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Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder: A Guide

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder: A Guide

Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder supports recovery by reducing cravings and positive feelings associated with alcohol misuse.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable and even dangerous for some, but with the help of online medication-assisted treatment, you can recover from alcohol use disorder (AUD) more comfortably. Specific medications can dampen alcohol cravings, decrease the pleasurable effects of alcohol, and help address imbalances in the brain neurotransmitters caused by alcohol misuse. You should only access MAT for alcohol use disorder under the supervision of a qualified provider.

If you believe that medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder may be helpful for your recovery, reach out to the professionals at Confidant Health. Our online medication-assisted treatment program offers convenient virtual treatment for alcohol use disorder. Get started today by scheduling an online assessment with a member of our team.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves the use of FDA-approved medications and therapy to help people manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings correlated with opioid or alcohol use disorders. Medication-assisted treatment programs provide a whole-person approach to recovery from substance use disorders, generally combining medication and therapy.

Your treatment team develops an individualized treatment plan consisting of the appropriate medications for your condition along with behavioral and holistic therapies. This comprehensive aspect of MAT provides the most effective treatment as it addresses withdrawal symptoms, cravings, triggers, trauma, and other factors that may contribute to substance use disorders.  

How Medication-Assisted Treatment Helps with Alcohol Use Disorder

Medication-assisted treatment helps with alcohol use disorder by addressing chemical imbalances in the brain, removing the positive effects of drinking alcohol, and alleviating withdrawal symptoms and cravings as the alcohol leaves your system. Alcohol withdrawal can produce uncomfortable symptoms, which can be dangerous in some individuals, particularly if the alcohol use disorder is severe.

Some common alcohol withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating

More serious cases of alcohol use disorder may also result in severe withdrawal symptoms known as delirium tremens (DTs). Symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Racing heart
  • Tremors

Although stopping alcohol use abruptly can result in the above withdrawal symptoms, you can find relief in medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder. The main purpose of this type of treatment is to reduce alcohol cravings and block the pleasurable effects of drinking alcohol. Some medications can even create unpleasant effects when alcohol is consumed to further support an alcohol-free lifestyle. To address physical discomfort or mental health symptoms, you may also receive pain relievers, anticonvulsant medications, antidepressants, or anti-anxiety medications.

If you are struggling with alcohol use disorder, you should seek help from your provider before discontinuing alcohol suddenly. If you have a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder, quitting alcohol abruptly can be dangerous and even fatal. Your provider can guide you toward the most appropriate treatment for your situation to keep you safe and comfortable while you withdraw from alcohol.

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Benefits of MAT for Alcohol Use Disorder

Medication-assisted treatment for AUD offers benefits over stopping cold turkey or detox. Once you detox from alcohol, you’re still left with cravings, discomfort, and the stress or co-occurring mental health conditions that contributed to alcohol misuse. MAT for alcohol use disorder provides multiple benefits, including:

1. Lowering the risk of relapse

Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder can help lower the chances of alcohol misuse by reducing cravings for alcohol and either blocking the positive effects of drinking or producing negative effects when alcohol is consumed. 

2. Reducing cravings for alcohol

One of the biggest challenges you may have when recovering from alcohol use disorder is powerful cravings for alcohol. These cravings can be so intense that some people struggle to stay focused on their recovery. Some medications used in MAT for alcohol use disorder work by reducing alcohol cravings so you can stay committed to your treatment.

3. Addressing chemical imbalances caused by alcohol misuse

Alcohol stimulates brain neurotransmitters responsible for a positive mood, which reinforces consumption. However, over the long term, alcohol misuse can lead to changes in these neurotransmitters. The brain becomes less effective at maintaining a healthy balance of neurotransmitter levels and grows dependent on alcohol to produce positive feelings. Some medications used as part of MAT for alcohol use disorder serve to help bring back the brain's equilibrium so that you can experience improved emotional balance. 

4. Increasing retention in the treatment program

When you receive the support of medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder, you will face fewer issues with some of the biggest issues that interfere with recovery. Cravings, discomfort, and mental health issues are common culprits in regard to derailing efforts to abstain from alcohol misuse. By tackling these triggers through medication and counseling, medication-assisted treatment will make it easier to stick to your treatment plan.

List of Medications That Can Be Used for Alcohol Dependence

There are several medications used in MAT for alcohol use disorder, each addressing obstacles to recovery somewhat differently.


Naltrexone supports recovery from alcohol use disorder by minimizing or blocking the pleasurable effects of drinking alcohol. This removes the positive association with alcohol use, so you feel less tempted to drink. 


Acamprosate helps to repair the brain imbalances caused by alcohol misuse. When brain neurotransmitters are balanced, you will enjoy a more positive mood, which will help keep you motivated to stick with treatment.


Disulfiram's job is to produce adverse effects when consuming alcohol. If you drink alcohol while receiving disulfiram as part of MAT for alcohol use disorder, you will experience physical discomforts, such as vomiting, nausea, sweating, headache, and difficulty breathing. By inducing these uncomfortable symptoms, disulfiram is a strong deterrent to alcohol use.


Topiramate helps to heal your brain from the effects of alcohol misuse, similar to acamprosate. It also helps decrease alcohol cravings, making it easier to stay on track with your treatment program.

Some of the above medications may need to be started after all alcohol has left your system, while others can be started whenever you have stopped drinking. Consult with your provider to determine the appropriate course of treatment for your situation.

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FAQs About Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Alcohol Use Disorder

What is the first line of treatment for alcohol use disorder?

The first line of treatment for alcohol use disorder is a combination of naltrexone and acamprosate. When used together as part of AUD treatment, these medications showed a relapse rate as low as 27.5% after 12 weeks of treatment, compared to 35.3% for naltrexone monotherapy, 50% for acamprosate monotherapy, and 75% for the placebo.

What is considered the most effective treatment for alcohol use disorder?

The most effective treatment for alcohol use disorder depends on the individual. Medication-assisted treatment for AUD is the most effective approach, but the best medications and therapies for your recovery will vary based on your needs. To find out which treatment option is most appropriate for you, consult with your provider.

What are some treatment options for someone with alcohol use disorder?

Treatment options for alcohol use disorder will vary depending on the person seeking treatment and the provider. Some treatment options for AUD are:

  • Detox
  • Medications
  • Behavioral therapies
  • Holistic therapies
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Support groups

You can receive treatment for alcohol use disorder through a residential or outpatient treatment program. Outpatient treatment may also be provided virtually. Enrolling in treatment that is customized for your needs will increase your chances of success. To improve your outcome, discuss your situation and treatment options with a qualified provider.

Find Naltrexone Treatment for AUD at Confidant Health

With Confidant Health’s online medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder, you can find support for your recovery from the comfort of your home. We also offer virtual medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. To get the convenient assistance you need to recover from opioid or alcohol use disorder, schedule an online assessment with a member of our team today.

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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