What Types of Medications Are Used to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
By: Zinnia Healing Editorial Staff | Edited By: Rebecca Hill
Types of Medications Used to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms & How They Help
People who are suffering from alcohol addiction are often afraid to stop drinking or seek professional help because of the difficult symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. The good news is there are several medications approved to help mitigate the worst effects of alcohol withdrawal to allow people to detox from alcohol comfortably without feeling like their only option to counter the effects is to pick up the bottle. In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at the different medications to treat the side effects of alcohol withdrawal and how to seek treatment for alcohol use disorder.
Are you ready to quit drinking but aren’t sure where to start? Zinnia Healing is here for you. Learn more about inpatient and outpatient detox programs at Zinnia Healing here.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) refers to the symptoms that occur when someone who drinks heavily suddenly stops or reduces their intake of alcohol.
There are several physical and emotional side effects that occur with the alcohol withdrawal syndrome, including:
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
The most severe kind of alcohol syndrome is known as delirium tremens (DT). Signs of DT include:
- Severe agitation
- Severe confusion
If you experience any of the above life-threatening signs of alcohol withdrawal, it’s vital to call 911 or head to the emergency department as soon as possible.
If you’re ready to seek treatment for alcohol withdrawal syndrome — whether you’re experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal or severe withdrawal symptoms, Zinnia Healing is here to help. Contact us online or by phone at (855) 430-9439.
Medications to Treat Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol is a screening tool commonly used by physicians to rate a patient’s dependence on alcohol and symptoms of withdrawal. With this tool, the provider will gain a better understanding of which medication to prescribe them to help with the symptoms of withdrawal.
The most commonly used medications to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
According to the National Library of Medicine, benzodiazepines have the largest and best evidence base in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal. For these reasons, the National Library of Medicine considers them the “gold standard” in treating the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Although researchers do not fully understand the exact way that benzos work, they know the medication enhances the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, a process that slows down nerve impulses in the body and reduces the brain’s output of neurotransmitters that are necessary for:
- Emotional responses
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are known for their sedative effects and are commonly prescribed to treat conditions like:
- Panic attacks
- Panic disorders
- Withdrawal seizures
Ativan (lorazepam), chlordiazepoxide, diazepam, Librium, Valium, Oxazepam (Serax), and Xanax are common examples of benzos and are often used as part of alcohol detox programs.
It’s important to note that benzodiazepines are considered highly addictive, and therefore, the use of benzos must be carefully monitored during detox, especially for people with a history of addiction. Due to the risk of addiction associated with long-acting benzodiazepines, many medical professionals recommend a symptom-triggered regimen of administering them. The guidelines recommend that the medications are dosed on objectively measured symptoms instead of a fixed dose regimen.
Benzodiazepines may not be effective on some people, whether because they’ve already built up a tolerance to benzos, or due to other factors. In these instances, or if a patient is in the emergency department for severe alcohol withdrawal, barbituates can be prescribed to ease the symptoms.
Acamprosate is an FDA-approved drug to treat alcohol use disorder. It works by reducing the brain’s dependence on alcohol through reactions with neurotransmitters in the brain.
Suboxone is commonly used to treat opioid addiction. Still, it can also be used to help ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal during alcohol detoxification, as long as the person does not drink while taking Suboxone.
Depakote, Tegretol (carbamazepine), and gabapentin are some examples of anticonvulsant drugs that are prescribed during alcohol detoxification for the treatment of alcohol dependence. The main purpose of these drugs is to prevent seizures associated with alcohol withdrawal and therefore help manage alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Disulfiram is another commonly prescribed drug used to treat alcohol use disorder. Disulfiram interferes with how the body breaks down alcohol. When someone taking Disulifram drinks alcohol, the drug is designed to produce unpleasant side effects to deter drinking. It does so by producing sensitivity to the ethanol in alcohol.
Baclofen is a muscle relaxant that is sometimes used in the treatment of alcohol dependence. Baclofen is an agonist, meaning it binds to GABA receptors. GABA, an amino acid, inhibits the central nervous system (CNS).
A 2021 study that tested 120 people found that baclofen holds great potential for treating AUD. The study tested the effects of a placebo and 30 and 90 milligrams of Baclofen. It concluded that the medication might increase alcohol abstinence and decrease alcohol consumption.
Clonidine is used to treat seizures and anxiety. It’s also been tested in controlled trials to relieve cravings and other side effects of alcohol abuse. The trials found it is effective in treating acute alcohol withdrawal. It does so by lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
Some of the other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that clonidine treats include:
- Tremors, including the life-threatening side effects of delirium tremens
- Mild depression
Medication-Assisted Treatment at Zinnia Healing
Medication-assisted treatment is the term for the use of FDA-approved medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat addiction and alcohol use disorder.
At Zinnia Healing, our team of experienced addiction specialists works with patients struggling with alcohol abuse to create custom treatment plans using the therapies and medications that work best for each patient. To learn more about our treatment options, click here.