Medication-assisted treatment for addiction is one tool to help individuals overcome and manage their addictions. Each year, thousands of individuals struggle to manage and overcome their use of addictive substances. This isn’t due to a “lack of willpower” or “low desire.”
Unfortunately, there are withdrawal symptoms associated with the cessation of many commonly used drugs. Other drugs impact the brain’s functioning, making it harder for the patient to stop using the drug permanently.
A Case for Medication-Assisted Treatment Options for Addiction
Medication-assisted treatment options for addiction can alleviate the withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult for many drug users to stop their substance abuse permanently. They are also easily combined with other treatments, such as behavior therapy, to help patients better manage their recoveries.
Stopping the abuse of drugs and alcohol is only one component of managing addiction. While drugs used to treat addiction help patients stop their substance abuse, these individuals often need additional therapy, support, and medical attention to ensure that they remain addiction-free and address any underlying issues that contribute to their addictive behavior.
Medication-assisted treatments for drug abuse give patients the assistance they need to begin the recovery process. Depending on the addiction, there are likely several options available. A medical expert will work with someone experiencing addiction to determine which prescription drug is right for their substance abuse.
Drugs Used to Treat Opioid Addiction
Many individuals addicted to opioids originally had legitimate prescriptions for opioid-based medications. As their addiction strengthened or once they no longer had a prescription, they turned to illegal alternatives.
Opioid addiction makes it difficult for patients to tend to their personal and familial responsibilities. They’re often more concerned about finding their next fix due to the highly addictive nature of opioids.
Medication-assisted treatment options for opioid addiction are arguably the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder. The cessation of opioids is associated with a slew of nasty withdrawal symptoms that can encourage the patient to start using again.
These symptoms include:
- Overall agitation and discomfort
Drugs used to treat addiction act on the same brain targets as opioids. They’re able to minimize withdrawal symptoms without producing the high associated with opioids abuse. Some of the most common options to assist with detox are methadone (manufactured as Methadose and Dolophine) and buprenorphine (sold as Suboxone, Sublocade, Subutex, and Prubuphine).
Naltrexone (produced as Vivitrol) is another of few commonly used medication-assisted treatment options for opioid addiction. This drug blocks the effects of opioids on the brain’s receptors.
If the patient uses opioids while on Naltrexone, they won’t achieve a high. Once the patient has safely stopped using opioids, Naltrexone is an option to prevent the likelihood of a relapse. Individuals need to stop using opioids before using Naltrexone or risk overdosing to achieve a high.
Drugs to Help with Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol use disorder is on the rise, and alcohol-related deaths are among the leading causes of preventable deaths in the US. While some individuals abuse alcohol and make poor choices while under its influence, they aren’t addicted.
Patients addicted to alcohol cannot stop drinking, crave alcohol throughout the day, and often hide or lie about their drinking habits. There are a few FDA-approved medication-assisted treatment options for alcohol addiction. They function in different ways to help patients cease drinking and maintain their sobriety.
Naltrexone (the same drug used to manage opioid addiction) blocks the receptors in the brain that recognize the rewarding effects of alcohol use. The patient won’t feel the euphoric effects associated with alcohol consumption.
Acamprosate (sold as Campral) minimizes withdrawal symptoms when heavy, long-term drinkers stop using alcohol. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hallucinations and delusions (in rare cases)
Patients with severe alcoholism are more likely to experience intense withdrawal symptoms, making them ideal candidates for acamprosate.
Disulfiram (produced as Antabuse) affects how the body breaks down alcohol. It leads to the build-up of acetaldehyde, which causes the patient to feel nauseous and experience flushing and an irregular heartbeat when they use alcohol.
Prescription Medication for Nicotine Addiction
Millions of individuals intend to stop using tobacco products each year. Unfortunately, they frequently struggle due to psychological factors that encourage the addiction.
There are multiple products approved for over-the-counter use to assist with nicotine addiction. Some people can use patches, gum, or lozenges with nicotine to help them reduce and ultimately eliminate their usage. For others, additional help is necessary.
Individuals seeking to stop their tobacco usage may benefit from prescription-medicated treatment for addiction. One alternative is bupropion (sold as Zyban). It works by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms that occur when someone tries to stop smoking.
Varenicline (also known as Chantix) includes compounds that bind to the receptors in the brain that typically detect nicotine. This drug used to treat addiction prevents these receptors from binding with and responding to nicotine, lowering the brain’s production of dopamine (a chemical responsible for pleasurable feelings).
Drugs Used to Treat and Manage Mental Illness
To permanently stop using drugs, it’s essential to treat the underlying factors contributing to their drug and substance abuse. Data indicates that approximately half of the people with a mental illness will struggle with substance abuse at some point in their lives.
Many individuals start to abuse drugs and alcohol because they have untreated anxiety or depression. Treating and managing mental illness with medication, behavioral therapies, or combining the two helps address this contributing factor.