Many people who are severely addicted to alcohol cannot simply walk away from that addiction. The psychological and physical dependence is so strong that it requires a transitional drug to slowly facilitate sober living.
Furthermore, drinking heavily over a period of time will medical consequences that need tending to. The body will begin to deteriorate in a variety of ways. Long-term alcohol consumption can affect nearly every organ in the body, including the brain. Heavy drinking can affect coordination, thiamine deficiency, and other forms of poor nutrition. Alcoholism can lead to illnesses having to do with the heart, such as hypertension and an irregular heartbeat. It can also cause impotence, irregular menstrual cycles, pancreatitis, stroke, confusion, and amnesia. Alcoholism can also wreak havoc on the functioning of the brain.
For this reason, there are specific drugs that recovering alcoholics are prescribed in order to minimize the effects of withdrawal and help bring the body into balance. These federally approved treatment drugs help reduce the side effects of withdrawal and curb cravings which can lead to relapse. They are medications used not just for “detox”, but for long-term use in order to sustain sober living.
Naltrexone is an opioid blocker that is also used as a way to medically treat alcoholism. There are some advantages and disadvantages to using Naltrexone. It does not have any addictive properties, which is a significant advantage over other medication for alcoholism. The drug blocks the parts of the brain that feel pleasure when one drinks alcohol. When these of the brain are blocked, there is less of a desire to drink alcohol because alcohol’s positive effects are minimized. Side effects to Naltrexone include nausea, headaches, constipation, dizziness, anxiety, and insomnia. Research shows that this drug has been effective in combination with the attendance to AA meetings, addiction counseling, and residential treatment. However, one problem is the lack of adherence to taking the drug daily.
Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin, are commonly prescribed for anxiety. However, Benzodiazepines have also been very effective in treating alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The risk with Benzodiazepines, however, is that they are highly addictive and have severe withdrawal symptoms. Yet, if a recovering addict can take Benzodiazepines as prescribed, they usually don’t experience the risk of addiction and instead, the medication greatly facilitates their alcohol detox process. However, if an addiction does develop, the withdrawal process from Benzodiazepines can be severe.
Toprimate (also known as Topomax)
This drug is an anticonvulsant as well as a mood stabilizer, which helps reduce alcohol cravings. It works by reducing brain levels of dopamine, which is believed to create the pleasurable sensations caused by drinking). Side effects include numbness, tingling, nervousness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. The drug has been noted to significantly decrease cravings and obsessive thoughts about drinking. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published a notice indicating that the use of Topomax by pregnant women can cause a cleft lip in their infants.
Campral blocks the receptor sites that cause craving for alcohol. It is safe, relatively free of side effects, and helpful for many individuals seeking sobriety. Campral helps reduce the urge to drink, but does not take the place of the psycho-social changes needed to accomplish recovery from alcohol dependency. Furthermore, studies show that both the use of Campral and Naloxone together can lead to better treatment outcomes.
Of course, the long-term effects of alcoholism can not only include physical impairments but also psychological effects. Heavy alcohol consumption not only affects the health of the body; it also affects the stability of the mind. Approximately, 10%-15% of those with alcoholism will attempt to take their life. Sadly, those who are successful in their suicide attempt tend to have positive alcohol levels in their blood stream.
Yet, when an individual can find within themselves the choice to stop drinking, the above medications along with counseling, family support, a sober living environment, and a network of support, putting an end to drinking is possible. Even with a long-term addiction to alcohol, living a sober life can be within reach.
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