Acamprosate for Addiction Treatment

Acamprosate is a medication that can be used in conjunction with substance abuse treatments such as 12-step meetings, individual counseling, and social support to help people struggling with alcohol abuse.

Individuals who have been addicted to alcohol for a long period of time experience negative changes in their brain chemistry. Acamprosate works by repairing that damage, so that an alcoholic’s brain can function normally again. This helps individuals stay in recovery and avoid returning to alcohol use.

Acamprosate only works for individuals who have stopped drinking, and who have abused alcohol only. It does not work for alcoholics who also abused street or prescription drugs.

Understanding How Acamprosate is Used in Addiction Treatment

People who have been drinking large quantities of alcohol for an extended period of time are likely to suffer long-lasting withdrawal symptoms like dysphoria, a state of profound dissatisfaction and unease that often accompanies anxiety and depression. These symptoms could easily lead them to resume drinking.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, acamprosate “acts on… neurotransmitter systems and is thought to reduce symptoms of protracted withdrawal, such as insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and dysphoria. Acamprosate has been shown to help dependent drinkers maintain abstinence for several weeks to months, and it may be more effective in patients with severe dependence.”

When used in conjunction with other treatment modalities, acamprosate can greatly increase an alcoholic’s chance of maintaining their sobriety.

How Acamprosate is Administered

The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that acamprosate is a delayed-release tablet that should be taken by mouth, with or without food, three times a day. “Acamprosate helps to prevent you from drinking alcohol only as long as you are taking it. Continue to take acamprosate even if you do not think you are likely to start drinking alcohol again… If you drink alcohol while you are taking acamprosate, continue to take the medication and call your doctor. Acamprosate will not cause you to have an unpleasant reaction if you drink alcohol during treatment.”

It is important to take acamprosate exactly as directed. If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, wait, and then take a regular dose at the regular time. Do not take additional medication to make up for the missed dose.

Never chew, split or crush the tablets. Be sure to swallow the medication whole.

Possible Side Effects of Acamprosate

The Micromedex Consumer Medication Information lists the following as possible side effects of acamprosate.

Less serious side effects:

  • change in your vision or taste
  • headache
  • back pain
  • dry mouth
  • joint or muscle pain
  • skin rash or itching
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain
  • increase in appetite
  • warmth or redness in your face, neck, chest, or arms

Serious side effects that warrant immediate medical attention:

  • allergic reactions, such as itching or hives, swelling in your face or hands, swelling or tingling in your mouth or throat, chest tightness, trouble breathing
  • chest pain or fast heartbeat
  • trouble breathing
  • decrease in how much or how often you urinate
  • fever or chills
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • body aches
  • lightheadedness or fainting
  • rapid weight gain
  • swelling in your face, hands, ankles, or feet
  • unusual bleeding, bruising, or weakness
  • unusual behavior
  • anxiety, depression, or thoughts of hurting yourself

Who Might Benefit from Acamprosate Treatment?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) can be diagnosed when a patient answers “yes” to two or more of the following questions.

In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. Acamprosate is especially effective for individuals who have been drinking heavily for a long period of time.

Alcoholism Treatment with Acamprosate

When taken under a doctor’s instructions, as part of a substance abuse treatment program, acamprosate can help alcoholics abstain from alcohol while they work on underlying issues and conditions that may be contributing to their addiction.

Although there are side effects, as long as the patient is being monitored by medical professionals, the benefits of taking acamprosate usually outweigh the risks.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of ‘alcohol use disorder’ or AUD. Approximately 7.2 percent or 17 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older had an AUD in 2012. This includes 11.2 million men and 5.7 million women. Adolescents can be diagnosed with an AUD as well, and in 2012, an estimated 855,000 adolescents ages 12–17 had an AUD.”

Individuals suffering from alcohol use disorders require some form of professional help to break the devastating cycle of addiction. The rehabilitation specialists at a qualified substance abuse treatment facility are trained to manage alcohol abuse issues and lead alcoholics safely to recovery.


Detoxification is the first step to any recovery plan. A person needs clarity of mind and a body free from addictive substances before they can be effectively treated. Because withdrawal from alcohol can be extremely unpleasant, detoxing in a rehab center under the care of medical professionals is ideal.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 to 72 hours, but may go on for weeks.”

Common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Not thinking clearly

Other symptoms may include:

  • Clammy skin
  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Headache
  • Insomnia (sleeping difficulty)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pallor
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Tremor of the hands or other body parts

A severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens can cause:

  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Seeing or feeling things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion

Having quality medical care throughout the detoxification process will insure that a patient transitions into sobriety as safely and comfortably as possible.


Whether an alcoholic chooses inpatient residential treatment, and/or outpatient treatment, all substance abuse recovery plans will include talk therapy.

Individual therapy allows patients to work intensively on issues specific only to them, while group therapy allows them to both support and experience support from other addicts who are struggling with similar challenges. Family therapy is a fundamental tool to ensure individuals encounter the best possible environment at home, to prevent relapse.

Other treatment options include:

  • 12-step meetings: Meetings based on the 12-step program that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous are an invaluable resource to support long term sobriety.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT teaches patients to retrain their brains with new methods of coping with stress and cravings, and avoiding trigger situations
  • Treatment for co-occurring conditions: most addicts suffer from undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues that underlie and fuel their substance abuse. These co-occurring disorders must be addressed as a part of recovery.
  • Nutrition, fitness and recreational therapy: a strong body is just as important as a strong mind when it comes to long-term recovery. The better a person feels, the more prepared they will be to handle life as it comes.