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Campral and Antabuse - Medications Supporting Abstinence?

Aug 18, 2007
Antabuse, or disulfiram as it is also known, was the first medicine approved for the treatment of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is an "aversive," serving as a physical and psychological deterrent for someone trying to stop drinking. It does not reduce the person's craving for alcohol, nor does it treat any alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Research in Europe, where Antabuse is much more widely used than in the United States, has shown that long-term use of Antabuse is effective in helping some people stop drinking, producing abstinence rates of up to 50 percent. The longer people take Antabuse, the more effective it is, because they develop a "habit" of not drinking, which reinforces the establishment of alternative coping skills and behaviors.

While not generally recommending the use of Antabuse, some individuals find it effective and its use isn't ruled out completely. If you are contemplating it as an option, however, please read the following very carefully and discuss the possibilities with your physician.

Antabuse works by interfering with the body's usual metabolic processing of alcohol into toxic acetaldehyde then into harmless acetic acid. Because of this, a build up of acetaldehyde five or 10 times greater than normally occurs when someone drinks alcohol. These high concentrations can cause reactions that range from mild to severe, depending on how much Antabuse and how much alcohol is consumed, along with individual tolerance of the drug.

If you drink while taking Antabuse, you may experience flushing, nausea, copious vomiting, sweating, thirst, throbbing headaches, respiratory difficulty, chest pain, hyperventilation, tachycardia, and distress. Severe reactions can include respiratory depression, cardiovascular collapse, myocardial infarction, acute congestive heart failure, unconsciousness, arrhythmias, convulsions, and death.

Campral is prescribed as a "post-abstinence" or "anti-relapse" support medication. It has no effect on cravings, withdrawal, or other early intervention discomforts. The results of European studies seem to indicate a modest positive effect - compared to placebos - after abstinence has been attained, with relapse prevention benefits lasting few months. There are no such benefits for people seeking to moderate their alcohol use.

While recommending neither for nor against Campral, informed decision making suggests, at this time, a very modest long-term benefit from Campral in widening a person's "window of opportunity" for making change.

For some individuals even a very small increase in results is enough reason to seek medical assistance. Again, individual responses to medications vary greatly and you should explore what works best for you.

Even Campral's manufacturers note that it's effectiveness is directly related to participation in ongoing counseling.

There are no magic cures, no pills, for alcohol related problems, only opportunities for change. Success involves coordinated efforts in a variety of areas over a year or more, and poor planning will always be expensive in time, money, health, and other costs.

Pick your method of treating your alcohol related concerns with care, stay focused, and seek qualified help with a personally compatable philosophy.
About the Author
Dr. Edward Wilson has been developing and providing alternative alcohol counseling, including moderation, sincve 1990. He is the co-founder and Clinical Director of Your Empowering Solutions, Inc, located in S. California. http://www.non12step.com
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