Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

Exploring Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism During Recovery

Discover the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism and learn how we provide evidence-based care and holistic support.

Guiding Recovery with Evidence-Based Practices in Denver, CO

Mile High Recovery Center (MHRC) and our comprehensive treatment philosophy emphasizes the importance of addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction. That is why we utilize evidence-based practices to guide every step of the recovery journey.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

The Role of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

One of the foundations of our evidence-based approach is the integration of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT utilizes medications in combination with behavioral therapy to address the biological factors of addiction.

Many forms of addiction, including alcoholism, take over the brain’s reward system. This makes it difficult to resist cravings and compulsive drug use.
MAT medications increase the likelihood of successful recovery by:
  • Restoring balance to brain chemistry
  • Reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition in which a person has an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

Key indicators of AUD include:
  • Strong craving for alcohol
  • Loss of control over drinking
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  • Continued alcohol use despite significant harm

The Impact of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic, relapsing disease that makes it difficult to control alcohol consumption. In the U.S., 29.5 million people had this condition in 2022.1
The impact of AUD on people’s lives is profound and multifaceted. Below are some important considerations for AUD and recovery:

Physical Health

Physically, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to a host of health issues, including:
  • Liver disease
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Neurological impairments
These conditions shorten life expectancy and complicate the management of other health issues. Long-term alcohol abuse also weakens the immune system. This makes individuals more susceptible to infections and diseases.

Psychological Health

People with common mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are twice as likely to develop alcohol use disorder.2
The cyclical relationship between alcohol use and these disorders can exacerbate symptoms. This creates a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.
The depressive effects of alcohol can lead to:
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Emotional instability

Social Problems

Alcohol use disorder can severely disrupt relationships and daily functioning. It can lead to:
  • Isolation
  • Strained family dynamics
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems
The stigma associated with alcoholism can further alienate individuals from their support networks. This can complicate efforts to seek help and recover.

Societal Impact

AUD places a substantial burden on the healthcare system. It accounts for over 200,000 hospitalizations annually, representing 7.4% of emergency room visits.3
Alcohol use disorder also contributes to public safety issues, including:
  • Accidents
  • Injuries
  • Crimes
All of these incur significant societal costs.

The Neurobiology of Addiction

At its core, AUD is a brain disorder. Chronic alcohol use disrupts the brain’s reward system, leading to an imbalance of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which plays a crucial role in feelings of pleasure and motivation.

Over time, the brain adapts to the presence of alcohol. It requires increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same level of intoxication. This phenomenon, known as tolerance, is a hallmark of addiction.

The Role of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

Medications used in treating addiction can help break this cycle. These drugs interact with the brain’s chemical signals to reduce cravings and normalize brain functions.
For instance, monitored use of benzodiazepines can mimic the effects of alcohol in a controlled way. This reduces withdrawal symptoms and lowers the chances of relapse. In this way, pharmacological support provides a solid foundation for long-term recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism: Exploring FDA-Approved Medications

Naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram are FDA-approved medications for treating AUD. Each of them work differently to address the underlying mechanisms of alcohol dependence.


Naltrexone works by blocking opioid receptors that are involved in the rewarding effects of drinking and the craving for alcohol. This medication reduces the pleasure that individuals feel from drinking, thus helping to prevent relapse.
Naltrexone is available in a pill form or as a monthly injection. In a study, 62% of participants in the naltrexone group successfully avoided relapsing into heavy drinking.4


Acamprosate restores the chemical balance of the brain in people who have stopped drinking. It helps reduce the physical distress and emotional discomfort people often experience in the early stages of abstinence.
Acamprosate is particularly effective in maintaining long-term sobriety. It is typically started as soon as a person has detoxified from alcohol.


Disulfiram does not directly reduce alcohol cravings. Instead, it acts as a deterrent. When alcohol is consumed after taking disulfiram, it triggers a severe reaction with symptoms like:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Flushing
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
This unpleasant experience discourages further alcohol consumption. Disulfiram is ideal for those highly motivated to quit and seeking a method to prevent any chance of relapse.

