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When Is Acamprosate Used?

Acamprosate calcium is not an alcohol addiction cure, as there is no cure for addiction.

The medication does not treat withdrawal, and it has downsides, including causing anxiety and suicidal thoughts in some people. However, it can be a real help to those who need assistance with alcohol abuse.

Acamprosate Calcium

Acamprosate calcium, sold under the brand name Campral, is a medication used to help people addicted to alcohol resist drinking. According to RxList, the exact mechanism that causes this is poorly understood.

One theory of how the drug functions is that it resets neuronal excitation and inhibition balance, which alcohol may disrupt. This balancing may be what helps to fight an addiction to alcohol, undoing some of its disruptions.

Regardless, it is a real aid to some people who are addicted to alcohol.

This drug is shown to be ineffective in people who are not abstinent from alcohol. For acamprosate to be effective, a person must have already gone through withdrawal and have not drunk alcohol since going through withdrawal. They should also similarly be avoiding any other kind of drug abuse.

Is Acamprosate Right for Me?

A few factors help determine whether acamprosate calcium will be of help. Bear in mind that the drug requires a prescription.

First, as noted above, a person must be completely abstinent from alcohol at the time the drug is being taken to be effective. While the mechanisms around how the drug works are not fully understood, if it indeed works by rebalancing neurological processes, this would make sense. It cannot rebalance what is then being unbalanced.

Second, those with a history of suicidal thoughts or who are believed to be at risk for self-harm of any kind should alert a doctor before taking acamprosate. Of its most serious side effects, feelings of emptiness, fear, and severe depression are possible outcomes of taking acamprosate calcium.

As it requires a prescription, talk to a doctor if you feel you could use help overcoming an addiction to alcohol.

Acamprosate alone will not effectively treat addiction. It takes time, effort, and at least some form of a treatment program for most people to overcome a serious alcohol problem. The drug can help many people in this process though.

Man holding a bottle of alcohol

How Effective Is Acamprosate?

A 2005 study by researchers Biju Basil, Mathews Thomas, Indranil Chakrabarti, Vinu George, Maju Mathews, and Babatunde Adetunji collected several other pieces of research on acamprosate and came to the conclusion it is indeed a generally effective treatment.

While the exact results of each individual study being analyzed varied, acamprosate calcium tended to be at least 10 percent more effective than a placebo treatment.

A 2013 study by researchers Stephanie L. Yahn, Lucas R. Watterson, and M. Foster Olive was less glowing in its conclusions but still viewed the drug as having a significantly positive impact.

In essence, the modern medical consensus is that this drug has a place in the treatment of alcohol addiction. It is not right for everyone, but it is effective enough to be considered.

Other options, like naltrexone or disulfiram, should also be discussed with a doctor when considering acamprosate calcium.

Risks of Acamprosate

Acamprosate’s biggest risk is its potential to foster suicidal thoughts.

If you are considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in a different country, most governments provide a similar service.

Acamprosate can have other side effects such as:

  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Thirst
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia

If any of these side effects are especially severe or last for a long time, call your doctor right away to make sure it is not a sign of a bigger problem.

It is also possible to overdose on acamprosate. If a person taking acamprosate experiences any of the following, call 911 and begin emergency breathing or CPR if appropriate:

  • Loss of consciousness or extreme drowsiness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe muscle weakness
  • Rash
  • Burning, tingling, or numbness
  • Incoherent speech
  • Confusion

As with all medication, if you are experiencing any symptom that concerns you, speak with your doctor.

Some people might be embarrassed about serious bowel problems, but they are nothing to be ashamed of. It is important to mention to a medical professional.

Part of a Bigger Whole

It is important to remember that acamprosate calcium is meant to help one resist the draw of alcohol, but it will not cure addiction. If you are addicted to alcohol, you should enroll an alcohol recovery program of some kind to get more comprehensive help than you will ever get alone.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) lays out the basics in its article titled “Treatment for Problem Drinking: What Are the Options?” which details how alcohol problems generally get treated through some combination of three broad categories: medications, behavioral treatments, and mutual support groups.

Medications used to help people who abuse alcohol include acamprosate calcium, disulfiram, and naltrexone. They serve relatively similar functions, and a doctor should be consulted to decide which, if any, are best for you.

Behavioral treatments are essentially counseling and therapy treatments, where a person is taught healthy coping and life skills to gain control over their alcohol abuse. They will learn to set achievable goals and how to avoid relapses.

Mutual support groups are groups where you will meet with other people are struggling with addiction, to support each other and talk about your problems. Alcoholics Anonymous is one such program. If that program is not a good fit for you, there are several others.

There Is Hope

It can be discouraging to struggle with addiction and have no easy fix available. Addiction is not an easy issue to deal with. However, it is something that can be managed on a long-term basis if you don’t give up.

Consult a medical professional about your best course for fighting addiction regardless of whether acamprosate calcium ends up being part of that treatment or not.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration( SAMHSA) offers a free Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator that can help you find a treatment program near you. These facilities are staffed with professionals who specialize in helping people with addiction.