Incorporating Medications into Addiction Treatment

There is no “one way” to treat addiction. A treatment plan involves incorporating several different methods and avenues including psychotherapy, group therapy, twelve step programs, in-patient and outpatient rehabilitation and so forth. Because addiction is a disease, and depending on the addicted person’s level of dependency, a doctor of medicine may prescribe medications to help treat the disease and aid the transition into recovery. The medication the doctor prescribes is also determined by which drug or drugs an addict or alcoholic has been using and abusing, for example alcohol or opiates.

Some common medications for addiction treatment are as follows:


Naltrexone (Vivitrol):

Those who suffer from alcohol and opiate dependency can benefit from this medication as it blocks the receptors responsible for the rewarding effects of either of the aforementioned. When opiates and alcohol are no longer pleasurable to the user the potential for relapse is greatly reduced. This drug has not been proven effective in blocking the euphoric effects of cocaine or other non-opiates. Side effects can include trouble sleeping, anxiety, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, constipation, and cramping. More serious reported side effects include allergic reactions, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, severe vomiting and hallucinations.


Disulfiram:

This medication is given to patients suffering from severe alcoholism and works by creating an acute, unpleasant response to ethanol (also known as “grain alcohol” produced by fermentation; the only type of alcohol that is made, marketed, and sold for human consumption). Disulfiram is administered orally in tablet form, and upon ingestion if a person thereafter consumes even a small amount of alcohol the unpleasant effects including facial blush, blurred vision, mental confusion, choking, sweating, difficulty breathing, anxiety, headache, vomiting, chest pain, etc. can ensue. This uncomfortable experience, designed not as a cure but a deterrent to drinking, will begin about 10 minutes after alcohol consumption and can last for one hour or more. It is important a person using Disulfiram avoid any vinegar, sauces, and foods containing alcohol.


Methadone (Methadose; Dolphine):

Commonly used as part of replacement therapy, or medication-assisted treatment, for those suffering from opiate based drugs. Candidates for this medication include those who have used and abused heroin, or drugs such as oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and various other opiate pain medications. This doctor prescribed treatment is in itself a slow-acting opiate that will block the effects of the aforementioned more powerful opiates. Although there is potential for Methadone abuse it has been proven effective in aiding a comprehensive treatment plan as it suppresses cravings and the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms brought on by quitting opiates “cold-turkey”. Side effects can include dry mouth, dizziness, anxiety, weakness, and insomnia.


Buprenorphine (Suboxone; Subutex; Probuphine):

Much like Methadone, this medication is used to treat severe opiate addiction including heroin and prescription painkillers. It is administered sublingually (under the tongue) and has been proven effective in treating opiate addiction and withdrawal symptoms. This medication is given as an alternative to Methadone and may have less side effects for some people. It is important to remember that ALL medications do have the potential for side effects, and the side effects associated with Buprenorphine can include body pain, red or numb mouth, sweating, irregular heartbeat, headache, nausea, blurred vision, fainting, difficultly sleeping, and drug withdrawal syndrome.


For more information on any of the above medications you can visit the manufacturer’s websites. Do note that the FDA requires drug manufacturers to disclose any and all possible side effects, and upon review it can deter some from wanting to use or want a loved one to use them as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The possible side effects need to be considered on an individual basis and be discussed with the prescribing doctor and the medical professionals administering and overseeing treatment plans as well as primary care. Also, if other medications are being taken for symptoms or conditions unrelated to drug or alcohol addiction this needs to be addressed with a doctor to assure no adverse drug reactions occur. Lastly, although medication-assisted treatment may create a more “even playing field” with alcohol and/or opiate addiction, they do not promise to cure anyone of their addiction. They should be used as an adjunct along with cognitive behavior therapy and lifestyle changes.

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