Common Medications To Stop Drinking Alcohol

Acute alcohol withdrawals (requiring a medical detox) are extremely dangerous. Alcohol is one of the few drugs where withdrawal can be fatal.

This article is for general information and is not intended to be medical advice.

If you have severe alcohol withdrawals, medical advice should be sought immediately.

Medications, Supplements and Tablets For Alcohol Treatment

Whether you hope to cut down on drinking or need a full detox, it is always good to get help and support. We highly recommend counselling and support groups to get you through this time – and especially seek medical advice if your alcohol withdrawals are severe and medical detox is required.

Physically, even moderate withdrawal can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are many pills to stop drinking as much as you do or to stop completely.

These range from strong prescription medications you can get from a GP or specialist detox doctor to supplements and natural nutritional support you can buy over-the-counter or online.

It is a good idea to have an overview of what is available and what severity and symptoms the different pills treat.

History of Alcohol Withdrawal

Woman with hangover headacheWithdrawal from alcohol is nothing new. From the early era of addiction treatment, doctors have searched for treatment for what they observed of withdrawal. 

Before discovering several medications that helped the various symptoms, the main treatment was alcohol itself. 

Doctors used tapering of alcohol. This is where they slowly reduced the amount of alcohol a person was allowed to drink each day. 

Although this prevented the most severe side effects, it was also very dangerous.

It prolonged the damage caused by drinking too much, and it was also extremely painful for the addicted person. 

Psychologically it is very hard to have just a little of something you are addicted to. The pharmacology of alcohol and how it affects the body and brain have been studied for years.

Thankfully in the last 50-100 years, there have been numerous discoveries to help with alcohol withdrawal at all stages.

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

There are many levels of withdrawal from alcohol. How you experience it will depend on your physiology, general health and how long and how much you have been drinking.

The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal is the DTs or Delirium tremens. Also known as ‘the shakes’ this is not just the widely known shaking and sweating.

DTs can cause:

    • Mental Confusion
    • Hallucinations
    • Seizures
    • Irregular heart rate
    • High body temperature
    • Death

If you are experiencing or at risk of Delirium tremens you will need pills to stop drinking. A prescription from a medical professional such as a GP or private doctor is vital. Delirium tremens can be fatal and cause long term health problems.

Benzodiazepines

Currently, the first-line medication used by some rehab centres, hospitals and the NHS, benzos, as they are also known, are effective in helping severe withdrawal.

There are several reasons benzos help with alcohol withdrawal. They manage the symptoms associated with stopping drinking for dependent people.

The relationship between GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a large part of withdrawal. Alcohol activates the same relaxing part of the brain that GABA does.

If you drink too much for too long, your body decides it needs to produce less GABA.

Lower GABA levels are one of the reasons for side effects like anxiety, insomnia and depression when you stop drinking.

There are several different kinds of benzos for withdrawal. They vary in potency, administration and length, of course.

Diazepam

More commonly known as Valium, this is a sedative drug. It is helpful in withdrawal as it treats several of the symptoms.

Some of the effects of withdrawal that Diazepam helps are:

    • Hallucinations
    • Seizures
    • Shakes & Shivering
    • Anxiety and low mood
    • Insomnia

Box of Diazepam pills

Lorazepam

Also known as Ativan, Lorazepam is a similar benzodiazepine to Diazepam. The difference between Diazepam and Lorazepam is that Lorazepam doesn’t stay in your body for as long.

It works quickly, though, and studies show it is better for treating short-term anxiety, as well as those with a history of seizures. It is less commonly used for alcohol withdrawal because of stronger sedation and Diazepam lasting longer.

 One of the best arguments for Diazepam over Lorazepam is that the longer-acting Diazepam creates a smoother experience during withdrawal.

The exception is when the person is taking other medications that interfere with Diazepam. Because of the way the liver processes Diazepam, it is more likely to cause issues with other drugs than Lorazepam.

Chlordiazepoxide

Commonly known as Librium, this is probably the best known of the benzos used to treat alcoholism specifically. This is because it was the first benzodiazepine to be made and used for alcohol withdrawal. 

While they are both very effective in treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms, Diazepam is favoured by hospitals because it acts quicker and is longer lasting, whereas treatment centres including NHS addiction teams often use Librium as it is effective in treating withdrawals but doesn’t cause as much drowsiness as Diazepam (allowing clients to be more aware during any psychological therapies).

How are Benzodiazepines taken?

Pills are given to people who want to stop drinking and are taken orally. Some people in acute withdrawal cannot keep the pills down long enough, because of sickness and nausea.

Fortunately, all benzos mentioned above are also available as an injection or IV. In a clinic, hospital or rehab centre, a doctor or trained nurse will give this form of treatment. 

Warnings about Benzodiazepines

Although they are very effective at treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you should only take benzos if it is really necessary. They are designed to treat acute withdrawal and are unsuitable for mild withdrawal. 

There are several reasons to avoid them if they are not medically essential.

