Acamprosate for Alcohol Withdrawal - Withdrawal
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Acamprosate for Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction create numerous changes to the brain and the way it operates. Acamprosate helps reverse some of these changes.

Takeaways from this article:

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    Acamprosate for alcohol dependence

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    How does Acamprosate work

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    Acamprosate dose and duration

Alcohol addiction is commonly accompanied by certain imbalances in the chemicals in the brain, changed behaviors, and obtrusive thoughts that center around getting and drinking more alcohol. For people who are ready to end their addiction, alcohol withdrawal treatment is used to help them get sober and to prevent them from drinking alcohol in the future.

Successfully completing alcohol withdrawal through a professional detoxification program is a huge accomplishment, but it does not ensure sustained recovery. To boost the odds of long-term abstinence, many in the early stages of recovery will integrate the use of acamprosate to help restore no/rmal brain function and prevent relapse.

What is Acamprosate?

Acamprosate is the generic name for a prescription medication recommended for people in recovery from alcohol dependence.1 Historically, the drug has also been marketed under the brand name Campral.2 The drug is administered as a round, white 333 mg tablet. The most commonly prescribed dose of acamprosate is two delayed-release tablets to be taken orally three times per day for a total of about 2,000 mg daily. 1

Alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction create numerous changes to the brain and the way it operates. Acamprosate helps reverse some of these changes and return more healthy, balanced functioning to the brain, potentially increasing a person’s chance of maintaining abstinence and staying in recovery.3

Why is Acamprosate Necessary?

In order to understand why Acamprosate is necessary, you first need to understand how alcohol impacts your body. Alcohol is carried through the bloodstream into the brain where it impacts certain key neurotransmitters in the brain.4 As steady use continues, the brain tries to adapt, producing some predictable results.4

First, the person will develop a level of tolerance, so they will need to drink more alcohol more regularly to produce the expected effect.4 Second, they may eventually become dependent, needing a steady supply of alcohol to keep the neurotransmitters in balance.4 Without alcohol, the new equilibrium is disturbed, and serious withdrawal symptoms, such as the following, may arise.4,5

  • Rapid pulse
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Hand tremors
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens

Alcohol Withdrawal

While withdrawal will differ with each person, a typical timeline may look like this:5

  • Withdrawal begins only hours after the last drink.
  • Symptoms spike during day two.
  • Symptoms improve after approximately 4-5 days.

For many, recovery remains a challenge long after this period of acute alcohol withdrawal passes.

When it is taken out of the equation, the brain has a chance to begin moving slowly back toward healthy functioning, but it can take months or years to find a new balance.During this slow transition, the recovering individual can experience protracted, or post-acute, withdrawal. This refers to symptoms that persist beyond the initial, expected withdrawal period. Potentially persisting symptoms might include:5,6

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Problems thinking and concentrating

How Acamprosate Works

Acamprosate does not prevent or lessen the effects of acute withdrawal. Rather, it is used to manage the effects of protracted withdrawal.3

The exact way that acamprosate works in the brain is unclear. Most likely, it works to return some balance to neurotransmitter systems affected by alcohol abuse.1 By doing so, it reduces the occurrence or severity of protracted withdrawal syndromes, Reduces occurrence or severity of protracted withdrawal syndromes, and alleviates alcohol cravings.3 In this way, acamprosate helps lower relapse rates and extend the period of sobriety.1 

Acamprosate reaches its full effectiveness after you have been using it for between 5 and 8 days. Though the safety and efficacy of acamprosate therapy have only been evaluated for up to one year, the length of time that any given person remains on acamprosate therapy should be determined on a case-by-case basis, with input from treatment providers and the patient alike. 7

Who is Acamprosate for?

Since acamprosate has a good safety profile, most people can use the drug without facing serious risks. The ideal candidate for acamprosate therapy is a person who has completed alcohol detox, is highly motivated to quit drinking completely, and is participating in treatment that incorporates psychosocial support.7

Other people who may benefit from acamprosate treatment include:

  • People who have a history of opioid dependence or addiction. Unlike other medications for alcohol dependence like naltrexone, acamprosate does not affect the opioid systems in the body. This makes the medication a great choice for people who receive opioid maintenance treatment with drugs like methadone or buprenorphine, may use or relapse on opioids, or use opioid medications for pain. 7
  • People with complicated medical histories who are on many medications. Drug interactions with acamprosate are very rare.7
  • People with liver conditions. Alcohol is known to create serious problems with the liver when used long-term. Acamprosate is not processed in the liver like other medications, so it won’t place additional stress on this vital organ.7

Who Should Avoid Acamprosate:

Acamprosate treatment will not be appropriate for everyone.1 You should not take acamprosate if you:1,7

  • Have kidney problems. Since the drug is not processed in the liver, the kidneys work to excrete the substance, which may put extra strain on the organs.7
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding. Studies show that animals administered the drug while pregnant were more likely to have still-born fetuses and babies with birth defects. It is not known whether acamprosate is transferred to the baby through the mother’s breast milk.
  • Cannot use the medication consistently. Taking a medication three times daily can be a difficult regimen for some people. The medication is only effective when taken as prescribed, so only those committed to taking it should use it.
  • Are not an adult. Acamprosate has not been evaluated for safety in children or adolescents. 

