According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), about 16.3 million adults had an alcohol use disorder in 2014. That is roughly one in every ten adults, and, odds are, you know someone who struggles with controlling their alcohol consumption. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, you may have looked into various forms of help.
Treatment for alcohol use problems often involves counseling and medication. One such medication that many people have found success with at treating alcoholism is acamprosate.
What Is Acamprosate?
Acamprosate, also known as Campral, is a medication that is used to treat alcohol dependence, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction. It was designed to reduce the urge for alcohol by altering the neurotransmitters in the brain that have been changed by the presence of alcohol. It helps to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which vary from person to person, but most commonly include insomnia, anxiety, dysphoria, and restlessness. With reduced withdrawal symptoms, people with alcoholism have been able to remain sober for months while taking acamprosate.
Acamprosate is an approved medication by the FDA for alcohol abuse and is one of three main medications prescribed for alcoholism, including disulfiram (Antabuse) and naltrexone (Revia). Acamprosate has been used in European countries for 20 years for its effectiveness at treating alcohol-related disorders.
Drugs, Alcohol, And The Brain
Before you can understand how acamprosate works for patients, you may find it helpful to know how drugs and alcohol affect the brain. As explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drugs alter the brainstem, the cerebral cortex, and the limbic system, which are all responsible for essential life-sustaining functions. Certain drugs and alcohol, including abused prescription medications, can mimic or change the way neurotransmitters respond and send messages. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that send messages between neurons and instruct the brain to do various things.
How Does Acamprosate Work To Treat Alcoholism?
Alcoholism affects multiple neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. When alcohol is a repeated, chronic presence in the brain, the neurotransmitters will adapt to its presence and will actually change their normal activities. And once they are adapted, the neurotransmitters work in sync with the alcohol. When alcohol stops being a presence in the brain, the cerebral systems go into a state of disarray and shock, leading to what we know as withdrawal. Acamprosate has been formulated to help ease this disarray and normalize cerebral activity, helping someone get through the withdrawal phase.
Does Acamprosate Have Side Effects?
Acamprosate does come with some side effects like almost any other medication. But they are relatively minor and usually go away after continued use of the medication. During trials conducted in Europe, the most consistently occurring side effects associated with acamprosate were stomach issues which were usually mild and started only when patients first took the medication. Additional side effects include:
- Loose bowel movements and mild diarrhea
- Changes in sex drive, both increased and decreased
- Skin rashes and itching
What Are The Advantages Of Acamprosate?
Acamprosate has been formulated to relieve some of the unpleasant side effects and functions of other medications for alcohol abuse and it is a great option for many people suffering from alcoholism. The main benefits of acamprosate that patients can look forward to include:
- No health hazards if taken with alcohol (acamprosate does not alter the way the body metabolizes alcohol)
- Minimal side effects
- Can be taken without food
- Does not cause physiological withdrawal symptoms
- Is not addictive
- Most effective for treating alcoholism, the most severe form of alcohol abuse
What Should You Be Careful Of When Taking Acamprosate?
When taking acamprosate, it is necessary to avoid taking any medications that are toxic to the kidneys like aminoglycoside antibiotics, and to inform your physician of any other medications you are taking. If you should become pregnant while taking acamprosate, contact your medical provider as they will have you discontinue the medication during the remainder of your pregnancy.
How Does Acamprosate Compare To The Other Medications For Alcoholism?
As mentioned above, there are only two other medications approved by the FDA for the treatment of alcoholism, disulfiram, and naltrexone. There are definite differences between acamprosate and these two medications and the main ones are described below.
Disulfiram is an aversion medication for alcohol abuse that works by blocking aldehyde dehydrogenase which results in elevated levels of acetaldehyde. This medication can cause serious reactions when taken with alcohol, including facial flushing, vomiting, low blood pressure, headaches, and weakness. It is this severe reaction that is what is meant to achieve abstinence from alcohol. It does not help treat cravings nor does it normalize brain functions like acamprosate or naltrexone.
Naltrexone inhibits opioid receptors which is meant to reduce alcohol cravings and lessen the reinforcing effects of alcohol. People who have liver damage cannot use naltrexone or disulfiram. But patients with liver damage can take acamprosate because the medication is not metabolized in the liver.
For a complete breakdown of the differences between all three medications, check out this table from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association.
Can Acamprosate Be Combined With Other Medications?
Acamprosate can be combined with either disulfiram or naltrexone and patients who have not found great success with one of these medications by themselves. Acamprosate has not been found to interact negatively with the other drugs, including alcohol, and can be used in combination with disulfiram, diazepam, nordiazepam, imipramine, desipramine, certain serotonin inhibitors, naltrexone, or naltrexol.
Is Acamprosate Safe To Take?
Because acamprosate is not addicting, there is no risk for a patient taking it to abuse it. It does not come with major physical side effects, it can be taken with alcohol safely, and it can be taken with a combination of other medications. It is generally well tolerated by patients and has a low overdose risk, making it a safe medication to consider for treating alcoholism.
Is Acamprosate More Effective When Combined With Other Therapies?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, medications are most effective when combined with behavioral therapies which includes counseling, individual and group therapies, family therapy, and inpatient treatment. It is the combination of physical and mental health therapies that is most effective for treating addiction. And any medication is most effective and is safest when it can be monitored by a health professional, confirming the importance of combined behavioral therapies.
Medication And Motivation
When someone suffering from addiction like alcoholism starts taking a new medication, motivation plays an important role in its effectiveness. Withdrawal is a difficult process to go through, and when motivation is absent, it can be almost impossible to achieve sustained abstinence. Acamprosate is most successful when motivated patients enter a treatment program and start taking the medication because it minimizes the effects of withdrawal, which is often enough to result in relapse.
Achieve Sustained Abstinence With Acamprosate And Other Therapies
Acamprosate has helped many people treat their alcohol addiction, but it is when medication is combined with emotional therapies that people find lasting success. For more information about acamprosate and to learn more about the alcoholism treatment centers near you, contact us today at AlcoholTreatment.net.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Print Home » Publications » Pharmacotherapies » Alcohol Addiction Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide