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Can Medications be Used to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder?

alcohol use disorder and medication assisted treatment. woman with alcoholism

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a serious problem that affects millions. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths annually, a statistic that has increased in the past few years. 

Though complex, alcohol use disorder, commonly called alcoholism, is a treatable disease. While a typical treatment plan for AUD includes medical detox and therapy, those struggling to stop drinking could find that adding medications to their recovery program, or Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), can be an effective option. 

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use?

Most often associated with treating opioid use disorders, MAT combines medication with counseling to help people who struggle with substance use find recovery. The medicines help people reduce their cravings, and when combined with counseling and other therapies to address underlying issues, a person can successfully overcome drug or alcohol addiction.

As an evidence-based treatment, MAT has shown itself as an effective tool for those with alcohol use disorders. For many people, combining medication and therapy helps them stay sober longer and reduces the risk of overdose and other health problems.

What Medications Are Used to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder?

Several medications can help those struggling with the disease remain sober and live healthy, productive lives.

The FDA has approved three medications for the treatment of alcohol use disorder: 

    • Disulfiram (Antabuse) has been used to treat alcohol addiction for over 60 years. It works by interfering with the breakdown of alcohol in the body, leading to a build-up of a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. This substance causes unpleasant side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and headaches when someone consumes alcohol. Disulfiram can be an effective deterrent for motivated people to quit drinking.
    • Naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol) blocks the effects of opioids and reduces cravings for alcohol. It works by blocking the receptors in the brain that are responsible for the pleasurable effects of alcohol. Making alcohol less rewarding to drink can help reduce cravings and lead to reduced alcohol consumption. 
    • Acamprosate (Campral) A medication that helps to restore the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain that long-term alcohol use disrupts. It reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for people to quit drinking. 


Other medications approved for treating other medical issues, such as seizures and muscle spasms, have shown promise in also treating AUD.

    • Topiramate (Topamax) Commonly used to treat epilepsy and migraines; it has also been effective in treating alcohol addiction. By increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, cravings for alcohol are reduced. 
    • Baclofen (Lioresal) Commonly used to treat muscle spasms. It has also been used to treat alcohol addiction by reducing the activity of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is thought to play a role in alcohol addiction. 

3 Reasons Medications are Used in Treating Alcoholism

Medication is used to treat alcohol use disorders for several reasons:

  1. Medication can help to reduce cravings for alcohol. Reducing cravings can make staying sober and avoiding relapse easier, especially in early recovery.
  2. Medication can help to reduce the adverse effects of alcohol withdrawal. Cutting off alcohol consumption can be harmful, even fatal. Medications are a vital step in making the process safer.
  3. Medication can help to improve the brain function of people with alcohol use disorders.

When properly used, medication can assist people to think more clearly and make decisions that help them sustain recovery.

Finding a Solution That Fits You

Medication alone is not a cure for alcohol addiction, and it isn’t necessarily the right course of treatment for every person diagnosed with AUD. However, as part of a quality treatment program that includes counseling and behavioral therapy, studies show that it can be effective in reducing alcohol consumption, improving brain functions, and increasing abstinence rates.

Are you ready to stop drinking? Help is available 24/7.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Call Bradford 24/7 at 888-SOBER-40 to speak with a recovery advisor. Consultations are always confidential.