Campral (acamprosate calcium) is the most recent medication approved for the treatment of alcohol dependence or alcoholism in the United States -- approved by the Food and Drug Administration in July 2004 -- but it has been used widely in Europe for many years. More than 1.5 million people have been treated worldwide with Campral.
How Does Campral Work?
It is not completely understood exactly how Campral works in the brain to help people maintain alcohol abstinence, but it is believed to restore a chemical balance in the brain that is disrupted by long-term or chronic alcohol abuse. In other words, it helps the brain begin working normally again.
While Antabuse works by making someone sick if they drink alcohol and Naltrexone blocks the "high" people get when drinking, Campral reduces the physical distress and emotional discomfort people usually experience when they quit drinking. According to Forest Laboratories, the distributor the drug in the U.S., Campral reduces sweating, anxiety and sleep disturbances that many experience during the early stages of alcohol abstinence.
How Is Campral Taken?
Campral is prescribed in 333mg time-release tablets that are usually taken three times a day. For some patients, such as those with kidney disease, the standard dose may be adjusted by a physician. Because Campral tablets are time-release, they should be swallowed whole and never crushed, cut or chewed.
Because the side effects of Campral are few and mild and because Campral is not addictive, it is usually prescribed for up to 12 months after ceasing alcohol consumption.
What Are the Side Effects?
Campral was "generally well-tolerated in clinical trials" according to the FDA. The side effects that were reported are usually mild and temporary. They include:
- Dry mouth
- Joint or muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
However, in rare cases Campral can cause more severe side effects. Anyone who experiences any of the following symptoms should stop taking Campral immediately and contact their healthcare provider:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Burning, pricking or tingling in arms, legs, hands, or feet
- Chest pains
- Passing urine less often
- Suicidal thoughts
Who Can Take Campral?
People who have stopped drinking alcohol can begin taking Campral. It does not work if you are still drinking, or if you are using illicit drugs or abusing or over using prescription medications.
Campral should not be taken if you have any of the following conditions:
- Kidney disease
- Suicidal thoughts
- Allergic reaction to Campral, sulfites or other medicines
- Allergic reaction to foods, dyes or preservatives
- Pregnant or trying to get pregnant
What Campral Does Not Do
Campral does not help someone quit drinking; it helps those who have already withdrawn from alcohol to maintain abstinence. Campral does not help with withdrawal symptoms experienced while going through early detoxification from alcohol.
However, Campral has been shown to reduce sleep disturbances commonly experienced during early sobriety by recovering alcoholics.
How Effective Is Campral?
As with all other medications approved for the treatment of alcohol dependence, Campral is most effective as a part of an overall program of recovery including therapy, counseling and/or support group participation.
During the FDA clinical trials, Campral was three times more effective than a placebo in maintaining abstinence from alcohol as part of an overall support program. However, the more recent COMBINE (Combining Medications and Behavioral Interventions for Alcoholism) study, surprisingly found that Campral was no more effective than a placebo.
In other words, like all other treatments and approaches to maintaining alcohol abstinence, Campral does not work for everyone. It's not a magic bullet.
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