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15 Medications Used During Alcohol Detox 

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 8/18/2022

When an alcoholic abruptly stops drinking alcohol they enter into a detox period. During this detox period, alcoholics go through alcohol withdrawal, which has devastating symptoms. While some alcohol withdrawal cases are mild, others are dangerous and require medical attention. The detox period starts a few hours after an alcoholic’s last drink and lasts for 2-4 weeks. 

To help recovering alcoholics make it through the detox period, medical professionals prescribe medications. We’re going to take you through the most common medications prescribed during alcoholism recovery. Read on to learn more below.

1. Suboxone

Suboxone is buprenorphine that’s part of the opioid drug classification. Common brand names of suboxone include Suboxone, Zobsolv, and Bunavail. Suboxone became a medication for alcohol because alcohol withdrawal is similar to other narcotic withdrawals.

What makes Suboxone unique is that it treats the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These symptoms include insomnia, shakes, and alcohol cravings. Doctors will only prescribe small doses of Suboxone for alcohol withdrawal.

Additionally, mixing alcohol and Suboxone leads to negative side effects. Therefore, Suboxone is only used to treat recovering alcoholics who stop drinking alcohol entirely.

2. Naltrexone

Naltrexone makes alcohol less pleasurable to consume. It’s used to treat alcoholism because recovering alcoholics won’t enjoy the effects of alcohol anymore. When alcoholics no longer enjoy alcohol, it’s easier for them to maintain sobriety.

Naltrexone is typically prescribed for severe cases of alcoholism but it’s also used in alternative alcoholism treatment. For example, the Sinclair Method helps people recover from alcoholism without the need for abstinence. Instead, Naltrexone is used to cure alcohol abuse.

Additionally, Naltrexone is a prescription drug that belongs to the opioid antagonist drug classification.

3. Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is a narcotic drug that’s used to treat alcoholism and addiction to narcotics. Some brand names of buprenorphine include Belbuca, Buprenex, and Probuphine. For alcoholism, buprenorphine treats withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, nausea, sweating, and insomnia.

While buprenorphine is effective for treating alcoholism, doctors only prescribe it in small doses. In many cases, it’s a companion to other treatment methods for alcoholism. It’s only available with a prescription.

4. Modafinil

Modafinil is a stimulant that treats narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and other sleeping issues like shift work sleep disorder. When treating alcoholism, modafinil treats fatigue and drowsiness. Doctors will only prescribe it in small doses because of its addictive properties.

When it comes to alcohol detox medications, modafinil is not common. It’s only used in rare cases and severe cases of alcohol withdrawal. For most people, medications like Naltrexone are enough.

5. Methadone

Methadone is not used to treat alcoholism withdrawal. Instead, it treats opioid withdrawal, which needs to be treated before alcoholism is treated. Therefore, individuals with co-occurring addictions will start with Methadone for the opioid addiction. 

Once the opioid addiction is under control, doctors prescribe more medications for alcoholism. These Medications vary but sometimes include Naltrexone, Suboxone, and even benzodiazepines.

Methadone is often used alongside therapy and other treatment methods for alcohol detox.

6. Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines belong to the sedative class of medications. When someone takes benzodiazepine, it slows down the central nervous system and relieves symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, and seizures. One of the most popular types of benzodiazepine is Xanax, which is sometimes prescribed for alcoholism disorders.

When treating alcohol dependence, benzodiazepine relieves withdrawal symptoms of stress, panic attacks, and anxiety. In severe cases of alcoholism, benzodiazepines help with shakes and tremors as well.

Doctors will prescribe medications like Xanax during recovery but the risk of addiction is high. So, additional medication refills are typically unavailable.

7. Antidepressants

Antidepressants are also useful when it comes to treating alcoholism. For alcoholism, antidepressants become useful for alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include depression and anxiety, which antidepressants like Lexapro treat. 

The antidepressant a doctor prescribes varies based on the situation. It’s also important to note that you can’t mix alcohol with antidepressants. Doing so leads to negative side effects. Plus, the risk of co-occurring addictions increases.

8. Vivitrol

Vivitrol is a name-brand medication that requires a prescription. It’s a Naltrexone-based medication, so it makes the effects of alcohol undesirable. When someone consumes alcohol alongside Vivitrol, the unpleasant effects help people manage cravings.

Vivitrol is one of the best medications for alcohol detox. That said, it should only be taken when a doctor prescribes it. Some treatment modalities like the Sinclair Method are known for using Vivitrol to help people manage alcohol abuse.

9. Subutex

The medication Subutex is a prescription narcotic that treats addiction. Subutex is one of the most popular buprenorphine brands around. For alcoholism, Subutex treats alcohol withdrawal and the symptoms that come with alcohol withdrawal. As a narcotic, Subutex is dangerous to mix with alcohol and leads to adverse effects.

