Acamprosate for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Medically Reviewed by
Marisa Savic, PMHNP-BC
March 25, 2024

Alcohol addiction remains a pervasive issue, affecting millions worldwide. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 29.5 million Americans aged 12 and above were diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in 2022, which is about 10.5% of that age group.

Alcohol use disorder can be detrimental to both mental and physical health and often worsens overall quality of life. People who are trapped in a cycle of addiction find it difficult to safely stop drinking and there is a risk for severe if not fatal withdrawal for some if they try to quit cold turkey. Additionally, many struggle with relapse due to long term withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Therefore, as efforts to safeguard public safety are enhanced, recognizing effective treatment options is crucial. In this regard, one of the most effective solutions is complementing therapy and behavioral interventions with medications. 

If you’re looking to overcome AUD or help someone do so, keep reading. This article will explore how the medication Acamprosate can help with alcohol addiction recovery.

“You can reduce the chances of returning to any drink by 86% by receiving Acamprosate.”

national library of medicine

What is Acamprosate?

Facts about Acamprosate for alcohol addiction

Acamprosate, commonly known by its brand name Campral, is a medication used to reduce cravings for alcohol and reduce risk for relapse. It functions by stabilizing the chemical balance in the brain disrupted by chronic alcohol consumption. 

Typically prescribed in tablet form, Acamprosate is taken orally and works by modulating neurotransmitter activity, specifically gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate. Since it works on similar neurotransmitters to alcohol, it is safest to be used after someone has detoxed for those who struggle with daily drinking and should only be used for individuals who want to maintain abstinence as opposed to those looking to just moderate their drinking.

As per data from the National Library of Medicine, you can reduce the chances of returning to any drink by 86% by receiving Acamprosate. It’s an extremely effective medication and has helped many people recover and remain stable in their sobriety.

Benefits of Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Acamprosate offers several benefits in alcohol addiction recovery. For starters, it restores the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, helping reduce the unpleasant symptoms associated with post acute alcohol withdrawal, such as anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. 

Additionally, Acamprosate aids in minimizing alcohol cravings, which are common triggers for relapse during the recovery process. As part of a comprehensive treatment plan, Acamprosate can significantly enhance the success rate of individuals striving to overcome alcohol addiction and maintain sobriety.

Who Can Take Acamprosate?

Acamprosate is suitable for individuals with alcohol use disorder, particularly those committed to maintaining sobriety. Since this medication does not prevent alcohol withdrawal, many who drink daily require inpatient or outpatient detox before starting it using a different medication to prevent and reduce severe withdrawal symptoms. Once someone is able to safely achieve abstinence for at least a few days in a row, they can begin treatment with Acamprosate.

Acamprosate does not metabolize through the liver, so anyone with liver issues related to drinking can safely take this medication. Caution is advised for people who have kidney issues and for pregnant individuals since kidney function affects the efficacy and safety of taking Acamprosate and there are no studies showing that it is safe in pregnancy. Additionally, patients taking other medications should consult with their healthcare provider to assess potential interactions. 

But despite these considerations, Acamprosate remains a valuable option for many individuals seeking adequate support in their journey towards alcohol addiction recovery.

Acamprosate vs Naltrexone

Quick facts about Naltrexone or Vivitrol for addiction treatment

Both Acamprosate and naltrexone are medications commonly used in the treatment of alcoholism and are considered first-line treatments, yet they differ in their mechanisms of action and therapeutic effects.

Acamprosate works by stabilizing the chemical balance in the brain that is disrupted by chronic alcohol consumption. It reduces the unpleasant symptoms of long term alcohol withdrawal symptoms and helps to restore normal brain function, thereby reducing the urge to drink.

On the other hand, Naltrexone operates by blocking opioid receptors in the brain. Alcohol acts on opioid receptors by increasing feelings of comfort and reducing pain and anxiety. Taking naltrexone can help reduce the rewarding effects of alcohol, making it less desirable and reinforcing.

Naltrexone is metabolized by the liver so individuals with liver concerns may lean towards trying Acamprosate first since it doesn’t affect the liver. Additionally, individuals with kidney concerns may lean towards trying naltrexone since it doesn’t affect kidney function. Another distinction is that naltrexone dosing is just one pill a day while Acamprosate requires two pills taken three times a day to be effective, so individuals who struggle to remember to take medications throughout the day may do better with naltrexone. Finally, Acamprosate is not safe to take while still drinking but naltrexone is so individuals looking to just moderate over choosing sobriety should try out naltrexone over Acamprosate.

