Alcoholism and alcohol abuse continue to be an issue for a large number of people. According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about seven percent of adults in the U.S. have had an alcohol use disorder, and more than 24 percent binge drink in a given month.
In the search for treatments for alcoholism and chronic alcohol abuse, some medications have become viable options to help people gain control of alcohol cravings so they can reach and maintain recovery. One of these drugs is campral, a medication that, in combination with behavioral therapy and other support strategies, can help in the treatment of alcoholism.
According to the American Family Physician, Campral is the brand name of a drug called acamprosate, which is specifically made to help people who are being treated for alcoholism to help them control the desire to stop drink alcohol.
Its chemical name is calcium acetyl homotaurinate, and it is very similar to a natural chemical in the brain called gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which regulates nervous system excitability.
Acamprosate was developed starting in 1982 in France by a company called Laboratoire Meram, and was approved for use in 1989 under the name Aotal. It swiftly began to be further studied and used throughout Europe to help treat alcoholism.
Acamprosate was not approved in the U.S. until 2004; it was subsequently released in 2005 as a drug called Campral. Since then, it has been used and studied enough to be incorporated into the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Treatment Improvement Protocols as one of the drugs available to help maintain abstinence from alcohol. It is marketed by Forest Pharmaceuticals in the U.S.
According to Clinical Pharmacokinetics, Campral is considered to be a very safe drug to take for alcoholism treatment. It is administered in doses of two 333 mg tablets, three times per day. Alternately, for people who weigh less than 132 pounds, it can be reduced to a total of four tablets per day. The tablets are delayed release and should not be crushed or broken.
It takes five to seven days of taking the drug for it to build up a stable concentration in the body. The coated tablets have a half-life of about 30 hours, while an intravenous form has a half-life of only three hours.
Side effects, as described by the National Library of Medicine’s MedLine Plus, generally go away after a couple of weeks of treatment, and may include:
Diarrhea may persist after the first weeks of using the medication. Some people have exhibited suicidal ideation with use of acamprosate. It is a rare side effect, but a serious one. Other serious side effects include those that indicate a potential allergy, such as a rash or tingling in the extremities.
It is extremely difficult to overdose on the drug, and acamprosate is not broken down by digestion, so it is considered to be very safe for people with liver problems – a fact that distinguishes it from other alcoholism treatment medicines like naltrexone or disulfiram. However, acamprosate can be dangerous for those with kidney problems, especially if the kidneys are already severely compromised. In that case, Campral should not be prescribed.
Campral is recommended for use in combination with psychological and social treatments as part of a full alcoholism treatment plan. It is recommended for people who are motivated to reach alcohol abstinence rather than to simply decrease drinking amounts.
The pathways by which Campral works are still a subject of research. However, it seems to help reduce cravings by reducing the positive response to drinking and reducing cravings. It is important to note that Campral does not help relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Other treatment is required to make withdrawal from alcohol safer and more comfortable, prior to introducing this drug.
Campral is normally not started until about five days after a person stops drinking. However, because it is safe to take with alcohol (or with benzodiazepines), it is possible to start it before withdrawal is complete. The drug is also safe in combination with opiates, and is therefore considered to be particularly appropriate for people also being treated for opiate addiction. In fact, acamprosate is safe for use with many other medicines, and is therefore considered a good treatment method for alcoholism in people with multiple co-occurring illnesses.
Combining Campral with naltrexone seems to provide further support for alcohol abstinence. According to a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, using these two drugs in combination may be better than using Campral alone. Similarly, using disulfiram in combination with Campral may be more effective than using either one alone.
It is not necessary to stop using Campral once alcohol abstinence has been achieved. The drug is not addictive itself, and is not harmful, as described above. However, if the person has built up sufficient resources to help maintain recovery and the social support to avoid relapse, and if the prescribing doctor agrees that removing the drug is desirable, Campral can be stopped immediately without tapering the doses.
Through a professional alcohol rehab program, in combination with other psychological and social therapies, Campral can help a person reach and maintain recovery from alcohol addiction.