A Quick Guide to Alcohol Treatment Options and Support
Blenheim is a leading charity that helps people struggling with alcohol and substance misuse across London. In this guest blog, Blenheim’s Medical Director Dr Matthew Johnson gives a quick rundown of some medical treatments available in the UK for alcohol misuse.
There are numerous treatment options for alcohol misuse and the right one will depend on how much you are drinking and whether you are trying to drink less or give up drinking altogether.
If you are trying to stop drinking altogether there are some medications, recommended by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that can be prescribed to help maintain abstinence. If you get the support of a medical practitioner and make sure that you are aware of what is available and how it works, then you are in control.
Medical support to quit alcohol
The medications below are often prescribed alongside medical support and other interventions such as counselling and therapy.
- Acamprosate (brand name Campral) is used to help prevent a relapse in people who have successfully achieved abstinence from alcohol.
- Disulfiram (brand name Antabuse) can be used if you’re trying to achieve abstinence but are concerned that you may relapse, or if you’ve had previous relapses. Disulfiram works by deterring you from drinking by causing unpleasant physical reactions if you drink alcohol.
- Nalmefene (brand name Selincro) may be used to prevent a relapse or to limit the amount of alcohol someone drinks. It works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, which reduces cravings for alcohol.
- Naltrexone can be used to help prevent a relapse or to help limit the amount of alcohol someone drinks. It works by blocking opioid receptors in the body, reducing the euphoric effects of alcohol (but not the sedative effects like loss of co-ordination!).
What about Naltrexone?
There have been numerous questions about Naltrexone recently so in this blog I am going to look at some frequently asked questions;
How does Naltrexone work?
Naltrexone works by blocking opioid receptors in the body. It was originally used to treat dependence on opioid drugs but has also proven to prevent relapse or to limit the amount someone drinks by blocking some of alcohols euphoric effects making it less rewarding to use. Naltrexone will only be prescribed in combination with psychosocial interventions such as therapy.
What will happen if I drink whilst taking Naltrexone?
It may reduce the feeling of being drunk and the desire to drink more, but it will not cause a severe physical response to drinking. You will still experience the effects of alcohol, so your judgement, coordination and ability to perform tasks such as driving and operating machinery will still be affected.
What are the side effects?
The most common side effect of Naltrexone impact only a small number of people and include: nausea, headache, tiredness, sleep problems, anxiety, and joint or muscle pain. These side effects are usually mild and don’t last for long periods. If you feel unwell while taking Naltrexone, stop the medication immediately and seek advice from your GP.
Can I take other medication?
Naltrexone will stop the effect of opioid painkillers but there is lots of other pain relief that can be used. Naltrexone is likely to have little impact on other medications commonly taken but medical advice should be sought.
Does taking Naltrexone mean that I don’t need any other treatment?
No, Naltrexone is only one part of treatment for alcoholism and will only be prescribed in combination with psychosocial interventions such as therapy.
Why do I need to have blood tests while I’m on Naltrexone?
To ensure that Naltrexone treatment is safe, blood tests will be taken prior to the treatment starting and at regular intervals. Blood tests are required to make sure that the liver function is adequate prior to taking Naltrexone and to assess if it is having adverse effects on the liver.
How long does it take for it to start working?
Naltrexone will start working shortly after taking the first dose.
Are there some people who should not take Naltrexone?
Naltrexone should not be used by pregnant women, individuals with severe liver or kidney damage or with people who cannot achieve abstinence from alcohol for at least 5 days prior to starting the medication.
What does it feel like to take Naltrexone?
Apart from some people reporting initial short-lived and mild side effects, people usually say that they are not aware of being on medication. Naltrexone usually has no psychological effects and is not addictive.
What will happen when I stop taking it?
People can stop taking Naltrexone at any time. They will not experience withdrawal symptoms.
How long should I stay on Naltrexone?
The recommended course of treatment is 3 months. A course of Naltrexone can last up to six months, although it may be longer.
If you have any concerns about drinking or your health, please talk to your GP or another medical professional. An earlier blog written by a GP, “How to talk to your doctor“, is a useful to read.