If you or somebody you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, you are in the right place.
This page aims to be an up to date and easy to read resource that will explain the different medications used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
But first, is it necessary to use medication at all?
Can I alcohol detox without medication?
Is it possible to detox yourself and recover from alcohol addiction using your own willpower and without any medication?
This is an important question to answer first and the answer is yes, you can.
As long as your addiction isn’t too serious.
Let me explain:
For milder alcohol problems, detoxing yourself at home is a great way to recover and can allow you to get back to living your best life without having to take time out to attend an inpatient facility.
In these cases, it’s entirely possible to stick to your commitment throughout the withdrawal stage and get to a point where you are able to control your drinking habit without any outside help.
Unfortunately, for more serious alcohol addictions, the side effects experienced during the withdrawal stage can be extremely dangerous or even life-threatening.
Because of this, it is generally recommended that long-term alcoholics with more developed symptoms go through supervised detoxification at a rehabilitation centre.
In this environment, medication will commonly be used to help control the withdrawal symptoms, making the recovery process easier and safer while also reducing the risk of relapse.
Is alcohol detox medication available?
If you have previously tried to detox yourself from alcohol but struggled, or maybe don’t have the confidence to try it alone, it can be tempting to wonder if there are any medications out there that can make the process easier.
While there aren’t any drugs available that directly fight and remove the symptoms of alcohol addiction, there are several out there that do a great job of fighting the symptoms of withdrawal, which can make the process of detoxing yourself from alcohol at home a lot easier.
Many of these withdrawal-relieving drugs are also used in rehab centres and clinics to help along the process.
Alcohol detox medication in the UK and internationally tends to consist of the same few drugs, so regardless of where you’re from, read on and we’ll take you through the options:
What is the most commonly used detox medication for alcohol withdrawal?
According to NICE guidelines and accepted alcohol detox medication protocol, treatments usually begin with a standard dose regardless of the acuteness of the withdrawal.
This is then generally gradually reduced to zero over 7-10 days, the same amount of time it usually takes for the withdrawal symptoms to disappear.
The most commonly used medications to aid recovery from alcohol dependency are:
Acamprosate works by making changes to the levels of GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid) present in the brain. GABA is thought to be one of the chemicals involved in causing alcoholics to crave alcohol.
Acamprosate treatment usually begins when withdrawal symptoms first appear and can be used for up to 6 months afterwards. When used along with counselling and CBT, it is an incredibly effective treatment and can go a long way towards preventing alcohol cravings.
Benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium), oxazepam, lorazepam and chlordiazepoxide are also commonly used to combat the symptoms of alcohol or drug withdrawal.
These drugs apply to different circumstances, for example, lorazepam and oxazepam are commonly used for patients with liver damage since both drugs are metabolised outside of the liver, whereas chlordiazepoxide has a long half-life so is the medication of choice for cases of less complicated alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines make the withdrawal process a lot easier on the patient by aiding sleep, combating tremors and aches by relaxing the muscles, reducing anxiety and agitation, and helping prevent seizures.
Disulfiram is a unique drug that works by causing aggressive and uncomfortable reactions when combined with alcohol such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shallow breaths and chest pain.
It works by deterring the patient from drinking alcohol by destroying the pleasant associations they have with drinking.
Patients taking disulfiram should be sure to avoid other products that may contain alcohol such as perfume, aftershave, mouthwash, and especially liquids that give off alcohol fumes such as solvents and paint thinners.
Another benefit of disulfiram is that the effects can continue for up to a week when the patient stops taking the drug, which can go a long way in preventing relapses during that time
Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors involved in the effect alcohol has on the brain. This has the result of essentially stopping alcohol from having an effect on the patient, which in turn can prevent relapses and reduce cravings.
A course of naltrexone can last 6 months or even longer, helping to hold off cravings to drink after withdrawal symptoms have disappeared. Along with alcohol, naltrexone also blocks the use of painkillers that contain opioids, such as codeine or morphine, so be careful using it if you are taking those.
Clonidine is generally used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure is often a side effect of withdrawal, so clonidine can make the process cause less stress to the patient. It also helps with headaches, sweating, tremors, anxiety and other mild withdrawal symptoms.
This drug is an anticonvulsant and can be used to treat seizures, as well as anxiety, muscle convulsions and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Because alcoholics have often counted on alcohol’s effects for their serotonin and general “happy” feelings for a long time, they often have issues producing serotonin and other chemicals that contribute to happiness – leading to depression and overall sadness.
Since this can be a strong temptation to drink to “feel better”, antidepressants are often recommended to fight these temporary symptoms until the brain is able to manage itself correctly again.
What are the side effects of alcohol detox medications?
Of course, all of these medications can come with different side effects, and you should only accept medications from your GP or one of our qualified practitioners so that you can discuss any potential side effects and how they might apply to your situation.
With that said, several alcohol detox medications do share some similar side effects, so it’s worth being aware that all of them have a chance of causing:
- Drowsiness (this can be a positive side-effect if your withdrawal symptoms are making it difficult to sleep)
- Dry mouth
- Nausea (other medications can be used to relieve this)
Side effects of withdrawal treatment drugs are one of several reasons why it’s a great idea to be supervised while going through the withdrawal stages of addiction treatment.
Because of this, if you are detoxing yourself at home it’s a good idea that you be aware of these symptoms and remember you can contact us on 0203 151 1280 at any time if you need advice or guidance on how best to deal with your symptoms or the side effects of medications.
If you are worried about going through this alone or your withdrawal symptoms are too strong and cause you to start drinking again, Contact Us now to discuss how we can help, as it may be the case that one of your relaxed, stress-free and cutting edge rehabilitation facilities are the best way forward in terms of your recovery.
To find our closest rehabilitation facility to you, check out our Locations and begin your journey to getting your life back on track.