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Treatment for Alcoholism

Throughout the UK, specialist alcohol services are provided by the NHS, the private sector and through voluntary organisations. Some individuals will only need or want to learn to reduce or control their drinking while others will need to abstain from alcohol use. Alcohol services offer a wide range of interventions and treatments including brief interventions, motivational interviews, counselling, detoxification services and self help groups. Detoxification (alcohol withdrawal) can be provided in a number of settings including hospital wards, NHS alcohol treatment units, and residential services.

A variety of drugs can be used to treat alcoholism. Benzodiazepines (Valium or similar drugs) are sometimes used during the first days after drinking stops to help a patient safely withdraw from alcohol. These drugs are not used beyond the first few days, however, because they may be very addictive.

There are three oral medications that have been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to help people remain sober: disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate. They are prescribed for those who have indicated their intention to abstain from alcohol but require some reinforcement. Disulfiram causes unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and flushing with any amount of drinking. Naltrexone blocks the "high" feeling a person may get from drinking but can cause severe withdrawal symptoms in people who are also dependent on opiates. Acamprosate helps reduce the craving for alcohol.

Just as there is no individual test for screening or diagnosing alcoholism, there is not one single drug that effectively treats alcoholism. In other words, no single drug is available that works in every case because body chemistries are slightly different and reasons for drinking are also different. Developing new and more effective drugs to treat alcoholism is a high priority for researchers.

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