    • They are highly addictive – this can be a serious issue if you are prone to addiction.
    • Benzos are sedatives which can impair you while you are taking them.
    • There can be side effects (see below).
    • Mixing benzos with alcohol is extremely dangerous – it increases the effect of both substances and can cause overdose. Drinking alcohol and taking benzos often leads to a slow respiratory system, and heart failure is a common cause of death by overdose, as well as not wakening when choking while vomiting during sleep.

Some of the effects of alcohol withdrawal can be headaches, hallucinations, seizures, shakes and shivering, anxiety and low mood, confusion and insomnia.

 


Acamprosate

Usually prescribed under the name Campral, this is a pill to prevent drinking relapse. It is not used to treat the immediate symptoms of withdrawal. Its primary purpose – certainly by the NHS – is to reduce cravings for alcohol. It is most effective when used in combination with psychological counselling.

Acamprosate is a long-term treatment to help restore your brain after the damage done by drinking too much. 

Alcohol affects the neurotransmitters in our brain. These are the parts of our brain that control how we feel. 

This is why when we drink, at first, we feel good. This gets less and less so as we drink too often or much. 

When our brain depends on alcohol, important ‘feel good’ chemicals don’t get released anymore. Dopamine, GABA, and Serotonin are some of the best known and worst affected. 

Acamprosate works to restore balance and counteract the damage done to the brain by alcohol misuse disorder. 

Problems with Acamprosate

Acamprosate cannot help with the more dangerous side effects of alcohol withdrawal.

If you are concerned about seizures, Delirium Tremens, hallucinations and depression, you will need a different medication, possibly in addition to Acamprosate.

Side effects of Acamprosate

    • Stomach Problems – nausea, gas, diarrhoea, and appetite loss
    • Anxiety and insomnia
    • Sweating, dry mouth and skin itching 

Evidence shows that people who take Acamprosate pills to stop drinking have a better chance of staying sober. 

However, if they do not take counselling and other support, Acamprosate alone doesn’t improve their risk of relapse. 

Disulfiram

Commonly sold under the name Antabuse, Disulfiram is designed as a pill to stop and prevent people from drinking alcohol specifically. It should only be taken once all alcohol is out of the body (detoxed).

It works by causing extreme hangover symptoms shortly after drinking even a small amount of alcohol. It is a very serious medication as a treatment for alcoholism and must be used responsibly.

Instead of breaking down alcohol in the usual way, your body uses a different method, leading to immediate unpleasant side effects.

Warnings for Disulfiram

It can be a very dangerous medication, and drinking alcohol whilst taking Antabuse can cause serious, and fatal, contraindications.

Popular at first in the UK, Antabuse is not widely used. Many believe it is punishing addicted people who are already suffering.

The biggest issue, in terms of effectiveness, with Disulfiram is that patients stop taking it. Understandably, those taking it don’t want to suffer if they relapse.

It is not good to use Antabuse as a pill to cut down on drinking.

The effect of drinking even a small amount (such as alcohol mouthwash) is painful and severe.

Naltrexone 

Originally intended to help those with opioid addiction, Naltrexone pills and implants have had success with alcohol dependence.

They are not intended to help with general withdrawal symptoms. They only treat cravings by stopping you from feeling the positive effects of drugs or alcohol. 

If you take Naltrexone and drink, you will not get any of the ‘reward’ feelings you normally do. 

Warnings for Naltrexone

While Naltrexone does decrease how much and how often addicted people drink, it doesn’t seem to improve levels of abstinence. If you are looking for a pill to stop drinking completely, you may be best trying another option. 

The other issue with Naltrexone pills is that many people stop taking them so they can enjoy drinking again. The injections, however, are not commonly available in the UK. Naltrexone works by blocking the effect of brain receptors and decreasing cravings and urges to use alcohol.

Side Effects of Naltrexone

    • Insomnia and anxiety
    • Headaches
    • Nausea and stomach pain

Stomach Pain

Omeprazole 

Usually a medication for reflux, omeprazole helps those with stomach issues such as indigestion and heartburn. A proton pump inhibitor, this pill reduces acid in the stomach and throat. 

These are common complaints from those undergoing alcohol withdrawal. It also improves appetite, which is good for improving health and nutrition.

Imodium 

Diarrhoea is a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal alongside nausea. This might not seem like a serious concern for those in withdrawal, but it can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration. 

It is important not to mix Imodium with alcohol as it can make you drowsy and dizzy and risks heart issues.

Headaches

Painkillers

Those addicted to alcohol will tend to be addicted to other things. This means that they should avoid anything that they can become addicted to.

Opioid painkillers such as Co-codamol and Nurofen Plus contain codeine and can become addictive quickly, so we wouldn’t recommend these for headaches.

Non-opioid painkillers are recommended. Options include paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen. 

It is not a good idea to mix these painkillers and alcohol. You must stop taking them if you plan on drinking again. Both alcohol and these pills can make you drowsy, so it is not recommended to mix them.

Dehydration Pills

There are a few options to rehydrate. The first thing, though, is you need fluids in your body.

Wait before you down a dozen litres of water, though.

You will need to replace the salts in your system, too, or the dilution with so much liquid will make the problem last longer. 

This is where rehydration pills, tablets or powders come in. They have to be taken with fluids to work. 

