Alcohol Withdrawal Medication - Rehab Guide

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication

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Detox Medications for Alcohol

Alcohol withdrawal medications prescribed for detox help by suppressing and reducing the main symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

They successfully treat dependence by allowing a person to safely and comfortably stop alcohol use.

Detox medications are not a cure for alcoholism and only treat the physical aspect of addiction.

They work by reducing the following symptoms commonly associated with alcohol withdrawal:

Supervised medical detox

Medications for detoxification should only ever be prescribed and administered by qualified medical detox professionals to ensure patient safety at all times.

It is not as simple as popping a pill and being able to safely or easily stop alcohol.

Prior to undergoing ANY alcohol or drug detox, a detailed history of your medical/mental health, any other drugs or medications you are taking, and an honest account of your drinking will be needed. A comprehensive assessment can then be made by a qualified medical professional so that the correct medication and dosage can be prescribed.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication

There are numerous medications that belong to a class of medications known as benzodiazepines.

Each individual benzodiazepine differs in its onset of effects, duration of action and potency.

The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Valium (Diazepam)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin) – less commonly prescribed
  • Lorazepam (Ativan) – rarely prescribed

There are other benzodiazepines that can be prescribed to treat withdrawal, but they are only considered if there is a medical reason a person cannot take Librium or diazepam. The reason they are less commonly prescribed is due to a) their addictiveness, b) they have increased potency, and c) they have a quicker onset and shorter duration of action. They also carry more side effects and risks.

Most CQC-registered rehabs will prescribe either Librium (chlordiazepoxide) or diazepam (Valium) for alcohol detoxification unless there is a proven medical reason.

Chlordiazepoxide and valium are licensed for the treatment of alcohol dependence. Their onset of action, duration of action and potency are the most concurrent with alcohol dependence. Medically, these are the two main licensed medications recommended by NICE for alcohol withdrawal and detoxification.

Once an alcohol detoxification prescription has commenced, all alcohol use should be ceased with immediate effect.

The drug replaces the alcohol, and the person is weaned off the prescription over a period of days until it is safe to stop.

Ideally, alcohol detoxes should only be carried out within an inpatient residential setting so that the risks associated with alcohol withdrawal are effectively managed, monitored and reduced.

Mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines can lead to overdose, coma, respiratory depression and death.

Other Detox Medications

In rare cases where medically a person cannot take a benzodiazepine for alcohol withdrawal, the following drugs can be prescribed as an alternative:


Prescribed and licensed for the treatment of epilepsy, this drug can be used off-label at a prescriber’s discretion for alcohol detoxification. However, very close monitoring will be required as carbamazepine can cause suicidal thoughts and behaviours.


Clomethiazole can be prescribed off licence only within an inpatient setting to treat alcohol withdrawal. It is not indicated for patients who have cirrhosis and can lead to fatal respiratory depression if combined with alcohol.

Can I Buy Withdrawal Medications?

Yes, you can buy alcohol detox medication with a prescription from a private doctor if you are not able to get a prescription from your GP. The NHS approach to alcohol detox medication varies between different areas, and doctors are often reluctant to prescribe these drugs due to cost.

It is possible to illegally attain alcohol withdrawal medications from criminal groups online and on the street. These types of medications are class C controlled drugs when bought without a prescription. You would be breaking the law by obtaining an alcohol detox in this manner.

Buying your own alcohol detox medication without a prescription to self-administer is extremely dangerous. You have no guarantee the medication is what it claims or that you are medically suitable for the drug you are taking.

Medications for Alcoholism Treatment in the UK

Whilst there are a few proven treatments that can help you stay off alcohol, it is very important to understand that they are not a substitute for professional therapy, nor are they a cure.

These medications usually come as a tablet that patients take each day and can help with the following:

  • Reducing your desire for alcohol
  • Blocking the positive effects of alcohol
  • Causing a negative experience with alcohol

If you suffer from alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder, they can be a useful aid during and after the initial intensive rehabilitation process.

Acamprosate – Campral

Campral is the brand name for the alcohol treatment Acamprosate. In order for Acamprosate to be effective, it is best used alongside counselling or an alcohol recovery programme.

How Campral works is not fully understood, but it does appear to reduce alcohol cravings and stabilise brain signalling, which can be extremely erratic during and after alcohol withdrawal.

Campral may enable a person to reduce their drinking with the aim of stopping. It may further aid them by reducing the desire for alcohol and avoiding relapse.

Campral is not used by rehabs as they treat alcoholism using evidence-based treatments to heal the root causes of a person’s addiction. Generally, Acamprosate is prescribed by community drug and alcohol teams to support alcohol reduction and abstinence.

Disulfiram – Antabuse

Disulfiram is a potent drug used to support the treatment of alcoholism and alcohol addiction.

Disulfiram induces an acute sensitivity and violent physical reaction to any alcohol consumed whilst taking the drug.

Alcohol Detox Medication Infographic

This medication is an effective alcohol treatment but does not come without substantial risks. Even a small dose of disulfiram can stay in the body for up to two weeks.

The drug works by inhibiting the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Any alcohol consumed whatsoever, even accidentally, will cause a person to feel the effects of a serious hangover immediately.

It is only safe to be used once a person has eradicated all traces of alcohol from their system. Following detoxification, it is vital that they undergo therapeutic alcohol treatment to ensure they keep taking the medication and help prevent relapse.

Even swallowing a small amount of mouthwash containing alcohol can bring about a violent reaction in a person taking disulfiram. Consuming any alcoholic drink will make the person violently sick with a racing heart rate, amongst other very unpleasant symptoms.

Disulfiram acts as a deterrent against drinking alcohol. Yet, for a person suffering from chronic alcoholism, it will only work in maintaining sobriety if used alongside alcohol counselling and therapy.


Naltrexone comes in tablet, injection and implant form. Naltrexone treatment should only be used as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation programme and works for alcoholics as well as drug addicts.

It is important that a person does not have any drug dependence or alcohol dependence when starting naltrexone treatment. This can cause a fast onset of severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

In a person suffering from alcohol dependence, a full medical alcohol detox must be undertaken first.

Naltrexone is best suited to those who suffer from a compulsion to drink alcohol (alcohol use disorder) or use drugs and who have previously relapsed.

Naltrexone works by blocking the brain’s receptors that produce the euphoric high associated with drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

Taking a drink of alcohol whilst undergoing naltrexone treatment is pretty pointless as the euphoric effects craved by the individual are blocked by this particular drug.

The best time to start naltrexone treatment is following a rehab detox and alcohol treatment programme. This drug could be viewed as an added insurance policy against relapse whilst they continue to work an alcohol recovery programme.

Medications With Alcohol Treatment

Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) cannot be cured due to the dramatic and lasting changes they cause to the brain’s pathways and circuits.

Withdrawal medications are only to be used as an aid for medical detoxification or for assisting in maintaining abstinence from alcohol.

It is imperative that any individual who is prescribed medication also undergoes comprehensive alcohol rehabilitation.

Intensive psychological treatment is necessary to bring about a dramatic change in thinking, which is a must for anyone suffering from addiction. Therapy and counselling will also arm the addicted person with essential coping strategies for relapse prevention techniques.

How Long to Detox From Alcoholism?

Medication that claims to remove or flush your system to speed up alcohol detox is most likely deceptive. Detox medications can improve symptoms such as insomnia, nutrition, anxiety and nausea that slow your recovery. Logically, if you are sleeping well, hydrated and replenishing vital nutrients such as Vitamin B, your recovery will be faster.

The average person will take a week to two weeks to detox from alcohol. This is the time when alcohol withdrawal symptoms are most severe and dangerous. Later symptoms such as cravings, low mood and liver complications are common later on after the initial detox, and doctors use different medications to treat them.

For more information on alcohol detox, rehabilitation programmes and alcohol treatment, please call and speak with our treatment experts at Rehab Guide today at 02072052845.


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