Off-Label Use in Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

While the FDA approves medications for specific purposes, healthcare providers can sometimes prescribe them “off-label.” They do so to treat different conditions based on their existing evidence and clinical experience.
13.5% of people in the 18 to 25 age group had both a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental illness in 2022. Treating these co-occurring conditions is crucial for comprehensive care and long-term recovery. Off-label medications provide additional support, enhancing the effectiveness of addiction treatment.5
Some off-label medicines used in medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism include:
  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressants can help manage symptoms of depression or anxiety that might contribute to alcohol misuse. Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are common examples.
  • Anticonvulsants: Medications like topiramate or gabapentin can help reduce alcohol cravings in some patients. However, more research is required to solidify their role in MAT.

Integrating Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism Into Treatment Plans

At MHRC, we recognize that the path to recovery from alcohol use disorder is unique to each individual. Therefore, our approach to medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism is firmly rooted in comprehensive assessment and collaborative care planning.

Personalized Assessments

Our commitment to evidence-based care starts with a thorough assessment process. This evaluation helps us determine if MAT is the appropriate course of action for the client.
The assessment typically includes:
  • Medical history review: This helps us identify potential interactions between MAT medications and existing medical conditions.
  • The severity of the AUD: We utilize standardized tools to assess the severity of AUD. This includes factors like alcohol consumption patterns and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Co-occurring conditions: Many people with AUD struggle with co-occurring conditions. Our assessment process identifies these conditions to inform MAT selection and use of off-label medications.
  • Readiness for change: Understanding a person’s motivation is crucial for successful treatment. Our team works collaboratively with patients to explore their goals and preferences. This helps us address any concerns they may have about MAT.

Tailored Treatment Plans

Based on the comprehensive assessment, a customized treatment plan is developed. This plan outlines the specific medications and therapies that will be used.
This may include a combination of:
  • Medication management
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Outdoor activities
  • Support groups
  • Nutritional counseling

Multidisciplinary Mental Healthcare

These plans are carefully crafted by our team of addiction specialists. Among them are:
  • Therapists
  • Counselors
  • Social workers
  • Medical professionals
  • Behavioral health technicians
The goal of this team is to create a coordinated treatment plan that addresses the unique needs of each client.

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism Recovery

MAT offers a range of benefits that can significantly enhance the recovery process. Some of the most common among them are:

Reduced Cravings

Medicines used in medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism target the brain’s chemical imbalances. This helps to diminish the intense desire to drink and reduces cravings. As a result, it becomes easier for clients to resist urges and stay committed to recovery.

Managed Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from chronic alcohol use can be severe and life-threatening. MAT alleviates these symptoms, making detox safer and more manageable.
This support is crucial in preventing severe complications like delirium tremens (DT), which affects up to 5% of withdrawing patients.6

Enhanced Early Recovery

Early recovery is often the most challenging phase during addiction treatment. Medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism stabilizes patients.
It also provides a stable foundation for:
  • Engaging in behavioral therapies
  • Developing healthy coping mechanisms
This reduces the risk of relapse and allows individuals to focus on therapy.

Reduced Relapse Rates

Medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism provides a sense of stability. This empowers people to better manage triggers and maintain abstinence. As a result, they experience reduced relapse rates and better treatment outcomes.

Important Considerations During Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

Here are a few crucial considerations to keep in mind during medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism:

Potential Side Effects

While MAT is effective, it may also have side effects. This can include nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. Healthcare providers must monitor patients regularly to manage and mitigate any adverse effects.

Medication Adherence

Consistency in taking prescribed medications is crucial for MAT’s success. Patients must adhere strictly to their medication regimen. Missing doses can reduce the effectiveness of treatment and increase the risk of relapse.

Integration with Therapy

Medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism is most effective when combined with behavioral therapy. Medicines alone may not address the underlying psychological and social issues associated with addiction.
A comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and holistic support is necessary for comprehensive recovery.

