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Can Medications or a Pill Help Alcohol Addiction?

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Recovering from Alcohol Addiction is a life-long process accomplished by hard work, making changes in your thoughts and beliefs, and building a community of support to ultimately defeat this disease. The most important and ongoing treatment necessities are growing a strong spiritual connection and faith in God combined with developing Biblically-based psychological skills and health.

The biological sphere of healthy brain chemistry, proper nutrition, exercise, and restful sleep is also important. And although not a necessity, medication is one component of the biological options that can help the recovery and transformation process along. Medications are not a shortcut or cure, but might help reduce alcohol cravings which minimize wasted time on relapse temptations or actual relapse setbacks. Thus meds often help accelerate recovery process in the first couple years, or avoid setbacks if stressors catch you off guard.

Only through a solid lifelong rehab and transformation program that focuses on the spiritual, psychological, and physical strengthening of the individual can a person begin to live a new life free of alcohol’s tentacles.

Why Abstinence is a Key Part of Treatment

There are various ways to treat alcoholism, each with its own pros and cons. By far the best treatment as described earlier is a spiritual awakening empowering a psychological healing and equipping. But for those to happen, abstinence from the toxin of alcohol as well as the thoughts and behaviors associated with alcohol fantasies is essential. So stopping the drinking is paramount.

As many recovering alcoholics know, it is extremely difficult – nearly impossible – for a person who was once addicted to alcohol years ago, to drink in moderation again. Alcohol has such a profound impact on the human body that being exposed to the substance even years later can trigger increased cravings and resurface old faulty thought patterns and spiritual complacency, causing the person to relapse into full blown alcohol addiction again.

For this reason, abstaining from alcohol is usually seen as a key first step for overcoming alcoholism. This allows the individual to establish their life without this substance so they can focus on spiritual and psychological growth instead of how many drinks they can have without causing a problem.

Most, but not all, alcohol treatment centers promote complete abstinence from alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on the principle that once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, and the person in recovery must continue to be diligent and stay involved with their sponsor and support group in order to remain alcohol-free.

From a Christian standpoint, the Bible teaches God can heal us from the disease of alcoholism as we grow to spiritual maturity and submission to Him. When we truly die to self and live in Jesus, nothing else will have power over us. But to overcome our baggage and reach that level of spiritual and psychological maturity, we have some exciting work to do. Even when we have been freed and cured of alcoholism, we will still abstain as to not tempt ourselves or dishonor God by visiting an old idol.

Completely removing alcohol from a person’s life is sometimes the only way for some people to avoid a complete meltdown and relapse.

Medications May Help with Detox and Recovery

As the alcoholic starts treatment and wants to be abstinent, but their spiritual and psychological skills are in their infancy, they often need lots of help in staying sober. Medications are essential to help with detox and the treatment of alcoholism. These medications are used to ease withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and even make drinking seem less desirable to the person. Of course, as with taking any medication, there are some downsides to using medication during alcohol recovery.

Pros of medication-assisted recovery:
  • Faster and medically safer detox
  • More manageable and less painful withdrawal symptoms
  • Reduced cravings
  • Increased ability to refrain from drinking
  • Alcohol becomes harmful
Cons of using medications for alcohol recovery:
  • Cost that is not always covered by insurance
  • Moderate or severe side effects of medications
  • Perception that medications can cure all and replace rehab
  • Dependence on yet another addicting substance in some cases
  • Incorrectly viewed as a cure or quick fix and ignore the underlying problem and work needed

Types of Medications Used for Alcohol Recovery

Thiamine. Injectable thiamine is a medication used in the detox period and early recovery period. When a person drinks heavily, their thiamine level, or vitamin B1, gets dangerously low. Low levels of this vitamin can lead to a condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy, characterized by confusion, loss of muscle coordination, and abnormal eye movements. Thiamine can improve symptoms of this disease, but will not reverse all damage already caused.

Naltrexone. Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist (blocker), is another medication used during alcohol treatment. With naltrexone, a person does not experience euphoria when they drink, leading to a reduction in cravings. Side effects of Naltrexone include headache, nausea, dizziness, insomnia, and anxiety. However, Naltrexone (Brand Revia) is fairly inexpensive and side effects are not generally serious or life threatening. Naltrexone can be given as a monthly injection called Vivitrol, and although expensive, is often covered by insurance.

Librium. Librium is commonly used during alcohol detox. Also known as chlordiazepoxide, this medication is a benzodiazepine used to treat both alcohol detox and anxiety disorders. It blocks seizures, reduces anxiety, helps sleep, and makes detox a less traumatic, more positive experience overall. Like all benzos, Librium itself can be addictive and must be taken with care. It can cause side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, constipation, blurred vision, and skin rash. (Other possible benzodiazepines commonly used for detox are Klonopin, Ativan, Xanax, Valium)

Antabuse. Antabuse, also called Disulfiram, is a medication that blocks the body’s ability to break down alcohol. The result is when a person who took Antabuse that morning drinks, they feel instantly hungover and uncomfortable, with severe nausea, vomiting, headache, and confusion. Wanting to avoid this reaction and danger provides motivation to abstain. Antabuse can have effects for up to 2 weeks after ingestion.

Campral. Finally, Campral is a medication that is taken daily to help balance the brain’s chemistry. It is used in individuals who have recently stopped drinking, in order to help reduce their cravings for alcohol.

Complete Healing Offers Best Results

Medication is a way to help in the early stages of alcohol detox, withdrawal, and early sobriety when the addict’s spiritual and psychological foundations are still shaky and not fully in place yet. They make the detox safer and the rehab process a little smoother and quicker by reducing the difficult cravings at times. Medications are not, however, a magic cure for alcoholism, and they never will make the rehab process easy, fast, or trouble-free.

In order for a person to fully recover from alcohol dependence, they need to experience a change in their entire being. Medications also will never replace the spiritual growth and psychological equipping processes necessary for sustained transformation. Intensive rehab and behavioral therapy help recovering alcoholics develop the skills to process their thoughts in a positive manner, to identify and adjust their negative behavior, and to develop healthy ways to deal with stress that are in line with Biblical principles for life management. This whole process is easier and more fulfilling when we connect with God and have His power to draw on through this incredible journey.