Acamprosate is the generic name for a prescription drug used to treat people with alcohol use disorders. It’s also sold under the brand name Campral. Acamprosate is used to reduce cravings associated with recovery from alcohol addiction or dependence.
More than 15 million people experienced symptoms of an alcohol use disorder in 2016.
Alcoholism is a disease that affects how the brain works. It’s also referred to as alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder. More than 15 million people experienced symptoms of an alcohol use disorder in 2016, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
When the brain becomes dependent on alcohol, it relies on the substance to function. When alcohol-dependent individuals stop drinking, the brain struggles to operate. Health professionals don’t know exactly how acamprosate works, but they believe the medication helps the brain function without alcohol, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Abstaining from drinking is difficult for people addicted to alcohol because their brain craves the substance. Acamprosate reduces cravings for alcohol, making it easier for people to resist the urge to drink. The medication may also reduce prolonged symptoms of withdrawal, such as insomnia and anxiety.
Any medical doctor can prescribe acamprosate. It isn’t a controlled substance. It comes in tablet form. Each Campral tablet contains 333 milligrams of acamprosate calcium, which is equivalent to 300 milligrams of acamprosate, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Acamprosate isn’t a standalone treatment. Patients should also attend counseling, therapy and support group sessions while recovering from alcoholism.
Most people start acamprosate after detoxing from alcohol. The medication is used after the initial stages of withdrawal. The first and most intense stage of alcohol withdrawal usually lasts between three and seven days depending on the severity of the condition. Prolonged symptoms of withdrawal, such as trouble sleeping or anxiety, may last several weeks.
People who slip or relapse shouldn’t discontinue acamprosate without talking to their doctor, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Most individuals trying to recover from alcoholism take the medication for 12 months because researchers haven’t studied the medication’s safety and effectiveness for longer durations of treatment. Patients and health providers should determine the duration of treatment together.
A typical treatment plan involving acamprosate may look like:
Once acamprosate treatment ends, patients are encouraged to continue attending support group meetings.
The recommended dosage of Campral is two tablets taken three times each day for between three months and one year. The medication doesn’t interact dangerously with alcohol or other drugs. Doctors generally do not endorse acamprosate for individuals with severe renal impairment, and the FDA recommends that women who are breast-feeding discuss their treatment plan with their doctor.
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Acamprosate was the third medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism approved by the FDA. Unlike disulfiram, acamprosate relieves cravings to help people in recovery stay sober. Scientists also believe it helps the brain function normally.
The FDA approved acamprosate in 2004 based on promising results from three randomized, double-blind studies completed in Europe. The three trials, which combined acamprosate treatment with psychosocial interventions, found that patients taking acamprosate had better rates of alcohol abstinence and a higher cumulative duration of abstinence than participants who didn’t take the medication.
Many patients with alcohol use problems develop liver problems or liver damage. Acamprosate is the only medication for alcoholism that isn’t metabolized by the liver, making it safe for individuals with liver problems, according to SAMHSA.
Disulfiram was the first medication approved to help alcoholics remain abstinent. It works by causing unpleasant side effects when a person drinks. Disulfiram doesn’t relieve cravings or ease symptoms of withdrawal. If patients drink while taking disulfiram, they experience nausea, headaches and other unpleasant reactions.
Individuals can drink while taking acamprosate. Alcohol doesn’t interact with the medication to cause negative effects. However, alcohol can make acamprosate less effective. The person may experience cravings or withdrawal symptoms after drinking.
Acamprosate doesn’t interact with disulfiram. Both medications can be prescribed at the same time. Patients who have detoxed from alcohol can take acamprosate to reduce cravings and disulfiram to discourage psychological urges to drink.
Naltrexone was originally approved to treat opioid addiction. Opioids are pain-relieving drugs, such as morphine and oxycodone. Both opioids and alcohol cause the same part of the brain to feel pleasure. Naltrexone blocks that part of the brain from being affected by opioids or alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The medication prevents alcoholism relapse by preventing patients from feeling happiness when they drink. People who drink while taking naltrexone can still become impaired, but it may make them feel like they’re less impaired. Like acamprosate, naltrexone doesn’t interact negatively with alcohol.
Patients can take acamprosate and naltrexone at the same time. In 2004, researchers analyzed seven studies that examined patients taking naltrexone in combination with acamprosate. They concluded that the combination of treatments was safe and effective based on current research. The review was published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.
However, other studies have failed to prove that combined therapy is more effective than taking acamprosate without naltrexone, according to a 2013 review published in Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment. There isn’t a current research consensus on which medications or combinations of medications are most effective. Patient preference may be an important factor in choosing a medication to aid recovery from alcoholism.
Most people who take acamprosate do not experience severe side effects. The most common side effects involve stomach problems. In most people, the side effects fade after one to four weeks of taking acamprosate.
Side effects of acamprosate include:
People taking acamprosate have reported changes in sex drive. Some reported increased sex drive, and others reported decreased sex drive, according to NIAAA. Less common side effects include abdominal pain, constipation and vertigo, according to a Cochrane review of studies on acamprosate.
Acamprosate is an effective treatment for alcoholism, and it’s safe for most people. It isn’t clear whether it’s more effective than other medications approved to treat alcohol use disorder, and it may be more effective when combined with other medications. All medications are more effective when patients are committed to sobriety and have access to recovery resources.