Medications Used in Alcohol Treatment

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2021, 29.5 million people ages 12 and over struggled with alcohol addiction. Many individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD) benefit from the comprehensive treatment protocols used in modern treatment. One such treatment approach involves a combination of pharmacotherapy (the use of medication to treat alcoholism) and behavioral therapies.

This page will go over medications used in treatment, the benefits of comprehensive addiction treatment that can include alcohol addiction treatment medication, and how to get help for you or a loved one struggling with alcohol use disorder.

Medications to Decrease Drinking Behavior

A review article published in the journal The American Family Physician outlines many of the medications for alcohol use disorder—including drugs approved by the FDA and others that are used on an off-label basis—commonly utilized in the treatment of alcohol use disorders. The goal of pharmacotherapy (pharmaceutical treatment for alcohol addiction) in these situations is to reduce continued alcohol use and increase abstinence rates.

FDA approved medications for alcohol dependence: 1-4

  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)

Naltrexone for Alcohol Cravings

This medication is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it functions to block the effects of opioid drugs at a brain receptor level. It was originally used to diminish the reward of continued opioid use in the treatment of opioid use disorder, but research has indicated that it can also increase abstinence rates in individuals recovering from alcohol use disorders through its opioid receptor blockade activity and the associated decrease in drinking reward and craving.

Acamprosate (Campral) for Alcohol Dependence

The mechanism by which Campral works isn’t entirely clear, but acamprosate for alcohol dependence treatment is thought to help restore a balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter systems that had previously been upended by consistent drinking behavior.

In doing so, it diminishes the adverse effects associated with protracted alcohol withdrawal, to encourage continued abstinence. It is safe for individuals who have liver damage but may require some caution in administering it for individuals with kidney issues.

Disulfiram (Antabuse) and Alcohol Reaction

The medication with the longest history of approved use in treating alcohol use disorders is Antabuse. The drug has been used for decades. Antabuse interferes with the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol.4

When an individual on Antabuse drinks (even a small amount of alcohol) there is a buildup of a toxic alcohol-related compounds due to the blocked breakdown of alcohol. This produces a pronounced adverse reaction to alcohol that includes unpleasant symptoms such as:

  • Headaches.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Hot sweats.
  • Flushed skin.
  • Heart palpitations.

Evidence to support the effectiveness of disulfiram for alcoholism treatment is more inconsistent than that of either naltrexone or acamprosate.

Though they don’t have specific FDA approval for the treatment of AUD, nor is there consistent evidence to support their use at this point, there has been some investigation into the potential therapeutic utility of several additional pharmacologic agents.1,2,5,6

Additional medications for alcohol addiction include:  

  • Ondansetron (Zofran): This drug is used primarily to manage nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy or anesthesia. It is believed to block the effects of serotonin at a specific receptor subtype, which is associated with a reduction in alcohol-induced reward. There is some clinical evidence that suggests this drug can decrease drinking behavior and increase the number of abstinent days in individuals recovering from alcohol use disorders.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Results from various clinical studies suggests that certain antidepressant medications, including the SSRIs Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline), may be useful in augmenting the treatment of those in recovery from alcohol use disorders to increase abstinence rates. However, these drugs are not FDA-approved for this purpose. In some cases, MAOIs, may also be effective in decreasing alcohol use in individuals with an alcohol use disorder and co-occurring depression.

Medications for Alcohol Withdrawal

The medications used to treat symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are different from those used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder. Alcohol withdrawal has the potential to be life-threatening, and medications used to treat withdrawal are used to manage the symptoms and minimize the risk of complications.

Medications that can be used during alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Benzodiazepine medications, including diazepam, Librium, and Ativan.
  • Adjunctive agents, including Haldol and atenolol.

It’s important to note that not all patients being treated for alcohol withdrawal will receive medications, or the medications listed above. To find more information about medical detox for alcohol and the medications used.

Is Medication for Alcohol Addiction Enough?

Despite some drugs having FDA approval for the medical treatment of alcohol use disorder and others being very effective at treating the complications that occur during withdrawal from alcohol, drugs alone do not address the many issues associated with substance use disorders.

While professional organizations and treatment providers maintain that substance use disorders represent diseases, medical treatments alone are not sufficient to assist a person in recovering from a substance use disorder.

Individuals recovering from an alcohol use disorder may benefit from the use of medication; however, they will also require intensive substance use disorder therapy and may require other forms of support, such as participation in 12-step groups, psychoeducation, and other behavioral interventions.

The use of prescription medication for alcohol addiction can decrease the likelihood of relapse and help manage other pertinent medical and mental health issues. However, over the long run, individuals need to be involved in an alcohol addiction treatment program that:

  • Addresses the issues that led to the development of an alcohol use disorder.
  • Promotes stress management and trigger avoidance.
  • Teaches ways to evaluate and reform dysfunctional coping strategies.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment in Dallas, TX

If you are struggling with alcohol or are concerned about a loved one, there is effective help available that can help get you on the road to recovery.

At our alcohol rehab in Grand Prairie, TX we use addiction-focused whole person healthcare to help people struggling with dependence and addiction to alcohol. Contact our knowledgeable and compassionate admissions navigators 24/7 at to learn more about our different levels of care. They can also tell you more about starting rehab admissions, using insurance to pay for rehab, and other payment options.


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