Acamprosate is a medication available for the treatment of alcohol addiction in patients who have stopped drinking and are in therapy to address addictive behaviors. This medication works by altering brain chemistry to address the changes in the brain associated with alcoholism. It is taken several times a day on a regular schedule to maintain steady levels of the drug in the body, and is most effective when it is part of combination therapy with other treatment methods. Acamprosate alone will not cure alcoholism, and it is not effective in patients who are still actively drinking.
This drug interacts with neurotransmitters released during alcohol withdrawal and over the long term as people with a history of alcoholism recover. It appears to blunt some effects of withdrawal, and can also protect neurons from damage associated with drinking or withdrawal. The medication is taken in the long term to help patients abstain from alcohol, and the dosage may need adjustment under medical supervision if the drug is not working properly.
While taking acamprosate, patients also need to be in therapy for alcoholism. This can take a number of different forms, and people may need to try several options to find one that suits their needs. Patients who are not in therapy are more likely to relapse, as they lack the social and medical support to stay away from alcohol. It is also important to continue abstaining while on acamprosate, as the drug does not work as well in people who have been drinking.
Potential acamprosate side effects can include changes in blood pressure, arrhythmias, mood disorders, allergies, and gastrointestinal upset. It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether side effects are caused by withdrawal or this medication, and patients should request a medical evaluation if they are concerned about their symptoms. An appointment with a doctor can also provide an opportunity to discuss therapeutic progress and to receive evaluation for complications of alcoholism like organ damage and malnutrition.
Patients who take acamprosate while in therapy appear to be more successful with drinking cessation programs than those who do not take this medication. The mechanics of alcohol addiction are complex, however, and not all patients experience positive results. If one course of treatment does not appear to be effective for a patient, it is possible to explore other options with the assistance of a counselor or therapist to see if there is a more effective treatment program available.