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Medications and Therapies for Alcohol Addiction

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Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic and relapsing brain disease characterised by the compulsive use of alcohol despite its negative consequences. It is a severe and serious condition that can lead to various physical, social, and psychological problems.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 14.1 million adults aged 18 and older in the United States had AUD in 2019. The development of alcohol addiction is influenced by various factors, including genetics, environment, and upbringing. People with a family history of alcohol addiction are at a higher risk of developing the disorder. Additionally, traumatic experiences, peer pressure, and mental health disorders can also contribute to the development of alcohol addiction.

The symptoms of alcohol addiction can vary from person to person, but generally, they fall into three categories:

There are various treatment options available for alcohol addiction, including medications, behavioural therapies, and support groups. A combination of these treatments is often the most effective approach for long-term recovery. Medications can help reduce alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for individuals to overcome their addiction. Some commonly used medications for alcohol addiction are:

Behavioural therapies aim to change the patterns of thought and behaviour that contribute to alcohol addiction. Some commonly used behavioural therapies are:

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, and Women for Sobriety provide a supportive community for individuals in recovery. These groups offer a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, receive support, and learn from others who have recovered from alcohol addiction.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of alcohol addiction include tremors, nausea, and sweating. Medications like acamprosate can help manage these symptoms during recovery.

Sarah struggled with alcohol addiction for years, experiencing severe tremors and constant nausea. With the help of acamprosate and therapy, she successfully overcame her physical symptoms and embraced a sober, healthy lifestyle.

Behavioural Symptoms

Behavioural symptoms of alcohol addiction include:

These may manifest as mood swings, aggression, or social withdrawal. It’s crucial to address these symptoms through therapy and support systems.

A friend once battled alcohol addiction, displaying behavioural symptoms such as isolation and uncharacteristic outbursts. With professional help and a strong support network, they successfully overcame addiction.

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms related to alcohol addiction may include anxiety, depression, mood swings, and cognitive impairments.

Therapies like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) can help address these symptoms by modifying thought patterns and enhancing coping skills.

Medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may also be prescribed to alleviate specific psychological symptoms.


Disulfiram: Aversion therapy inducing nausea if alcohol is consumed.

Acamprosate: Helps alleviate post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

Naltrexone: Reduces alcohol cravings and diminishes the pleasurable effects of drinking.

Pro-tip: Always consult a healthcare professional for personalised medication advice.

Behavioural Therapies

Behavioural therapies play a crucial role in treating alcohol addiction. They encompass cognitive-behavioural therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and contingency management. These therapies aid individuals in modifying their attitudes and behaviours related to alcohol use, reinforcing abstinence, and developing healthier life skills.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy helps identify and change thought patterns contributing to drinking, while motivational enhancement therapy aims to evoke internal motivation for change.

Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): A well-known support group offering a 12-step programme for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction.

SMART Recovery: Utilises cognitive-behavioural methods and self-empowerment for individuals with alcohol use disorder.

Women for Sobriety: Focuses on the needs of women in recovery from alcoholism, offering support and positive reinforcement.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS): Provides a secular approach to recovery, emphasising the individual’s capacity to overcome addiction.


Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse, is a medication used to treat alcohol addiction. It works by causing unpleasant effects like nausea, vomiting, and headache if alcohol is consumed. This creates a deterrent to drinking, supporting individuals in their recovery journey.

Fun fact: Disulfiram was first discovered to have adverse effects on individuals who consumed alcohol while taking the medication during the process of alcoholism treatment.


Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist used to reduce alcohol cravings and dependence. It works by blocking opioid receptors, reducing the rewarding effects of alcohol. When considering naltrexone, consult a healthcare professional for personalised advice. Additionally, explore support groups and therapy to complement medication. It’s crucial to adhere to the prescribed dosage and attend follow-up appointments for monitoring and adjustments.


Acamprosate is a medication used to help individuals recovering from alcohol addiction by reducing withdrawal symptoms and the urge to drink. It works by stabilising the chemical balance in the brain that is disrupted by alcohol dependence. Acamprosate is often prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment programme that includes counselling and support to achieve long-term sobriety.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a widely used approach in treating alcohol addiction. It focuses on identifying and changing thought patterns and behaviours related to alcohol use. CBT equips individuals with coping strategies, helping them manage triggers and avoid relapse. In combination with medication, CBT has shown significant effectiveness in long-term recovery.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) aims to evoke internal motivation for change and help individuals resolve ambivalence about engaging in treatment. During MET, therapists assist clients in identifying personal goals and values, emphasizing the discrepancy between current behaviours and these objectives. Additionally, they cultivate a supportive and empathetic environment, encouraging self-motivated commitments to change.

Jason, a heavy drinker, initially hesitated to seek help. Through MET, he discovered a newfound determination to restore his relationship with his family, ultimately leading him to pursue treatment and embark on a successful recovery journey.

Contingency Management

Contingency management is a behavioural therapy that rewards individuals for abstaining from substance use. In this programme, patients receive tangible rewards, such as vouchers or prizes, for meeting treatment goals. These rewards act as positive reinforcement for maintaining sobriety and adhering to treatment plans.

Contingency management has shown efficacy in promoting abstinence from alcohol and other substances, making it a valuable component of addiction treatment programmes.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a well-known support programme for individuals recovering from alcohol addiction. It provides a platform for members to share their experiences, receive support from peers, and work through the 12-step programme to achieve sobriety.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery is a science-based addiction support group that utilises a 4-point programme, focusing on self-reliance and empowerment to manage addictive behaviour. It emphasises coping strategies and problem-solving techniques. Members are encouraged to attend regular meetings, participate in discussions, and apply the tools and techniques in their daily lives.

In 1994, SMART Recovery was founded as an alternative to 12-step programmes, offering a secular and self-empowering approach to overcoming addiction.

Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety is a non-profit organisation that provides mutual support to women overcoming alcoholism. The programme focuses on emotional and spiritual growth, offering a positive reinforcement system.

For women seeking recovery, joining a Women for Sobriety group can provide a supportive environment and valuable tools for achieving and maintaining sobriety.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can medication alone help me overcome alcohol use disorder?

No, medication is not a cure for alcohol use disorder. It should be used in combination with mindset and lifestyle changes, counselling, and support groups for a successful recovery.

2. What are some side effects of medication for alcohol use disorder?

Some common side effects may include difficulty breathing, chest pain, or changes in heart rate. It is important to discuss any concerns with your healthcare professional.

3. How can talking therapies benefit those struggling with alcohol addiction?

Talking therapies, such as CBT, can help individuals understand their thoughts and feelings and how they affect their behaviour. This can be useful in changing old behaviours and reducing the risk of relapse.

4. Can I continue drinking while on medication for alcohol use disorder?

No, it is important to stop drinking completely while taking medication for alcohol use disorder. Drinking alcohol while on medication can have serious consequences, such as unsafe activities or harm to your health.

5. What are the options for residential rehabilitation services for alcohol addiction?

Residential rehabilitation services are available for those with severe or complicated cases of alcohol addiction. These services provide 24-hour care and support in a structured environment to help individuals stay sober and address separate disorders.

6. Can I receive medication for alcohol use disorder through NHS care?

Yes, medication and other treatment services for alcohol addiction are available through NHS care. You can speak to your GP or seek a referral through NHS services to access these resources.

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