Addiction Treatment Medications

Addiction treatment often involves a multifaceted approach that uses a combination of evidence-based modalities, such as talk therapy, holistic approaches, and medication. Medication can be a valuable part of treatment that helps manage withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and mental health disorders.

This page will explain why medications are used in addiction treatment, some types of medications used in treatment, and how to find out more information about treatment options if you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder.

Using Medication to Treat Addiction

Two of the biggest challenges in addiction treatment are the withdrawal process – as the person’s body reacts to the loss of the substance use – and the continued cravings that occur both during and after treatment. These are both major contributors to the individual’s risk of relapse.

Researchers have increasingly tried to find medications that can help to ease the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal and curb the destructive cravings that can cause a person to return to substance use. In the case of dangerous withdrawal syndromes, such as for alcohol, this can also decrease the chance of a lethal withdrawal reaction.

Some of the medications provided during substance use disorder treatment are simple over-the-counter products that ease physical discomforts that are typical of the withdrawal period, such as headaches or nausea. In other cases, medications are provided to directly affect the brain systems involved in the addiction response, in the hopes that they can deter the person’s desire to start using again. Another use of medication during addiction treatment is to manage co-occurring disorders that can contribute to addiction.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Some of the more uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal are easily treated using over-the-counter medications to ease discomfort until the withdrawal stage is over. These include:

  • Pepto-Bismol or other anti-nausea and antidiarrheal formulations.
  • Analgesics like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for various aches and pains.
  • Natural or non-narcotic sleep aids, like melatonin supplements.
  • Topical creams for muscle aches, like Ben-Gay.

Prescription Medications Used in Addiction Treatment

In some instances, over-the-counter medications are not sufficient to address withdrawal and cravings. In those cases, your treatment team may prescribe a medication. Some of these medications include:

  • Naltrexone: This drug was originally developed to treat opioid addiction by reducing cravings; however, it has also been found to reduce alcohol consumption. According to the National Library of Medicine, this is most likely to be helpful when provided in concert with psychosocial therapy.
  • Disulfiram: This as an alternate alcohol addiction treatment that helps with alcohol withdrawal and cravings by blocking the processing of alcohol in the body. In other words, an individual taking this medicine would not feel the euphoria that normally occurs with drinking, helping to reduce the desire to use alcohol.
  • Methadone: In opioid addiction, methadone has become well known as a maintenance medication that helps to prevent cravings during and after treatment. Methadone itself is a type of opioid, but it is considered to have a lower addiction potential, which enables it to be used to satisfy cravings as the individual is slowly tapered down. Some people with a high risk of relapse stay on methadone maintenance on a long-term basis.
  • Buprenorphine: Similar to methadone, buprenorphine is meant to help control cravings by taking the place of the opioid in the body. However, it is considered to have an even lower addiction potential. As described by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, its effects level off at a certain dosage, meaning that higher doses will not increase the “high” felt by a person using it. Buprenorphine is often combined with naloxone, a drug that reverses the body’s response to opioids, which can make it very unpleasant to take the medication in ways other than intended.
  • Gabapentin and other antiepileptic drugs: In recent years, research has noted that anti-seizure drugs like gabapentin and topiramate can also change the way the body responds to addictive substances, helping to reduce cravings. These medicines are a major focus of current addiction treatment research.

Challenges of Treating Addiction with Medication

The development or discovery of prescription medications that can treat addiction is often heralded as a “cure” for substance use disorders. However, this is an exaggeration as there is no cure for addiction; using medicine to treat substance abuse can be a double-edged sword. There are difficulties that arise when using medicine to treat addiction, which include:

  • Transfer of addiction from one substance to another. With treatment medications that have misuse potential, such as methadone or gabapentin, the individual may develop tolerance and addiction to the medication, simply replacing one struggle with another.
  • The individual feeling “better” and stopping use of the medicationIt is a common misconception that, once a person has taken a medicine long enough to feel better, they can stop taking it. In some cases, medications need to be tapered down — which should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional — to avoid potentially serious side effects.
  • The “magic bullet” effect, preventing the person from pursuing other helpful treatment. Some people may assume that medication is all that’s needed to treat their addiction. However, medication does not address the underlying causes, such as mental health disorders or trauma, that may have contributed to their addiction.

Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

Well-rounded evidence-based addiction treatment from our inpatient rehab in Southern California can provide these therapies both alone and in conjunction with medicines and other medical treatment to provide a full spectrum of tools for recovery support. This has been shown to be the approach with a higher likelihood of helping people achieve and maintain recovery.

To learn more about our different levels of care, contact our knowledgeable and compassionate admissions navigators at . They can answer your questions about our treatment center and guide you through the admissions process.

To find out if your insurance will cover some or all of your treatment, you can verify your coverage by filling out . If you’re underinsured or don’t have insurance, our navigators can go over other ways to pay for addiction treatment.

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