Despite their distinct mechanisms of action, both medications share a common goal of aiding individuals in maintaining sobriety and preventing relapse. The choice between the two medications may depend on individual factors such as medical history, treatment goals, individual preference and response to previous therapies. Consulting with a healthcare professional is essential in determining the most suitable treatment approach for each individual.

Acamprosate vs Antabuse (Disulfiram)

Quick facts about Disulfiram for alcoholism

While both Acamprosate and Antabuse (disulfiram) are medications used in the treatment of alcohol addiction, they differ in their mechanisms of action and therapeutic effects.

As stated previously, Acamprosate functions by modulating neurotransmitter activity in the brain, reducing cravings and the desire to drink alcohol. In contrast, Antabuse works by blocking the enzyme involved in metabolizing alcohol, leading to the accumulation of acetaldehyde, a toxic substance. When alcohol is consumed while taking Antabuse, it results in extremely unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fast heart rate, sweating and facial flushing. This aversive reaction serves as a deterrent to drinking alcohol.

Antabuse is not considered a first-line treatment option due to reaction that can occur if alcohol is consumed on it. However, many find the accountability of Antabuse more beneficial and it’s still widely used to prevent relapses on alcohol. Therefore, the choice between the two medications depends on individual preferences, treatment goals, and medical history, with healthcare professionals guiding the decision-making process.

Get the Support You Need for Successful Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Backed by evidence-based research, it’s evident that Acamprosate is a valuable medication in the treatment of alcohol addiction. Its efficacy, coupled with its relatively low risk of side effects, makes it a favorable option for many individuals seeking recovery. However, it’s crucial to remember that medication alone is not a complete solution. Comprehensive treatment, including therapy, support groups, and lifestyle changes, is essential for successful recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate to seek help. Eleanor Health offers comprehensive addiction treatment services, including medication-assisted treatment, therapy, and support groups tailored to meet your individual needs. 

Take the first step towards recovery today by reaching out to Eleanor Health and accessing the support you need to achieve lasting sobriety.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the side effects of Acamprosate? 

Common side effects of Acamprosate may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dizziness, and headaches. However, not everyone experiences these side effects, and they often subside as the body adjusts to the medication.

How long does Acamprosate take to work?

Acamprosate typically starts working within a few days to a week of starting treatment. However, its full effectiveness may take several weeks to manifest. 

Can you drink on Acamprosate? 

It is not recommended to drink alcohol while taking Acamprosate. Combining alcohol with Acamprosate may reduce the effectiveness of the medication and increase the risk for side effects.

Can you buy Acamprosate over-the-counter? 

No, Acamprosate is not available over-the-counter. It is a prescription medication that must be prescribed by a healthcare provider and obtained from a pharmacy.

Can I just stop taking Acamprosate? 

It is not advisable to stop taking Acamprosate abruptly without consulting a healthcare professional. Suddenly discontinuing the medication may lead to withdrawal symptoms and increase the risk for relapse.

Will I experience withdrawal symptoms?

Discontinuing Acamprosate does not typically cause withdrawal symptoms, especially when tapered off with the help of a healthcare provider.

Get Started Today

Marisa Savic, PMHNP-BC

Marisa Savic, PMHNP-BC is a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who received her nursing and master’s degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. Marisa has worked as a provider, clinical manager, director of clinical quality, and program manager of addiction treatment at numerous companies specializing in telepsychiatry as well as working in person at inpatient, outpatient, detoxification and crisis center facilities. She is currently the National Lead Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Eleanor Health and her clinical interests include therapeutic communication, evidence-based treatment and nonjudgmental care.

Medication Guide Addiction & recovery Blog

Related Articles

A person shows signs of a functioning alcoholic Signs of a “Functioning Alcoholic” – Take the Assessment
Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic medical condition characterized by...
Read More
An illustration of a doctor giving a patient medical detox from drugs and alcohol What is Medical Detox?
The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that around 30 million people over the...
Read More
A man experiencing anxiety rubs his face with his hands The Link Between Anxiety and Alcohol
It is fairly common to unwind after a long and stressful day with a glass of wine. It can be...
Read More

We’re here to help

We know reaching out can be hard. Call today to speak with one of our recovery specialists. We will listen, learn, and offer support – without judgment. We welcome every person in need of support.