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. 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.

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Detox

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:

  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Delirium tremens

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 treatment experts 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.

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.

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Common Medical Treatments for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Clonidine

Clonidine is used to treat patients with opioid and alcohol 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 and also stops tremors and anxiety. Side effects are mild to moderate. Some patients have developed a dependence to this drug.

Naloxone

Naloxone is often used to treat patients with opioid and benzodiazepine addictions. It is most well-known for immediate treatment of opioid overdoses. Patients who have taken opioids for a longer time or have used opioids with other substances often see the greatest benefit from this drug. Naloxone can be taken nasally, and side effects are generally mild.

Naltrexone

There Is An Increasing Amount Of Research Dedicated To Developing New Medical Treatment For AddictionNaltrexone is most often used to treat alcoholism, but it is effective in treating patients with opioid 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 is available in injectable or in tablet form. Patients should not use Naltrexone while taking opioids. Side effects are generally mild.

Suboxone

Suboxone is typically used to treat opioid and benzodiazepine 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. Patients experience fewer and milder cravings for opioids or benzodiazepines but can incur headaches, sweating, and stomach pain with use.

Methadone

Methadone is a popular medication used to treat patients with opioid addictions, especially heroin. Methadone functions to reduce cravings by blocking euphoric feelings.  Methadone patients show 33 percent fewer tests with positive opioid results. 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 are comparatively mild.

Acamprosate

Acamprosate is most commonly used to treat alcoholism by reducing the brain’s dependence on alcohol. It also changes the brain’s chemistry post-alcoholism back to a normal state. Acamprosate reduces the painful side effects of withdrawal symptoms, which has made it one of the most popular addiction treatment medications. Side effects can be mild to moderate and include insomnia, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, and itchiness.

Disulfiram

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.

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Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, commonly called benzos, treat alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal, among many other uses. These medications can be used in detox but 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 professionals available for guidance. Contact a treatment professional/a> to schedule an appointment.

Last Edited: April 19, 2018

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