Benefits and Risks of Acamprosate

Across the U.S. and Europe, various studies have shown acamprosate is safe and effective, can improve abstinence rates, and extend the duration of recovery.7

The best acamprosate outcomes occur with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. After 6 months of treatment, 48 percent of people who utilized both acamprosate and therapy were still sober, while less than 38 percent of those who took an acamprosate/supportive counseling approach had remained sober at this point.8

Another strength of acamprosate is its minimal risk of overdose. Even at levels exceeding 20 times the normal daily dose, the drug does little to cause serious harm in the body.7

As mentioned, acamprosate has few side effects, the most common of which is mild diarrhea.7 Other less common side effects of acamprosate include:7

  • Stomach cramps
  • Headache
  • Changes in libido
  • Insomnia
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Itchiness
  • Dizziness.

In rare but serious situations, acamprosate can trigger anxiety and depression or worsen existing symptoms. 7 Depression is the most significant concern of the side effects because it can result in suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. If you’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past, be open with your doctor. He or she may recommend another medication. Other options include naltrexone and disulfiram.8 As always, it is important to explore all of your medication options to find the choice best for you.

Treating Alcoholism with Acamprosate

Alcoholism is a complicated condition but one that can be managed with effective, professional addiction treatment approaches.2 Most effective approaches begin with a period of detoxification, with the goal of safely and comfortably guiding the individual through the acute withdrawal process.2

In cases of severe alcohol dependence, the acute withdrawal period is frequently managed within an inpatient detox setting that provides 24-hour monitoring, stabilization, and support from a team of physicians and other medical professions in hospitals or other detox centers.9 This level of care minimizes the risk of sometimes-dangerous complications that may arise during the acute withdrawal phase.

Following the withdrawal, the detox program will refer the individual to a level of care appropriate for them, such as:2

  • Residential rehabilitation. Rehab for 30, 60, or 90 days is a good option for someone new to recovery. These programs allow the individual to escape the environment that fueled addiction while, at the same time, building needed coping skills with assistance from clinical staff and fellow people in recovery. Some rehab programs, like therapeutic communities, may last for a year.
  • Outpatient treatments. These treatments allow the person to attend individual, group, and family therapy while continuing to live at home, work and manage other responsibilities. Outpatient settings can vary from one hour per month to many hours each day to meet the individual’s treatment needs.

Alternatives to Medications for Alcohol Recovery

Acamprosate and other drugs used in medication-assisted treatments (MATs) can help with alcohol cravings, but they should not be the only course of treatment. Behavior therapies combined with medications provide the best chance of success. 2

There are a number of treatment methods available for psychological dependencies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy models focus on modifying the thoughts and behaviors associated with the addiction. 2 Motivational interviewing helps to build internal motivation for recovery.2

People in recovery also benefit from practicing increased self-care and exploring other activities to help them cope with cravings and triggers. This may include meditation time, participating in art or music therapy, and engaging in activities with sober supports.

Acamprosate Information at a Glance1,3
Medication Name, Costs Class of Medicine
  • Generic Name: Acamprosate
  • Generic Name Variations: N/A
  • Chemical Name: Calcium acetyl homotaurinate
  • Brand Name: Only generics available in U.S.
  • Brand Name Variations: N/A
  • Cost/Price: Varies
  • Used to Treat Addiction? Yes
  • Function or Use at Low Dose: Maintenance of abstinence from alcohol following detox
  • Function or Use at High Dose: N/A
  • Chemical Makeup: C10H20N2O8S2Ca
  • Duration of Action: 8 hours
Form, Intake and Dosage Interactions and Complications
  • Drug Forms: Delayed-release tablet
  • Administration Routes: Orally (swallowed)
  • Dosage: Two 333mg tabs 3 times daily
  • Overdose: Occurs rarely and at very high doses
  • Alcohol Interaction: N/A
  • Illicit Drugs: N/A
  • Prescription Medications: No significant drug interactions noted
Effects and Adverse Reactions Substance Abuse
  • Positive Effect: Treats symptoms of post-acute alcohol withdrawal
  • Adverse Reactions: Diarrhea, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headache, nausea, dizziness
  • Risk of Substance Abuse: Low
  • Signs of Abuse: N/A
Physiological Problem Signs and Symptoms Dependence and Addiction Issues
  • Withdrawal Syndrome: None noted
  • Tolerance: No tolerance noted
  • Cross Dependence: N/A
  • Physical Dependence: No dependence noted
  • Psychological Dependence: N/A
Legal Schedules and Ratings
  • Controlled Substances Act Rating: Unscheduled


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