What Drug is Commonly Used to Treat Alcoholics?

The drugs most commonly used to treat alcohol abuse and addiction are Disulfiram, Naltrexone, Campral, and Acamprosate. These are not cures for alcoholism. However, they can help with the road to recovery.

Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder

Many signs may indicate an alcohol use disorder, and the number of signs that are present in an individual can also help determine the severity of the disorder. 

Some of the most common signs that someone has an alcohol use disorder include the following:

  • Expressing the desire to quit drinking, but being unable to stop drinking through willpower
  • Planning to drink only a small amount, but being unable to control how much you drink, and thus end up consuming more than planned
  • Developing a tolerance for alcohol, or needing to drink more to feel the same effects
  • Feeling like you need to drink to feel normal
  • Drinking to escape uncomfortable emotions or feelings
  • Drinking alone or in secret
  • Storing alcohol in various locations, such as in the car, at work, at school, or in various rooms of the home
  • Continuing to drink even when the drinking has caused obvious negative effects or impacts on your personal, professional, or family life
  • Becoming defensive or upset if the subject of addiction or alcoholism comes up
  • Experiencing lost time or blackouts
  • Spending most of your time either getting, using, or recovering from alcohol
  • Choosing to drink over other activities and social events
  • Making excuses for your drinking 
  • Engaging in risky behavior while drinking

When is it Time for Treatment?

While an official diagnosis of alcohol use disorder should be left up to a mental health professional, there are some signs that it may be time for treatment. 

The complete list of the signs is detailed in the DSM-V, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, but here are some of the most common:

  • Drinking more than you intend, more often than you intend or realize
  • Wanting to quit, but not being able to
  • Experiencing strong alcohol cravings 
  • Beginning to feel the effects of detox and withdrawal when abstaining from alcohol

Perhaps one of the most important signs to keep in mind is the last one. When the body becomes dependent on alcohol, there is a need for it on a chemical level, and the body will not function properly without it. This is what causes the withdrawal symptoms to begin, they are a signal that the body is struggling to cope with the lack of something that it had grown accustomed to. This is the prime indication of dependency and, ultimately, the biggest sign that professional treatment is needed. 

Does Treatment Work?

Treatment for alcohol use disorder is the only way that recovery is given a good chance of success. One of the biggest hurdles for many people living with alcohol use disorder is the challenge of overcoming the detox and withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms can be uncomfortable, and painful, and in the case of long-time drinkers or very heavy drinkers, they may even be dangerous. 

Treatment works because not only does it get the individual the support they need to make it through the most difficult stage of the recovery process, which often results in relapse, but it also gives them the tools they need to help maintain their recovery going forward.

Effective Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder

Thanks to decades of treatment research, doctors and other healthcare professionals have a wide range of treatment options that are available to those struggling with alcohol use disorder. This progress also forms the foundation for continuing efforts to develop new, more effective, and more accessible treatments for alcohol use disorders. 

One of the most effective treatments of all is entering into an inpatient treatment program. This is where an individual checks into a residential facility where they will live for a minimum of several weeks while they detox and complete the acute withdrawal stage. During the stay, they will benefit from behavioral therapies and both group and individual counseling sessions. There may also be medication used during this stage. 

What Drug is Commonly Used to Treat Alcoholics?


Naltrexone works by blocking the receptors in the brain that generate pleasure from the effects of alcohol. It also comes with a substantial secondary benefit of blocking the cravings for opioids as well. This makes it an ideal part of a treatment plan to reduce relapse rates by those who suffer from both opioid addiction and alcohol use disorder, as 57 percent of opioid users do.


Disulfiram is the oldest alcoholism medication, and for many years was the only medication option available. It works by creating an aversion to alcohol, making the individual feel very sick if combined with alcohol. One of the reasons it became less popular than other options was how unpleasant it made people feel. Once taken, any alcohol that enters the system in the next 12 hours makes the patient feel flushed, and nauseous, and gives them a severe headache. 


The newest medication approved for treating alcohol use disorder, acamprosate alters the brain chemistry of the patient to relax them and minimize many of the symptoms that come with early detox and withdrawal. While this option has no significant adverse side effects, it also requires a total of six pills to be taken throughout the day, with two pills three times a day needed to maintain dosage.

Will Other Treatments Be Needed in Addition to Medication?

The necessity of other treatments in addition to medication will depend on the individual and countless other variables. In the case of co-occurring psychiatric disorders, for example, there will be significant amounts of therapy and counseling, and additional medication components are also incredibly likely.

There is almost no situation concerning alcohol use disorder where a medication-only solution would be productive or viable long-term. The incorporation of various therapies, counseling, and educational programming is necessary for a resilient and long-term recovery. 

Things to Consider

If you or someone you care about is struggling with controlling their drinking, one of the best things you can do is to begin behavioral interventions as soon as possible and reach out for professional alcohol treatment. Alcohol withdrawals can be incredibly difficult, even dangerous, and there is no reason that someone should go through them alone when help is available.