Every year, millions of veterans deal with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). And while many are able to recover with professional addiction treatment, some also try medications to stop drinking. It’s important to note, though, that medications to quit drinking are only of many evidence-based treatment options.
What does that mean? In almost every instance, medication to stop drinking is more effective when paired with alcohol counseling and other addiction treatment methods. Keep reading to learn more about the nature of alcoholism and how medications to quit drinking could play a role in your recovery.
What Medications Can Help You Stop Drinking?
It’s important to remember that medication to quit drinking is usually a separate treatment option from a medical alcohol detox. Where medications in an alcohol detox setting typically only last a few days to a week, medications to quit drinking could be taken for a few weeks, a few months, or indefinitely.
Right now, three pills have been FDA-approved as medications to stop drinking. Those three medications are:
- Acamprosate (Campral)
- Disulfiram (Antabuse)
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
Keep in mind that each of these medications works differently, and an individual might see greater benefit with one medication over another. To help you make an informed choice, we’ll break down what each pill to quit drinking has to offer.
This medication requires some background information: In an individual’s brain, there is a neurotransmitter called GABA. And GABA is important, because it can calm the central nervous system and help alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, long-term alcohol abuse often disrupts the natural production of GABA, which can increase the risk of mental illness and addiction, particularly among veterans who are already predisposed to both issues.
Acamprosate‘s chemical makeup is very similar to GABA’s. This means that when it’s taken by someone with an alcohol use disorder, it can help restore some balance to the brain’s chemistry. As a result, individuals on this medication may experience less stress, which can lower their risk of dealing with unpleasant side effects from post-acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), like insomnia or anxiety.
Like all medications to quit drinking, however, it’s important to note that Campral cannot cure addiction. It does not address the underlying causes of addiction, and thus works best when partnered with behavioral health treatments. Moreover, this medication is well-tolerated by the liver, but it can interact negatively with the kidneys, meaning that it should not be used by individuals with renal disease.
Disulfiram is the oldest medication on this list, and it has been helping people quit drinking since 1949. By altering the way your body breaks down alcohol, disulfiram stops it from properly metabolizing. So instead of getting a “buzz,” your body actually becomes sick when you take alcohol, which greatly reduces your risk of relapse.
When an individual drinks alcohol while taking Antabuse, they may experience side effects like:
- Increased heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory problems
- Low blood pressure
When taken for prolonged periods of time, disulfiram can damage the liver. For this reason, it is not generally recommended for individuals with impaired or weakened liver function.
As you can see, disulfiram works by discouraging drinking. However, it does not prevent cravings, nor does it address the behavioral health issues (like post-traumatic stress or depression) that may lead to your drinking. For this reason, Antabuse generally proves more effective when taken alongside alcohol addiction treatment options like group therapy or 12-step counseling.
Naltrexone does more than treat alcohol addiction—in fact, it was originally developed as an opioid addiction medication. When someone on naltrexone takes opioids, they feel no pleasurable response. And as luck would have it, Vivitrol has proven effective at helping people quit drinking as well.
When taken as prescribed, Vivitrol can help reduce alcohol cravings, thus breaking the cycle of craving and reward that is inherent in addiction. For this reason, some people prefer it to Antabuse since it stops cravings directly.
However, naltrexone does not work for everyone as a medication to stop drinking. It can impair liver function, so it is not generally recommended for those with liver damage. Like with other medications to quit drinking, naltrexone does not stop the root issues behind addiction, so it is most effective when paired with behavioral health strategies to quit drinking.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment for Veterans
It’s important to remember that medications to quit drinking are only one piece of the puzzle. And without professional support, quitting drinking can be a deeply challenging task, even on proper medication. For that reason, the team at Heroes’ Mile is ready to help veterans through every step of the addiction recovery process, and in whatever way we can.
Curious about how we help veterans with alcohol use disorders? Our addiction treatment programming was specifically designed for veterans, by veterans. We understand the unique challenges and stressors that veterans face, and we do everything we can to address these unique needs to help veterans make complete, long-term recoveries.
Below are some of our treatment options which may be incorporated into your individualized treatment plan:
- Veteran-focused individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Art therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
- Spiritual healing
- Nutritional assessment and food plan
- Various recreational activities
- Counseling services for family members
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Job-ready preparation and training in conjunction with our community partners
And with us, our care doesn’t stop when you finish our residential rehab or intensive outpatient programs. We offer free alumni services that will help you stay in recovery long after graduating from a veteran rehab program. Because we know that addiction recovery is a lifelong process, and we’ll be honored to help you at every step of the way.
Would you like to learn more about our veteran rehab in DeLand, Florida? Call our friendly admissions specialists at 888-838-6692 or ask your questions online. No matter where you are in the recovery process, we’ve got your six!