Drug treatment for alcoholism today

Finding a reliable treatment for alcoholism has been a frustrating quest. In the best studies, all common psychosocial approaches have been found equally and only moderately effective. So physicians and mental health professionals have turned to drugs in the hope of matching their success, or partial success, in the drug treatment of other psychiatric disorders.

So far the results are inconclusive, and some still hesitate to treat any substance abuse problem with a drug. But there was a time when the drug treatment of depression and schizophrenia was questioned. The search for drug treatments has also been aided by progress in understanding addiction in general and the actions of alcohol in particular. One new drug was approved in 2005 and others are being considered.

Withdrawal symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal requires drug treatment only in a minority of cases — mainly when there is a risk of delirium or seizures. There are no fundamentally new ideas about how to go about it. The best-tested approach is to substitute a safer sedative — usually a benzodiazepine, such as diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), or lorazepam (Ativan) — and gradually reduce the dose.

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