The tablets and powders are made to dissolve in water, so these can be a great way to do both. If you get a pill that doesn’t dissolve, take water with it. 

If you are struggling to keep anything down, small sips over a long time are better than throwing up a whole litre of water. 

These are available over the counter at most pharmacies and some supermarkets. You may be able to get them on prescription if you consult with the pharmacist about your condition. 

Opioid painkillers such as Co-codamol and Nurofen Plus
contain codeine and can become addictive

Vitamins and Supplements 

Drinking too much combined with a lifestyle of not taking care of yourself can lead to vitamin deficiencies. 

Those experiencing mild withdrawal from alcohol may prefer to use vitamins or supplements to help them recover. 

These are an addition, not a replacement for prescribed medication for acute withdrawal. Anyone who is experiencing serious side effects, including but not limited to: seizures, hallucinations, DT (Delirium Tremens), severe anxiety or low mood, and chronic insomnia, should seek medical help from their GP or a private doctor. 

B Vitamins

Many of the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9 & B12) have a range of benefits that meet the needs of those detoxing from alcohol.

They improve the liver’s health, blood glucose conversion and lower cholesterol. It also helps your digestion and nervous system, which are thrown into chaos by alcohol misuse.

B1 (Thiamine)

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is used by the body to convert food into energy.

The body doesn’t produce Thiamine, so it must be consumed through foods, and people who drink too much alcohol often don’t have as healthy a diet as they could. In addition, alcohol can cause inflammation of the stomach, which can reduce your ability to absorb Thiamine (as well as other vitamins and nutrients). Most rehabs and medical professionals will prescribe Thiamine as standard procedure when treating alcohol withdrawal.

Desistal

A blend of supplements designed to tackle long and short-term mild withdrawal from alcohol. Desistal contains Bacopa Monnieri to aid in mental functioning. It is used in traditional medicine to aid in anxiety and act as a natural antidepressant. 

Other ingredients are apple cider vinegar which is used as a mood enhancer in traditional medicines. It is also used to aid in energy levels and metabolism. 

MCT oil in Desistal is used for a similar purpose to improve energy levels and give your body more fuel to cope with withdrawal. Choosing a combined supplement to stop drinking gives you the right strength and combination to deal with this problem in particular. 

Try Desistal to Stop Drinking

Vitamin A

The livers of those who overuse alcohol can drop in levels of Vitamin A. It is an essential part of the body for metabolizing alcohol. 

This is why people who struggle with alcohol dependence can struggle with night blindness. A lack of vitamin A can be a contributing factor.

NAD Therapy Pills

Alcohol addiction can lead quite quickly to your body condition getting worse daily. When you take alcohol very regularly over a long period, you effectively poison your body.

 Your physical health will deteriorate. Repairing this can come naturally in time, although some damage cannot be undone. 

At a challenging time like alcohol withdrawal, when you need to be in the best of health, your body may let you down. 

NAD or Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide can help to improve many aspects of your physical health.

NAD pills, injections or IVs will help reset the neurotransmitters (the feel-good parts of the brain). These are disrupted when we drink too much for too long. It is one of the main reasons for alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Glutathione

Glutathione levels in your body are important to normal health and functioning—everything from DNA creation to breaking down toxins such as pollution, fats and alcohol in the liver.

As Glutathione breaks down alcohol in the liver, it is an excellent help in the early days of alcohol withdrawal. This is when alcohol is broken down and taken out of the body.

The downside of Glutathione pills to stop drinking is they are not as effective in oral form. The better option is a Glutathione injection or IV infusion.

What Pills will Help me Stop Drinking?

This will entirely depend on how severe your alcohol withdrawal is. If you have any severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, Delirium Tremens, or hallucinations, among others, you must see a doctor immediately. You will need benzodiazepines or another similar treatment. There is a risk of serious illness and death if you do not.

If you are just hoping to cut down after overdoing it less serious medication is an option. The best option is to consider your symptoms and target them. 

For example, if you have headaches, then consider non-opioid painkillers and dehydration pills. If your symptoms are mild anxiety, fatigue or low mood, you might try Desistal. For stomach problems, consider omeprazole or Imodium. 

Whatever pills you choose to support your efforts to stop drinking, don’t forget to take care of yourself too. Rest, fun, sober activities, counselling, and support are all important parts of recovery.

If you need any help, advice or just someone to talk to please contact our helpline today.

Sources

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606320/ Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4014018/ The clinical pharmacology of acamprosate

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153866/#:~:text=Bacopa%20recipients%20displayed%20a%20decrease,an%20increase%20in%20heart%20rate. Bacopa Monnieri Trials for Mood Issues

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8622118/ Apple Cider Vinegar Mental Health Trials

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323936 Benefits of Glutathione

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7278809/ Sobriety and Satiety: Is NAD+ the Answer?

https://www.fda.gov/media/113016/download Pharmacy Compounding Committee Review: Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD+)

*Acute alcohol withdrawals (requiring a medical detox) are extremely dangerous. Alcohol is one of the few drugs where withdrawal can be fatal. Medical advice should be sought immediately.