependent persons and a decrease in excessive drinking. Nalmefene also appears effective and works by a similar manner.

The Sinclair method is a method of using opiate antagonists to treat alcoholism by having the person take the medication about an hour before they drink alcohol, and only then. The opioid blocks the positive reinforcement effects of ethanol and hopefully allows the person to stop drinking or drink less.

Evidence does not support the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), antipsychotics, or gabapentin.

MEDICATION FOR ALCOHOLISM WITHDRAWAL

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