How Medications Help with Addiction Treatment
Medication can make it easier for recovering addicts to stay sober.
Many people trying to give up drugs or alcohol relapse because they can’t cope with withdrawal symptoms.
Medications for addiction treatment may be prescribed as part of an inpatient or outpatient rehab program. Doctors may adjust dosages during the course of treatment to ensure that addicted people have the best chance of achieving sobriety.
Drug Withdrawal and Detox
During the initial stages of recovery, the body must rid itself of drugs. This is called the detox period. Detox can last several days to several weeks depending on the drug.
Coping with withdrawal symptoms is often the most challenging part of detox. During detox, former drug users experience many uncomfortable symptoms. Some of these may include:
Different medications are used to treat different withdrawal symptoms. Some of the drugs that physicians prescribe in detox include:
- Benzodiazepines. These drugs reduce anxiety and irritability. Anxiety is a common symptom of withdrawal from many drugs, including cocaine and opiates like heroin. Benzos have a sedative effect, which helps ease alcohol withdrawals. Doctors are cautious about prescribing benzos because they are addictive.
- Antidepressants. Without drugs, an addicted person cannot produce natural amounts of happiness-inducing chemicals in their brain. Because they’ve relied on drugs to keep them happy for so long, people in detox often experience depression. Antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac can help relieve these feelings until the brain is able to produce happiness-inducing chemicals on its own again.
- Clonidine. Used to treat alcohol and opiate withdrawals, Clonidine reduces sweating, cramps, muscle aches and anxiety. Clonidine can also stop tremors and seizures.
Detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax can be deadly, so people with these addictions should never quit “cold turkey.” Withdrawals from other drugs aren’t always life-threatening, but complications can still arise. Medical help ensures safety and success in detox.
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Alcohol Addiction Medications
Abusing alcohol on a regular basis for a long time can prolong withdrawal symptoms, lasting anywhere from weeks to months. This phenomenon is called prolonged or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
Maintenance therapy can relieve PAWS and may also curb cravings or make the user unable to stomach alcohol. These medications usually come as a tablet that patients take each day.
Medications for alcohol addiction include:
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol). Naltrexone blocks receptors in the brain that produce alcohol’s pleasurable effects. It also subdues the urge to drink. Naltrexone may cause some nausea or headaches. It may be given via injection every four weeks.
- Acamprosate (Campral). This medication relieves emotional and physical distress caused by alcohol addiction. Recovering alcoholics can start taking acamprosate after completing detox. Acamprosate reduces the urge to drink by preventing negative feelings like anxiety and depression.
- Disulfiram (Antabuse). Disulfiram was the first medication approved for alcoholism. If a person taking disulfiram drinks, the medication causes side effects such as nausea and vomiting. The idea is that those taking disulfiram won’t drink if it makes them sick.
Heroin and Opiate Addiction Medications
Opiates include heroin, morphine and narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin. Opiate and heroin medications ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These medications are usually provided in tablet form on a daily basis.
Some people experience heroin and opiate withdrawal for as little as a week. Others may have long-term withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of withdrawal can last for months or years in some cases. Long-term replacement medications can stop cravings and PAWS. Former users can typically take medications for as long as necessary.
Addiction medications for heroin and painkillers include:
- Methadone. Methadone is an opiate used for moderate to severe opiate addictions. It works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as heroin and painkillers, but methadone doesn’t get the user high. This helps suppress cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is used with caution because some people have become addicted to it in place of heroin and painkillers. Methadone clinics dispense the drug on a daily basis to prevent abuse. Learn more about methadone.
- Buprenorphine (Suboxone). Buprenorphine works in the same manner as methadone but is less closely regulated because the addiction potential is lower. Buprenorphine users can often take the drug home with them instead of going to a clinic every day to get it.
- Naltrexone. Naltrexone works the same way for opiate addiction as it does for alcohol addiction. It stops the urge to use. It works for both addictions because alcohol and opiates activate some of the same receptors in the brain.
Medical Detox and Rehab
Some people choose to detox on their own. This is not only harder, but also more dangerous than detoxing with a doctor. Medical detox is the best way to get sober in a safe, comfortable environment. For those addicted to alcohol or benzos, medical detox is a must.
A supervised detox can alleviate health issues. Physicians track the patient’s heart rate, temperature, breathing rate and fluid levels. Physicians help relieve any discomfort the patient may be feeling. They also adjust any medication doses according to the patient’s needs and make long-term plans for medication.
Those with separate health issues should also seek medical detox. Withdrawals can complicate problems like high blood pressure. A physician can prevent any issues.
Detox is often a part of inpatient rehabs. In most cases, inpatient rehab takes 30 to 90 days. The first week consists of closely observed detox. Rehab includes other treatments, such as behavioral therapy, to make recovery more successful.
If you or a loved one needs help getting sober, find a rehab with medical detox now.