Acamprosate Addiction Treatment

When trying to overcome an addiction to alcohol, you may have been prescribed a medication called acamprosate. But what is this and will it help in your fight to get your life back on track?

What Is Acamprosate?

Acamprosate is a medication that is often used in conjunction with detox and rehabilitation in the treatment of alcohol addiction. It works by reducing cravings for alcohol and is suitable if you have completed, or are in the process of completing, an alcohol detox. However, it does not prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms from occurring. Instead, medical professionals prescribe it to help with the continued maintenance of sobriety in recovering alcoholics.

The way some of your brain functions work may have been affected by your use of alcohol. The reason for this is that continued regular abuse can actually alter some of the structures of the brain. In order to restore the balance, you may be prescribed acamprosate, while participating in a programme of rehabilitation.

It is important to be aware that, while it is safe to take acamprosate while still drinking alcohol, this medication is unlikely to be effective unless you have completed or begun the process of alcohol detoxification. In plain English, for this medication to be effective, you should not be drinking alcohol.

Brand Names for Acamprosate


History of Acamprosate

In 1982, acamprosate was developed and consequently tested by French pharmaceutical company Laboratoires Meram. Over the course of the following six years, the company tested the drug for safety and for its effectiveness as a viable treatment for alcohol addiction.

The results of these trials and studies led to the drug being approved for marketing in 1989 under the trade name of Aotal. Acamprosate was being continually studied and used in France and other parts of Europe for almost twenty years before Forest Laboratories were given the right to market it in the US in 2001.

It was not until 2004, that the drug was approved for use by the United States FDA. Although primarily used for the treatment of alcohol addiction, research is underway into the potential use of acamprosate in the treatment of Fragile X syndrome.

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What Substance Abuse/Addiction Is Acamprosate Used to Treat?

  • Alcohol Addiction

Is Acamprosate Addictive?

It could be the case that you are worried about taking medication when your goal is to live a substance-free life. The fear of swapping one addiction for another could make you reluctant to take a medication such as acamprosate. Nevertheless, you should not be concerned as this medication has thus far proved to be non-addictive.

Numerous studies found that patients who were given acamprosate for the treatment of alcohol addiction did not develop a tolerance for the drug, nor did they become physically or mentally dependent on it. It would appear as though there is no potential for abuse, and overdose risk is virtually non-existent, with trials showing that, despite the normal daily dose being 2 grams, a dose of up to 56 grams is still safe.

Side effects tend to be mild and temporary in nature, with most reducing or disappearing after a couple of weeks.

Acamprosate is effective in the treatment of alcohol addiction because it helps in the battle for complete abstinence by reducing cravings. It is designed to be used as part of a comprehensive recovery programme that includes a detox and rehab.

What Is the Mechanism of Action?

When someone talks about the mechanism of action of a drug, they are referring to how that drug interacts with specific receptors to produce its pharmacological effects. Nonetheless, in the case of acamprosate, the mechanism of action is still a relatively unknown factor. Scientists know that it works to reduce alcohol cravings, but as of the time of this writing, they are unsure as to the exact way in which it works to reduce the alcohol cravings.

Chronic exposure to alcohol is said to interfere with the balance between neuronal excitement and inhibition. There are suggestions that acamprosate interacts with the brain’s GABA neurotransmitter and glutamate and that it is this interaction that helps to restore the chemical balance that has been altered by systematic alcohol abuse. As mentioned above though, this is just conjecture at this stage.

How Long Does It Take for Acamprosate to Work?

Acamprosate is usually administered around five days after alcohol has been stopped. However, it can be administered as soon as detox begins. Moreover, it can even be used safely with alcohol, meaning that should you suffer a slip-up after a programme of recovery, you can continue taking acamprosate provided you do not return to regular alcohol abuse.

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Acamprosate is typically taken three times a day either with or without food. The exact dosage required will be determined by your doctor or another medical professional. Provided you are taking the medication as prescribed, it will begin to work within a week and should reduce any cravings for alcohol. You should also know that this particular medication only works while you are taking it.

If you forget to take a dose, you should take the missed dose as soon as you remember, provided it is not too near to your next dose. You should not double up on your dosage.

Does Acamprosate Have Any Interactions?

Since acamprosate is not metabolised by the liver, it is safe to take with other medications and could even be safely taken if alcohol is being consumed (obviously, we are talking about a small relapse situation, as discussed above). In the event that you return to drinking after a relapse and require another detox, you can safely take the drug. Patients with a severe liver disease can also take acamprosate.

Nevertheless, it is important that you tell your doctor about any medications, vitamins, and supplements that you are taking.

Should Any Precautions Be Taken?

It is important to tell your doctor about any allergies that you have before taking acamprosate. If when taking it you develop symptoms of an allergic reaction, you should seek emergency medical attention. These symptoms could include:

  • shortness of breath
  • rash

  • itching<
  • coughing
  • swelling of lips, tongue, throat, or face
  • wheezing
  • hives

Acamprosate should not be taken if you have severe kidney disease, though. Speak to your doctor if you have impaired kidney function.

You should also let your doctor know if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or if you are planning on becoming pregnant in the near future, during or soon after therapy has ended.

Included in the side effects is a risk of agitation, depression, and suicidal tendencies. When taking the medication, it is important that you tell your doctor if you have a history of mental health problems and/or self-harm. If you notice an increase in depressive symptoms or if you begin having suicidal thoughts while taking acamprosate, you should notify your doctor immediately.

It is important to note your reaction to acamprosate before operating heavy machinery or driving, as it can cause drowsiness and dizziness in some people.

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What Are the Side Effects of Acamprosate?

On the whole, though, the side effects of acamprosate tend to be mild and short-lived. The most common of these side effect tend to be diarrhoea; however, there are others:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Flatulence
  • Loss or reduction in libido
  • Pruritic
  • Headaches
  • Itching
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies

Although most side effects are mild and go away on their own, if you suffer from severe side effects or if they are not dissipating, you should speak to your doctor.

Can You Just Stop Taking Acamprosate?

Acamprosate is prescribed to help prevent alcohol cravings and to reduce the likelihood of you returning to alcohol abuse. You should continue taking your medication even if you believe that you are not going to drink again.

Before you stop taking acamprosate though (for whatever reason), you should consult your doctor for advice.


  • Alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances in the UK. In 2015, alcohol was a contributing factor in 1.4% of all deaths in England. This was a ten percent increase on the figure for 2005.
  • Acamprosate is one of two main drugs that is prescribed for the treatment of alcohol dependence. The other is Disulfiram.
  • In 2016, 135,000 items of acamprosate were dispensed. This number was almost double the number prescribed ten years previously. This compared to 50,000 items of Disulfiram prescribed in 2016.
  • The average net ingredient cost (NIC) per item, for acamprosate, was £18 compared to £43 for Disulfiram.
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