UA-63899747-1 Alcohol Dependence: Medications – Nzinga Harrison, MD
Benzodiazepine Dependence
March 6, 2011
Sedative-Hypnotic Dependence
March 9, 2011

Like Asthma or Diabetes, not all Alcohol Dependence can be treated without medications.  Medications are used for two reasons in Alcohol Dependence:

  1. To provide a safe detox from Alcohol
  2. To prevent relapse to Alcohol use

The medications that are prescribed for Alcohol detox fall into two categories  Benzodiazepines and Other. Benzodiazepines work on the same receptor in the brain as Alcohol, and so can provide a safe detox when the dose is slowly decreased over time.  The benzodiazepines that are FDA approved for use in Alcohol Detoxification are:  chlordiazepoxide, clorazepate, diazepam, Librium, oxazepam, Serax, Tranxene, and Valium.

There is only one medication in the Other category:  chloral hydrate.  It is unclear how chloral hydrate works, and it is no longer commonly used as a detox medication.

After an individual is detoxed from Alcohol, it is often necessary to provide rehabilitation and/or another medication to help prevent relapse to Alcohol use.  The medications that are FDA approved for use in Alcohol Dependence are:  Antabuse, Campral, naltrexone (ReVia) and Vivitrol.

Finally, a significant number of individuals who have Alcohol Dependence, also have a co-occurring disorder such as Depression, Anxiety or other psychiatric disorder.  It is very important to treat the co-occurring disorder simultaneously, as untreated depressive, anxious or other psychiatric symptoms increase the risk of relapse to Alcohol.

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