Subutex is also a controlled substance, which means doctors must prescribe it. When prescribing Subutex for alcoholism, most medical professionals will only give patients a small dosage. Furthermore, Subutex has serious side effects that patients need to understand. These side effects include respiratory distress and coma (in high doses).

10. Disulfiram

The medication disulfiram is a prescription medication that creates a negative response to alcohol. The most popular brand name for disulfiram medications is Antabuse, which doctors prescribe for alcohol abuse disorder.

Disulfiram treats alcohol by making it undesirable. When someone who’s taking Antabuse consumes alcohol, the intoxicating effects change and become uncomfortable. Drinking alcohol with Antabuse leads to headaches, loss of balance, and nausea.

Medications like Antabuse will also help people maintain sobriety or control their drinking habits. Antabuse is administered after the initial detox period (in most cases).

11. Acamprosate

The medication Acamprosate treats alcoholism by reducing someone’s cravings. Acamprosate interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for addiction. When Acamprosate interacts with these receptors, it reduced alcohol cravings.

Another factor that makes Acamprosate useful for alcoholism is how it interacts with alcohol. Acamprosate creates a negative reaction when someone drinks alcohol. Instead of the pleasurable intoxicating effects of alcohol, Acamprosate makes the experience unpleasant.

12. Antipsychotics

Medications like antipsychotics treat alcoholism and other mental health disorders. The medication is sufficient for preventing panic attacks and reduces the risk of seizures in recovering alcoholics. Antipsychotics primarily treat conditions like bipolar disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.

Antipsychotics are also useful for treating psychosis that occurs in alcohol withdrawal cases. While psychosis is a rare side effect of alcohol withdrawal, it does happen in between 1% and 10% of serious alcohol withdrawal cases.

During alcohol withdrawal antipsychotics treat alcoholism by improving the mental health of recovering alcoholics.

13. Anticonvulsants

An Anticonvulsant prevents people from having seizures. Anticonvulsant medications also treat people who are having seizures by stopping them. Most anticonvulsants are benzodiazepines (like Xanax), which treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks.

When it comes to alcohol abuse, anticonvulsants like lorazepam reduce the risk of seizures occurring during alcohol withdrawal. Doctors prescribe anticonvulsants during the alcohol withdrawal period and people take them for several weeks or months. In fact, some doctors prescribe anticonvulsants hours after someone enters alcohol withdrawal. This is because seizures begin to occur within 48 and 72 hours after someone’s last drink. 

It’s also important to note that seizures from alcohol withdrawal won’t happen to everyone. However, seizures and tremors are more likely in cases where someone drinks large quantities of alcohol for many years.

14. Antiadrenergic agents

Antiadrenergic agents block catecholamine activity by blocking adrenergic receptors. When adrenergic agents block these receptors, it helps with cardiovascular issues like heart disease, hypertension, and cardiac heart failure.

When treating alcoholism, antiadrenergic agents are useful for many reasons. First and foremost, it disrupts dopamine and makes alcohol feel less pleasurable. When used in this way, antiadrenergic drugs reduce alcohol cravings.

Antiadrenergic medications also help with cardiovascular diseases brought about by alcoholism. 

15. Anti-nausea medications

Anti-nausea medications treat symptoms of nausea and vomiting. These medications treat nausea by relaxing the stomach. Keep in mind that some anti-nausea medications may cause vomiting to treat stomach problems.

When it comes to treating alcoholism, anti-nausea medications are useful during the withdrawal period of alcohol detox. Anti-nausea medications are useful because alcohol withdrawal makes people feel nauseous. Doctors will prescribe medications like Emetrol and Chlorpromazine to treat nausea from alcohol withdrawal.

Furthermore, there are over-the-counter (OTC) medications for treating nausea during alcohol withdrawal. These medications include Naproxen Sodium and Lansoprazole.

What are the Benefits of These Medications Used During Alcohol Detox?

Many medications for alcoholism treatment have benefits. These benefits vary based on the type of medication. For example, Naltrexone makes the effects of alcohol undesirable, while benzodiazepines treat the shakes and anxiety from alcohol withdrawal.

That said, there are other benefits of using medications for alcohol detox. For example, anticonvulsants treat shakes and anti-nausea medications reduce nausea and vomiting. Ultimately, the benefits of medications for alcohol detox focus on making alcohol unpleasant and treating symptoms of withdrawal.

What are the Risks of These Medications Used During Alcohol Detox?

Several medications used for detox come with negative side effects. These side effects vary based on the medication. Some risks include changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and dizziness. Other medications will also increase the risk of insomnia or cause drowsiness.

It’s also possible to experience allergic reactions when taking these medications. Therefore, it’s important to look for rashes and contact your doctor if you experience trouble breathing.

Is a Prescription Needed for These Medications?

Yes, a prescription is necessary for these medications. While some medications for withdrawal symptoms are available over-the-counter (OTC), most medications require a prescription.

It’s always important to consult with your doctor before taking prescription medications. Some of the most common medications are Naltrexone and Suboxone.