Individual Variability

Not all patients respond to medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism in the same way. Some may need adjustments in medication types or dosages. That is why we focus on creating individualized treatment plans that address unique needs of each client.

Stigma and Misconceptions

There can be a stigma associated with using medications for addiction treatment. Some people view MAT as substituting one addiction for another.
Education and awareness combat these misconceptions and encourage acceptance of MAT as a valid and effective treatment option.

Long-Term Commitment

Medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism often requires a long-term commitment. Patients and providers must be prepared for a potentially extended duration of treatment. This commitment can be challenging but necessary for sustained recovery and relapse prevention.

Holistic Support in Conjunction with Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

At MHRC, we recognize that recovery from alcohol use disorder extends beyond medication. This is why we also focus on providing a holistic approach to recovery that addresses the mind, body, and spirit.
Below are some of the most common holistic modalities that we utilize:


Meditation is a powerful tool in the recovery process for those dealing with alcohol addiction. It helps by teaching clients how to manage stress and anxiety without turning to alcohol.

Regular meditation improves mindfulness. It enables individuals to recognize triggers and automatic responses that lead to drinking. This increased awareness is crucial for preventing relapse and maintaining sobriety.

Music Therapy

Music therapy is a unique form of expression and emotional release that can be beneficial for people recovering from alcohol addiction. It involves engaging with music through creation, performance, or analysis.

Music therapy allows clients to access and process underlying emotions and traumas that may contribute to their addiction.
By engaging in this therapy, individuals can:
  • Explore personal issues in a supportive environment
  • Improve their emotional and mental health
  • Reduce stress

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy involves interacting with horses in a safe and controlled environment. Horses are highly sensitive to human emotions and can mirror the feelings and attitudes of the handler. This interaction helps clients understand and adjust their behavior patterns.

The responsibilities involved in caring for an animal also encourage a sense of accountability and routine.

Art Therapy

Art therapy in alcohol addiction recovery is a non-verbal therapeutic approach that helps individuals express themselves creatively. This can sometimes reveal underlying issues related to their addiction.

Various artistic activities in art therapy can help clients:
  • Alleviate stress
  • Manage cravings
  • Express feelings that might be difficult to express through words
This form of therapy is particularly effective in addressing the shame and guilt often associated with addiction. It offers a way to visualize and then work through these emotions in a tangible form.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

Patient Education and Empowerment in Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

At MHRC, we prioritize patient education in our treatment approach. We believe that empowering patients with knowledge about medication-assisted treatment (MAT) options, benefits, and potential risks is crucial for informed decision-making.
We provide thorough explanations of the different MAT options available. This includes information on:
  • How each medication works
  • What to expect during treatment
  • The benefits of each option
We also will discuss potential side effects and any discomforts associated with MAT to ensure patients know what treatment entails.
Open communication with healthcare providers allows clients to ask questions and clarify doubts. This education empowers them to weigh the pros and cons of each medication. It also helps them choose the approach that best aligns with their needs and preferences.

Empowering Self-Advocacy in Recovery Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism is most effective when patients actively participate in their treatment. This means becoming an advocate for their own well-being.
At MHRC, we provide training in self-advocacy skills and encourage building support networks. This approach enhances clients’ ability to navigate their treatment and contributes to a more personalized and effective recovery experience.

Begin Healing Today

Are you or a loved one battling AUD and looking for a holistic, evidence-based treatment? Contact MHRC today to experience MAT programs in a highly supportive environment.
Our commitment to personalized care and proven therapies offers a promising pathway to healing and lasting recovery. At MHRC, we stand as a beacon of hope, ready to support you every step of the way on your journey to a healthier, addiction-free life.

Contact us today and take the first step towards reclaiming your life.

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If you or a loved one are ready to regain autonomy over your lives and well-being, recovery starts here. Let us guide you toward sustainable wellness and sobriety through our personalized treatment plans tailored to your unique needs and experiences. We look forward to hearing from you!