Addiction is a chronic disease that can thoroughly destroy a person’s life. Fortunately, however, treatments exist that can address its many causes and help an individual recover and regain physical and emotional stability.
While therapy, counseling, and aftercare planning can address many emotional difficulties, medications used for addiction treatment can help to ease the challenging withdrawal period. They can also help to manage any other medical or mental health conditions that may have been previously left untreated. Certain addiction medicines may have some risks of their own. Still, they can be beneficial in stabilizing those in early recovery and assist them in managing cravings and the symptoms of withdrawal during the detox process.
How Do Medications for Addiction Work?
The addictive properties of most psychoactive substances originate from the manner in which they alter the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. So, in turn, many addiction medicines are used to help restore balance to the chemical processes that have been altered by the abuse of substances.
A person entering recovery may be prescribed certain medications that reduce cravings and relieve withdrawal symptoms or even counteract the euphoric effects of a substance. Other times, medication may have off-label uses for battling depression or anxiety and have effects that further support a person in recovery.
Common medications that may be used to treat addiction symptoms directly include the following:
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
- Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
- Disulfiram (Antabuse)
- Acamprosate (Campral)
- Modafinil (Provigil)
Naltrexone and Buprenorphine
Naltrexone works by binding to receptors in the brain that opioids would otherwise attach to, rendering those drugs unable to elicit an addictive high. Naltrexone is best used after medical detox, because using it when opioids are still in a person’s system may produce severe withdrawal symptoms, also known as precipitated withdrawal.
Naltrexone is considered to be an ideal medication for the treatment of opioid dependence, due to its minimal side effects and very low potential for abuse. It’s also very beneficial for the treatment of alcoholism, although the exact manner in which it works for this condition is not entirely clear. It can be taken daily in pill form or once a month as an injection, and seems to block alcohol’s euphoric effects and can also reduce cravings.
Unlike naltrexone, which blocks receptors without activating them, buprenorphine partially activates the brain’s opioid receptors—just not to the extent that other painkilling opioids do. This means that with buprenorphine, there is a limit or “ceiling to its opioid-like effects, and it is not capable of inducing as strong of a high as many other opioid drugs.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this limited effect lowers its potential for abuse, as well as the intensity of withdrawal effects associated with the drug itself. When used this way, buprenorphine can help to wean people off dependence on more potent opioids like heroin.
Buprenorphine is commonly found along with naloxone as a combination medication called Suboxone. Naloxone is used by itself as an opioid overdose antidote, as it can completely reverse life-threatening central nervous system depression. As an element of Suboxone, its action makes the medication even safer and also a very effective abuse-deterrent.
Disulfiram and Acamprosate
Other medications that can be used to help people battling alcoholism are disulfiram and acamprosate. When used as directed, disulfiram (Antabuse) will result in highly unpleasant effects if the person consumes even minor amounts of alcohol. It works by blocking the activity of a specific enzyme (acetaldehyde) vital for the metabolization of ethanol.
The accumulation of this chemical is what causes an adverse reaction. Effects can include headache, nausea, vomiting, sweating, chest pain, blurred vision, breathing problems, and more. Experiencing these uncomfortable and painful symptoms or knowing in advance that they will occur may deter many people from drinking.
Acamprosate (Campral) is designed to reestablish the chemical balances in the brain that are disrupted in a person who has alcohol dependence. Acamprosate is believed to be effective because it protects the brain from hyper-excitation that results when a person tries to withdraw from alcohol. In doing this, the likelihood of relapse may be decreased.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
Medication-assisted therapy should be used as part of a much broader approach to addiction treatment, which also includes psychotherapy, counseling, group support, and various other evidence-based modalities.
Comprehensive treatment programs that offer these services are shown to be the most beneficial for improving patient outcomes and helping them to sustain longlasting sobriety and wellness.
Midwood Addiction Treatment is a specialized addiction treatment center that offers such programs in both partial hospitalization and outpatient formats. Our highly-trained staff is committed to ensuring that each client receives the highest level of care, and is given the support and tools they need to recover, prevent relapse, and reclaim their lives for good.
If you are struggling with an addiction, we urge you to contact us today to discover how we can help!