What is Medication for Alcohol Use Disorder?

What is Medication for Alcohol Use Disorder? Does It Work?

  The ultimate goal for one in alcohol treatment is to stop drinking altogether. But when they’re in outpatient drug and alcohol rehab, a transitional goal of using less alcohol may be appropriate.  Medication for alcohol use disorder can help that transitional phase into complete sobriety. For some, this harm reduction goal is the first realistic step. Here we’ll take a look at medications for alcohol use disorder. How do they work? And how effective they are for addiction recovery?  

What is medication for alcohol use disorder? 

Some people use medication to help them with treatment and recovery. These medications are not a cure. But they may help a person reach recovery goals by helping them limit their alcohol use. They are not substitutes for alcohol like some medications for an opioid disorder are. Instead, they are another layer of support for a person in recovery learning to live without alcohol.   Also, these medications work better for some people than others. The ideal candidate has a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder, has stopped drinking, and is committed to treatment and recovery. But they have not responded well enough to counseling therapy and still struggle with cravings and urges to drink. An individual like this is more likely to take the medication as prescribed. And have other treatment supports in place to promote recovery.   

How do these medications impact alcohol use? 

Two medications, naltrexone and acamprosate, work to reduce a person’s urges to seek alcohol and support abstinence. A third medication, disulfiram, creates unpleasant symptoms if a person drinks even a small amount of alcohol. The choice of medication also depends on whether the goal: reduced use or abstinence. Complete abstinence is necessary for pregnancy, many chronic medical conditions, and to meet legal requirements. For some individuals, reduced use can meet their goal of harm reduction.    

Approved medications 

These non-addictive medications for alcohol use disorder are FDA-approved to support recovery in several ways. Not everyone may need these medications. But they work best with treatment to reduce or stop alcohol use.  


  • Reduces heavy drinking days
  • Promotes abstinence
  • Reduces cravings



  • Reduces heavy drinking days
  • Promotes abstinence once a person has stopped drinking
  • Reduces cravings



  • Blocks the breakdown of alcohol in the body, resulting in unpleasant symptoms like nausea if alcohol is consumed


Do these medications work for alcohol use disorder?   

The medications listed above are FDA-approved, but the evidence backing their effectiveness is mixed. This approach is still somewhat new. So we need more research to understand how they can best help people in recovery. Like medications for other chronic conditions, they are just one of many treatment options. Some people don’t respond to these medications, and others may find some benefit. Most importantly, these medications make the strongest impact when combined with treatment like outpatient drug and alcohol rehab. Disulfiram has been linked with a decreased risk of hospitalization from alcohol-related physical problems. And naltrexone used with or without other medications is linked to a lower risk of hospitalization due to alcohol use disorder. The efficacy looks modest, but the use of these medications is on the rise. And with more research and availability, their positive impact may become more apparent.   Medications for alcohol use disorder are a fairly new tool for addiction treatment professionals. These medications may help some people reduce or stop using alcohol as they go through treatment. They aren’t a cure or substitute for rehab, but they can make the transition to sobriety a little easier. If you have questions about cutting back on your alcohol use or think you may need treatment, contact our P.A.T.H. Nashville or P.A.T.H. Worcester today at 1-888-622-7809. We’re here to listen and help.

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