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Medical Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Along with clinical and spiritual treatment, medical treatment forms an important component of a complete drug and alcohol addiction treatment plan. Medical treatment focuses on treating the physical damage to the body caused by substance abuse. For example, medical treatment can help relieve the physical symptoms caused by withdrawal. Medical treatment also focuses on treating co-occurring medical issues, monitoring vitals, and medication management. Because most medical treatments are highly regulated, they are generally performed by licensed medical professionals such as doctors and nurses. Although medical treatment can be required at any stage of the recovery process, it is most necessary during the early stages of treatment, particularly when patients are dealing with the most severe withdrawal symptoms.
Detox is initially performed to cleanse the patient’s system from substances. Detox is ideally done for patients addicted to alcohol, Benzodiazepines, and Opioids, as well as other types of drugs. This process restores the patient’s body to a healthier state and allows them to begin other treatments with a “clean slate.” Detox helps patients get through withdrawal symptoms that many patients experience, including:
- Delirium tremens
- Pain and discomfort
Medically-supervised detox is extremely important for both the safety of the patient and their long-term recovery outlook. Withdrawal is often one of the greatest challenges that patients face. Professional medical providers make sure that the patient is as comfortable as possible during detox, and therefore more likely to complete it successfully. More importantly, medical supervision is necessary to protect patients. Some withdrawal symptoms, in particular seizures, can cause severe injury or even death.
After a patient undergoes medically-supervised detox, they can then safely and comfortably enter into an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facility where a multitude of treatments are administered to assist with their long-term recovery.
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Medications for Addiction Treatment
Both during and after medically-supervised detox, doctors can prescribe patients medication based on their addiction level and other needs. Each medication has a different impact. Some alleviate pain or other withdrawal symptoms, while others reduce cravings or eliminate the pleasurable effects of drug abuse.
Coupled with behavioral treatments, such as behavioral or clinical therapy, medicines greatly assist patients with relapse prevention. In general, medication is used to help the patient get through the worst of withdrawal and post-acute withdrawal syndrome so that they can focus their energies on a more complete transformation. Medicines can also be prescribed to treat patients with co-occurring disorders, such as bipolar or anxiety, thereby eliminating their need to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Common Medical Treatments for Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Clonidine is used to treat patients with Opioid, alcohol, and sometimes Stimulant withdrawal. Patients enduring Heroin withdrawals, for example, have a better chance of completing treatment when prescribed Clonidine. Clonidine is prescribed in a patch or pills. Clonidine can reduce the severity of many withdrawal symptoms, including agitation, anger, anxiety, cravings, depression, diarrhea, facial flushing, fever, headaches, hot flashes, insomnia, irritability, mood swings, pain, and restlessness. Clonidine treats many Side effects are mild to moderate. Some patients have developed a dependence to this drug.
Naloxone is often used to treat patients with Opioid addictions. It is used to immediately reverse Opioid overdoses, in many cases saving a life. Naloxone is equally effective for individuals at any stage of severity of their substance use disorder if administered quickly enough. Naloxone can be taken nasally, into the muscle, under the skin, or intravenously, and side effects are generally mild.
Naltrexone is most often used to treat Opioid use disorders, but it is effective in treating patients with alcohol addictions as well. This drug helps patients overcome addiction by blocking the euphoric feelings released by drug or alcohol use, thereby eliminating the benefits of using. It also helps reduce cravings. It is available in injectable or in tablet form. The injectable form, called Vivitrol, only needs to be administered once a month. Patients should not use Naltrexone while taking Opioids. Side effects are generally mild.
Suboxone is used to treat Opioid addiction. This drug combines Naloxone and Buprenorphine, both of which actively block any euphoric feelings that come from Opioids. Uncomfortable symptoms experienced during Opioid withdrawal are prevented; however, some patients develop tolerance and dependence to Suboxone. Generally, doctors taper down Suboxone use until the patient is fully detoxed. Patients experience fewer and milder cravings for Opioids but can incur headaches, sweating, and stomach pain with use. Patients may also experience withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing Suboxone use.
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Methadone is a popular medication used to treat patients with Opioid addictions, especially Heroin. Methadone functions as a pain reliever and as a maintenance treatment for addiction, as either long-term treatment or short-term during detox as a tapering method. Methadone can prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings for individuals with opioid use disorders by blocking euphoric feelings. Methadone patients show 33% fewer tests with positive Opioid results and are four times as likely to remain in treatment. Methadone helps addicts remain in treatment and eases withdrawal symptoms. However, patients can develop a dependence on Methadone if taken in large doses. Side effects of Methadone range from moderate to severe, and include excess sweating, sexual dysfunction, restlessness, constipation, itchy skin, and nausea.
Acamprosate, also known by the brand name Campral, is most commonly used to treat alcoholism by reducing the brain’s dependence on alcohol. Acamprosate reduces the painful side effects of withdrawal symptoms, which has made it one of the most popular addiction treatment medications. Acamprosate reduces cravings and withdrawal-associated distress by promoting a balance between neurotransmitters in the brain. Acamprosate is not processed in the liver, so individuals with liver problems can still use it. The drug can even be taken by patients who are still drinking, but it will slowly cause them to lose interest. Studies have found Acamprosate to reduce the risk of returning to any drinking by 86%. Side effects can be mild to severe and include insomnia, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, cold or flu-like symptoms, sexual dysfunction, and itchiness.
Disulfiram has been prescribed for decades for the treatment of alcohol use disorders and has been used by over 200,000 Americans. This drug is typically taken orally and helps the patient maintain recovery through negative reinforcement. Disulfiram blocks alcohol enzymes that break down alcohol in the liver, causing a user to have an intensely negative reaction when they consume alcohol, often including violent vomiting.
Disulfiram doses are usually smaller and prescribed after detox and withdrawal periods. Patients typically couple this drug with other medications or modes of treatment under medical supervision. Side effects are generally moderate, and include headaches, tiredness, and skin rash.
Benzodiazepines, commonly called Benzos, treat alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal, among many other uses. These medications can be used in detox and only should be used under medical supervision. There are many Benzodiazepines, which come in tablet and injection forms. Benzos connect with neurotransmitters in the brain to produce feelings of calmness. They severely reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as pain, irritability, vomiting, and headaches, making alcohol withdrawal less uncomfortable and easier to complete. Side effects are mild to moderate, but Benzos can be extremely addictive if taken improperly.
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Whether patients are being treated for Opioid addiction, alcohol addiction, or Benzo addiction, there are many knowledgeable and compassionate treatment providers available to help. Contact a treatment provider today to schedule an appointment.
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