Treating addiction requires a combination of resources that are tailored to individual needs in order to be effective. While a variety of therapies and counseling approaches are used throughout the course of treatment, in some cases, it may be beneficial to use medications to help strengthen the recovery process. Depending on the substance abused, medication-assisted treatment may be included as part of a person’s individualized treatment plan to improve outcomes. Medications can help relieve withdrawal symptoms and lessen the impact of cravings that often threaten early sobriety. While it may sound counterintuitive to use a drug to treat an addiction, medication-assisted treatment does not simply supplement one substance for another. Medications can be an important aspect of recovery that helps a person get to a place where they are able to manage sobriety independently.
The use of medications in treatment is not a standalone form of treatment; rather, it is used in conjunction with other forms of therapy and counseling to improve outcomes. Addiction is a disease that changes the way the brain works, and medications can help restore balance in the chemical composition of the brain. This reduces the risk of relapse and enhances the overall experience in recovery.
Medications Used in Treatment of Opioid Addiction
Medication-assisted treatment is especially effective in treating opioid addiction. Rates of opioid abuse continue to skyrocket along with the number of overdoses. Medications used in treatment for opioid addiction have proven to be especially effective when used in conjunction with other forms of therapy. This is because the medications are incredibly effective at blocking the euphoric effects of opioids, which in turn, discourages use and increases the likelihood that someone will commit to their treatment program.
The following medications have been approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of opioid addiction:
Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. This means that the medication reduces and/or eliminates cravings and withdrawal symptoms by activating and blocking opioid receptors in the brain. It does, however, have the ability to produce effects such as euphoria and respiratory depression, but not as profoundly as full opioid agonists.
The medication is safe and effective when taken as prescribed, but it can produce side effects that range in severity. It is important for clients to be assessed by medical professionals before using this medication. To even begin treatment, clients must abstain from opioid use for at least 12 to 24 hours, already experiencing early stages of withdrawal. Side effects that may arise with the use of Buprenorphine include:
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Muscle aches/cramps
Methadone: Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that is only administered under the supervision of a medical professional. It is a powerful medication that does have the potential to create dependencies because it acts on the same areas of the brain that opioids do. When taken as prescribed, the medication is safe and effective, but treatment using it is often long-term and must be gradually tapered. Side effects can vary in severity and, in some cases, may require emergency treatment:
- Heavy sweating
- Itchy skin
- Slowed breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Hives or rash
Naltrexone: Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, preventing a person from feeling the effects of opioid drugs. Naltrexone is not addictive, and it cannot be misused; however, because of how it works, a person taking this medication will have a lower tolerance for opioids. This means that if a person were to relapse, they would not be able to tolerate the same doses they may have been using previously, thereby increasing the risk for accidental overdose. Common side effects associated with Naltrexone include:
- Muscle cramps
- Painful joints
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decreased appetite
Medications Used in Treatment of Alcoholism
Although alcohol is a legal substance, addiction to it can be one of the most detrimental experiences. This is because withdrawing from alcohol can produce some of the most severe, life-threatening side effects. Medication-assisted treatment is incredibly impactful for those recovering from alcohol addiction because it provides relief from symptoms that can deter a person from seeking help in the first place.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the United States. The use of medications in treatment can lessen the impact of withdrawal symptoms and help individuals get through what is arguably one of the most difficult phases of recovery: detox. Medications can also lessen cravings, allowing a person to focus fully on their recovery. The following medications have been proven to be effective in treating alcohol dependency:
Naltrexone: Naltrexone is also used to treat alcohol abuse disorders. In treating alcoholism, a person must complete detox from alcohol before using Naltrexone to avoid strong side effects. This medication binds to receptors in the body, blocking the effects of alcohol. It also reduces cravings. Side effects are the same as what is experienced by those using the medication to treat opioid addiction. Those with alcohol abuse disorders are more likely to have liver problems due to prolonged use and may be at a higher risk to develop serious health complications related to that.
Acamprosate: This medication works by helping to restore the chemical balance in the brain of a person with an alcohol addiction. The medication is most effective when used early in the detox phase; however, it will not prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring. There are a number of side effects that may occur when taking Acamprosate. These include:
- Anxiety or depression
- Mood and behavioral changes
- Suicidal thoughts
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Pain or weakness
Disulfiram: Disulfiram is highly effective because of the unpleasant side effects that occur if a person were to consume alcohol while using this medication. It works by blocking the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol in your system can cause side effects to occur. They may range in severity and can include:
- Increased thirst
- Severe vomiting
- Neck pain
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, Nexus Recovery Services can help. Nexus provides outpatient treatment services to help people overcome their addiction for good. We work with local detox facilities in Southern California, so you can start your journey there and then smoothly transition to our outpatient program to learn how to stay clean and sober. Contact us today for more information.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.