Can You Take Medicine for Alcoholism? The Answer is Yes

“Rehab” and “medication” aren’t typically words we’d associate with each other. When talking about addiction treatment, specifically for alcohol addiction—or “alcoholism”—we usually think of behavior-focused treatment like the 12-Step Program, Alcoholics Anonymous, or general therapy. You may encourage your friend with a drinking problem to find a local AA group in your community. Or you may have a family member showing signs of alcoholism, so you recommend a good therapist you found on Psychology Today.

However, when medicine or psychiatry is brought into the mix, many people have mixed emotions about it. The idea of taking medicine for alcoholism (or alcohol addiction) varies in opinion. Some see it as trading one drug for another, while others may view it as “unnatural” and believe recovery should be based on willpower alone. Some might be skeptical or apprehensive about using medication, while others may be more open to the idea but unsure where to begin.

It’s important to note that no reaction is wrong; medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is simply one tool in the toolkit of a patient’s road to recovery, not something that is required for recovery success. Not all treatment centers offer it, and not everyone prefers it. At the end of the day, Master Center acknowledges the needs and comfort levels of each patient, assuring all treatment options are available to ensure a patient’s most effective recovery journey.

medicine for alcoholism

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a substance abuse treatment method that combines medication with behavioral therapy. The purpose of MAT is to remove the physical and biological dependencies that come with addiction and create a more receptive mind to other treatments, like therapy, coaching, and support groups.

MAT is also used in the detox process to relieve uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and cravings. By stabilizing the brain chemistry and alleviating the discomfort of withdrawal, patients are more likely to be successful in detox and less likely to relapse.

How does MAT Work in Alcohol Addiction Treatment?

First, Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is what is commonly known as “alcoholism.” It’s a disease characterized by uncontrollable alcohol consumption that harmfully affects a person’s ability to function in their day-to-day life. The effect of AUD is severe, as around 178,000 people are killed by excessive alcohol use every year in the U.S., with many cases involving untreated AUD.

AUD is a difficult but treatable disease, and many pieces make up a recovery plan. MAT, in this case, is just one of many pieces. Used alongside others that are more commonly thought of in rehab, like therapies and support groups, medicine for alcoholism (AUD) is used in detox, relapse prevention, and intensive outpatient programs to work towards recovery goals.

Medication Types in Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Different medications treat different diseases, and addiction isn’t different. While some drugs can be used to treat other types of addictions, there are a few used in AUD recovery specifically.


A newer drug, Naltrexone is a daily pill taken to combat alcohol use craving. It works by sitting in the opiate receptors in the brain that are targeted by endorphins which are released when consuming alcohol to produce that giddy or “buzzed” sensation. In doing this, the euphoric feelings associated with drinking are removed, which makes people less likely to drink, since there is no “fun” feeling attached to it anymore.

Naltrexone is the more recommended and more commonly used medication and works best for people who have never used MAT or are just starting their recovery journey.


Also a newer and popularly prescribed drug, Vivitrol works exactly like Naltrexone but is taken as a shot every 30 days. It functions similarly as a receptor blocker, with the difference being the receptors are released in the body in smaller, controlled amounts over 30 days rather than every 24 hours. 

Vivitrol works best for people who are also just beginning MAT or addiction recovery but may not prefer taking daily pills. 


Antabuse is a more unique drug. Rather than blocking neural chemicals, Antabuse directly interacts with alcohol to induce intense nausea. It works by associating any alcohol with violent illness, deterring the patient away from alcohol use entirely. It’s best used for patients who need a more serious physical deterrent for their addiction or who need an extra layer of protection during detox or any other behavior-centered treatment. 

Antabuse can also be taken alongside other drugs (including Naltrexone and Vivitrol) as an extra layer of protection. The drug can be used as a precaution to avoid any triggers or relapses, or it can be taken daily as a standalone pill. However, it’s up to the patient and health prescriber to determine what dosage and frequency is healthy and safe.

How Long Does MAT Take?

The best thing about MAT for alcohol addiction is that it’s dependent on the person taking it. Success rates, comfort levels, and general recovery progress all play into how long a patient may need medication. It’s like the saying, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it;” if something’s working for a patient and their sobriety consistency, they can remain on their medication as long as needed. And, of course, a patient can stop taking any medicine at any point if the patient and provider agree it’s the right course of action.

medicine for alcoholism

How is MAT decided in Alcohol Addiction?

MAT is not a requirement for treatment, hence the “assisted” part of “medication-assisted treatment.” Assigning a prescription to a patient depends on details like medical, recovery, and sobriety history, how the patient presents, and what the patient is willing to do. Some people don’t need MAT at all, while others may be returning to addiction treatment or want to try a different medicine. 

However, some general traits can determine what drug type a practitioner offers. If someone’s starting from scratch in MAT, Naltrexone is typically the go-to (or Vivitrol if the individual doesn’t prefer pills). The frequency of drinking may also determine the medicine type. If someone is a binge drinker or has a physical alcohol dependence, Antabuse is a likely recommendation. 

Regardless, it is important to note that these are just general factors, and that MAT is carefully chosen by a specialist based on a thorough evaluation of a patient.


No matter the benefits of MAT, the most important part is that the patient comes first in treatment planning. MAT is just simply one piece to a puzzle in determining the right alcohol addiction treatment plan, and although it’s beneficial to use, the patient always has a say in what they want to do. 

Recovery, just like addiction itself, affects people differently, and it’s never a one-size-fits-all thing. Some people hate the 12-step plan and want to go the spiritual route, others may want only medication, and others may want to fight their addiction through willpower alone. Taking medicine for alcoholism is never forced on the patient. No matter the preference, Master Center always takes the time to know the history and individual needs of a patient to offer the best treatment plan possible. 

“Keep in mind, MAT is good, too,” quotes MCAM physician assistant, Tess Quesenberry. “But medication is just another addition to your unique and special path to recovery.”

Concerned About Alcoholism (AUD)? Get a Consultation from Master Center for Addiction Medicine

Addiction is a chronic disease that can be treated, but never cured. And, when left untreated, AUD (like any substance use disorder) gets worse. If you are wondering whether you have an addiction and if medicine for alcoholism might help you stop drinking, it’s time to speak with an addiction specialist – the same way you might consult a specialist in heart disease or diabetes for those medical concerns. A specialist in addiction medicine can provide a proper diagnosis of addiction and recommend an appropriate treatment pathway.

Master Center offers consultation appointments, in which you’ll meet with a medical doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner, often with years of experience and specialized training in treating addiction. Get the expert medical advice you need in a no-pressure environment and without committing to a long stay in rehab. Consultations are billed to your insurance and both private and discreet.

Seeking aid for alcohol dependency can be intimidating, but it’s the first step to restoring your health and well-being. Give us a call at 804.332.5950 to discuss your options.

About Master Center for Addiction Medicine

Master Center for Addiction Medicine is a groundbreaking addiction treatment program headquartered in Glen Allen, Va.  Based on a vision of comprehensive outpatient care, Master Center was launched in 2016 and now includes locations throughout the Commonwealth.

The Master Center offers a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach rarely seen in the outpatient setting, staffed by experienced addiction physicians, psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, and peer recovery coaches.  This evidence-based approach, both reliable and flexible, is meant to provide a physician-oriented response to addiction that can work seamlessly in the mainstream system of healthcare.