Some of the most common medications used during alcohol detox are benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that act as a central nervous system depressant.
Other drugs may also be used for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol detox is best completed in an inpatient environment, where clinicians and healthcare providers are on-hand in case anything happens.
Alcohol detoxification can be a difficult process. Severe symptoms are more likely in people with very bad alcohol dependence. Anyone with an alcohol use disorder can suffer withdrawal symptoms.
However, specific medications administered at the right time can help to alleviate some of these symptoms and provide greater comfort during the alcohol withdrawal process.
How Medications Are Used To Treat Alcohol Withdrawal
Medications are used during withdrawal from alcohol to keep people who are going through detox comfortable and safe.
During severe alcohol withdrawal, a rare syndrome called delirium tremens (DTs) may occur. DTs can cause seizures.
Many of the drugs used during withdrawal are anticonvulsants, meaning they can prevent seizures.
Other drugs may be used to manage specific symptoms such as high blood pressure or increased heart rate.
Sometimes, drugs are used during the detox or rehab process to prevent cravings for alcohol. These medications can be effective in lowering the rate of relapse among people who are addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol withdrawal is often referred to as the barrier to recovery. Even mild symptoms can be very uncomfortable, and cravings for alcohol may be extreme during this period.
Many people relapse when they attempt to detox at home. Other complications can also occur. Detox is most effective when completed at a certified medical detox center.
Benzodiazepines For Alcohol Detox
Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are usually used to treat anxiety, one of the main symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Benzos work by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a type of neurotransmitter. This has the effect of reducing the activity of nerves in the brain, which may be why benzos are also effective in preventing seizures.
These medications can also help to reduce panic attacks and help people sleep during alcohol detox. Sleep can help the body recover faster and get through detox.
Benzos may help to reduce cravings for alcohol, an important benefit during detox. Cravings can continue for weeks to months after a person’s last drink. They are often stronger after heavy alcohol consumption.
Librium, also called chlordiazepoxide, is a type of benzodiazepine. During alcohol withdrawal, Librium is used to reduce anxiety and prevent seizures.
Ativan, also called lorazepam, is another type of benzodiazepine that has similar effects and uses as others.
Ativan is safer for people with liver disease, a common condition among people with an alcohol addiction. Taking Ativan during alcohol withdrawal can help reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms.
Valium, also called diazepam, is a fast-acting but long-lasting benzodiazepine drug.
Long-acting benzos are sometimes preferred for alcohol withdrawal because they give more reliable results and fewer issues with dosage. Taking Valium during alcohol detox can help relieve symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Other Medications For Alcohol Detox
Several other non-benzodiazepine drugs may also be used during alcohol detox. These drugs have varying benefits for the management of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Some drugs not detailed below that may be used during alcohol detox and treatment include naltrexone, baclofen, acamprosate, oxazepam, and carbamazepine.
Gabapentin is a nerve pain-relieving drug. It can also be used to treat seizures. The benefits of gabapentin are similar to those of some benzodiazepines.
Gabapentin is often used alongside benzos to manage severe withdrawal symptoms.
Clonidine is a drug that can be used to lower blood pressure. It is commonly used during alcohol and opioid withdrawal when heightened blood pressure is an issue.
Hydroxyzine is an antihistamine drug used to treat allergic reactions. It also has sedative and anti-anxiety properties, which is why it has been used for alcohol withdrawal in the past.
Because benzodiazepines are now preferred, it is no longer common to use Hydroxyzine to treat alcohol withdrawal.
Phenobarbital is a drug that is sometimes used as an alternative to benzodiazepines during alcohol withdrawal. Taking phenobarbital during alcohol detox can prevent seizures and has similar sedative qualities to benzos.
Other Elements Of Treatment For Alcohol Addiction
Detox is just the first step towards alcohol recovery. An effective treatment plan will include many elements that address addiction and its underlying causes.
Treatment may take place in inpatient or outpatient settings.
Treatment of alcohol dependence may include any of the following:
- individual or group counseling
- behavioral therapy
- activities like meditation, journaling, exercise
- healthy diet with vitamin and mineral supplementation
- life skills classes
Whenever possible, inpatient treatment is always a superior treatment option when compared with outpatient care.
Inpatient treatment features access to around-the-clock medical advice, and it takes place in a setting that allows people to focus entirely on their recovery.
Find Alcohol Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center
If you or a loved one are struggling to stop drinking alcohol, we can help. Bedrock Recovery Center is a state-of-the-art facility that offers excellent care to all of our clients.
With a little help, you can put alcohol dependence in your past. We will walk you through every step of the recovery process, from detox, to inpatient rehab, to aftercare planning and a return to daily life.
Are you ready to start an alcohol-free life? Call our helpline today to learn more about our programs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
- National Library of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606320/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-45-Detoxification-and-Substance-Abuse-Treatment/SMA15-4131
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm