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Which OTC Medications Will Help You to Stop Drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that in 2015, nearly three-quarters of all Americans adults reported drinking alcohol within the past year. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. While it is regularly consumed safely, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that in 2016, more than 15 million adults in the U.S. struggled with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Drinking alcohol regularly can become habit-forming. It can lead to problematic drinking and a range of other issues related to alcohol.

The Decision to Stop Drinking

If you decide to stop drinking after developing a dependence on alcohol, you need professional assistance. Regular alcohol use can cause physical and psychological dependence and significant cravings. Potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms can even occur when alcohol processes out of the body.

Most people who drink excessively and regularly will suffer from some level of alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop drinking. 

Alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to severe and include various side effects such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heart rate

The journal NICE Clinical Guidelines warns that about 5 percent of the time, acute alcohol withdrawal includes fever, delusions, extreme mental confusion, and seizures that can be life-threatening — a condition called delirium tremens (DTs).

Alcohol is, therefore, not a substance that is recommended to stop suddenly without professional help. Alcohol is often weaned out of the body slowly or replaced with a substitute medication during medical detox.

Medications are beneficial in managing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal as well as helping to control cravings. To stop drinking safely and effectively, therapeutic, supportive, and pharmacological methods are combined as part of a comprehensive alcohol abuse treatment program.

Medications to Curb Alcohol Use

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) reports that there are three medications approved to treat an AUD in the United States: acamprosate (Campral), disulfiram (Antabuse), and naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol). These are prescription medications that are used to help you stop drinking or sustain abstinence.

Naltrexone combats cravings while blocking the receptors in the brain that are activated by alcohol to stimulate the surge of dopamine and feelings of pleasure associated with drinking.

stop drinking

Disulfiram creates an adverse reaction if you introduce alcohol to the system again; it, therefore, works as a deterrent to return to drinking after stopping. Acamprosate serves to regulate brain chemistry to alleviate cravings for alcohol; this makes it easier to refrain from drinking alcohol after you have stopped for a period, the journal CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets explains.

Another medication, topiramate (Topamax) is an anticonvulsant that is sometimes used off-label to help people stop drinking. Studies published in Psychiatric Times show that it is effective at lowering the number of days a person drinks heavily, and it increases the number of days they remain abstinent.

OTC Options

Over-the-counter, or OTC, products may also be useful as aids to stop drinking. Supplements such as B-vitamins and L-glutamine may be helpful in managing cravings for alcohol.

L-glutamine is an amino acid that the body naturally produces. Excessive amounts of alcohol can inhibit how l-glutamine is synthesized and absorbed in the body. Adding it back in while trying to stop drinking can help to regulate body chemistry. This can aid in managing cravings as well as lifting moods.

Regular bouts of heavy drinking can deplete the body of thiamine, a B-vitamin, which can result in anemia and leave a person feeling fatigued, weak, depressed, and unfocused. Taking a B-vitamin complex can aid in diminishing cravings, increasing energy and focus, and restoring the body’s natural composition.

An herbal remedy that may be useful for minimizing alcohol cravings is kudzu extract, which comes from the root of a Japanese plant. The journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports on studies showing that kudzu extract can help to reduce binge drinking episodes and, therefore, minimize excessive drinking.

Prescription and OTC medications and supplements are meant to be used as adjunctive treatment methods for alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction. These methods can help you to stop drinking, but they should be combined with therapeutic and supportive methods to sustain long-term sobriety.

multiple alcoholic drinks being poured

Additional Methods to Stop Drinking

Since alcohol withdrawal symptoms have the potential for being dangerous, you shouldn’t just stop drinking cold turkey if you’ve been drinking excessively on a regular basis for a long time. A medical detox program can help to safely wean the alcohol out of the body, often by replacing it with other central nervous system depressant substances, such as benzodiazepines, which can then be tapered off slowly over time and under direct medical supervision. Supplementary medications can be helpful in managing specific side effects of alcohol withdrawal during detox as well.

To stop drinking and remain sober during recovery, you will need to address the cravings and emotional aspects of alcohol abuse and addiction as well. Therapeutic methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), teach relapse prevention tactics, coping mechanisms, and stress reduction tools that can help to sustain abstinence and promote healthy life choices and behaviors.

Support groups, including 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, can be extremely beneficial in providing you with a sober environment. You will be surrounded by peers who also wish to remain sober, and they can offer tips on how to do so.

An alcohol abuse treatment program is the best choice for people who want to stop drinking and remain abstinent on a long-term basis.