There are currently a handful of medications that you can potentially be prescribed to help with alcohol and other drug cravings. Some of these medications fall under the category of “drug replacement therapy,” but some of them work in an entirely different way in order to reduce cravings (without “doping the system,” so to speak).
In addition to this, there is a recent trend in the field of pharmacology to push for more research and more new medications that can fill this particular need. Many new medications are under testing right now that would be used to treat cravings for various drugs of abuse, such as Cocaine and Methamphetamine.
Now understand that some of these medications that are marketed for treating addiction are similar to their corresponding drug of abuse (such as Methadone for treating opiate addiction), but some of them are not at all similar and work on the brain in a completely different way. As such, your attitude toward using one of these medications to help you in your recovery might differ depending on how the drug works. (i.e., is the replacement as bad as the drug I’m using?).
And the bottom line for anyone, of course, is this: Should I use medication for alcoholism or addiction? Is it the right choice for me?
Now if you have a doctor who is well versed in the field of addiction and alcoholism then he or she should be your primary resource in making this decision. The problem is that many doctors are not well versed in the field of substance abuse and recovery, and generally only have a surface-level understanding of these anti-craving medications and what their pros and cons are. Addictionologists do exist and if you can find one then they are going to be better equipped to help you with understanding the different medications and making a decision about them.
Even if you can not find a specialist, seeking advice from your doctor when it comes to this issue should be your first priority. Do your research first, but then be sure to talk to your doctor.
The arguments against medication for alcoholism
Some people argue against using any medications in recovery. They might have a number of arguments for thinking this way:
1) Distraction from recovery – some believe that if you rely on a medication to control cravings that you will not rely on other recovery methods (such as working a program) and this will weaken your position in sobriety. They would argue that if you want to stay sober over the long haul that you need a foundation of recovery that comes from spiritual principles and/or networking with others in recovery. To them, anti-craving medication is a distraction from what really needs to be focused on in recovery.
2) Dependency on drugs – there is also the argument that if you use medications to overcome alcoholism that you are just creating another dependency in your life. This is more true with some medications (as pointed out above) than it is with others, as some of these medications are “replacements” whereas some of them work in a completely different way.
3) Cost – using medications long term can cost quite bit in some cases.
The arguments for medication
1) Effectiveness – Some of these medications have been showing a lot of promise recently, and so we could argue for them simply based on their effectiveness and their ability to help people overcome alcoholism. If it works, we should consider using it.
2) Holistic approach – If a person can work a program of recovery and simply use medication as a part of their efforts, then this can become a very powerful approach. The key is to approach recovery with a holistic effort in such a way that the medication is simply a part of the effort, not the entire effort. In other words, don’t count on the medication alone for help, so that you will focus on building other ways of coping with life in sobriety. The medication should be a supplemental strategy, not a primary one. When used as such it can very powerful.
3) Last resort effort – Medication might be an option for some after they have exhausted all other possibilities. If nothing else has worked, then why not try medications? They like to say in traditional recovery that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If you continue to relapse and struggle with sobriety, then try something different. Using anti-craving medication might be a new strategy that can help in such cases.
So it seems like we might want to avoid extreme arguments on both sides of this issue and keep an open mind when regarding our options. As always, talk to your doctor, but do some research on your own as well. This will help you to make the best decision regarding medication for alcoholism and whether or not you are going to use it.