Medications Used to Treat Addiction

Medications Used to Treat Addiction

Medications used to treat addiction can help you manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse in early recovery. Addiction to substances like opioids and alcohol can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help reduce the severity of these symptoms and prevent an accidental overdose if you relapse in the early stages of recovery.

What Is Addiction?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” Additionally, NIDA states that addiction is considered a “brain disorder” that “involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.” These changes in brain circuits can last long after you stop using substances.

Some of the following symptoms can define addiction:

  • Needing more of a particular substance to feel the same effects (developing a tolerance)
  • Intense or uncontrollable cravings and urges to use drugs or drink alcohol
  • Unable to cut back on substance use
  • Spend a lot of your time thinking about using or drinking
  • Most of your free time is spent using, obtaining, or recovering from the after-effects of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Going from doctor to doctor to get additional scripts for certain drugs (known as “doctor-shopping”)
  • Engaging in reckless behaviors, like driving under the influence or going to work while high
  • Changes in sleep patterns and appetite 
  • Problems in performance, attitude, and discipline during school or work
  • Unpleasant physical and mental health symptoms appear when you aren’t using or drinking (withdrawal symptoms)

If you or your loved one has symptoms like these, you might have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Addiction can happen to anyone, and no one starts using substances or drinking alcohol thinking that they will become addicted. When you continue to use substances, or you cannot seem to stop despite negative consequences in your life, you might need treatment to get sober and begin addiction recovery.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses prescription medications to treat withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, usually during detox and early recovery. MAT also combines medications with individual and group therapy, peer support, and holistic approaches to build a comprehensive treatment plan. Medications help to keep you sober while you learn new coping skills to engage in the process of recovery.

MAT can help to ease mental and physical symptoms of withdrawal. When you first stop using drugs or drinking, your body begins to detoxify the harmful chemicals introduced by substance abuse. Detox usually takes about one to two weeks, with withdrawal symptoms at their worst during the first few days.

While medications can help reduce withdrawal symptoms for any type of addiction, you can usually detox safely from stimulants and marijuana without medications. MAT is most often used for alcohol and opioid addiction.

Medications Used to Treat Addiction 

Drugs used in MAT are not a cure for addiction. You still need to engage in therapy and other activities for a successful, long-term recovery. These drugs can help to ease the process as your body and mind adjust to sobriety.

The following are drugs that might be used in MAT:

  • Hydroxyzine
  • Also known as Vistaril, this medication is primarily used to treat allergy symptoms and control nausea 
    • Hydroxyzine helps reduce withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, vomiting, and restlessness for those in detox from substances like cocaine (stimulants), marijuana, and alcohol
  • Clonidine
    • Clonidine is most often prescribed to treat hypertension and as a psychiatric medication for behavioral health symptoms
    • This medication can help reduce withdrawal symptoms anxiety, agitation, and elevated blood pressure
  • Benzodiazepines
      • Also known as “benzos,” benzodiazepines treat panic disorders and anxiety
      • Depression and anxiety are common withdrawal symptoms from substance abuse; they are also common underlying mental health conditions that are a risk factor for self-medicating with drugs and alcohol
      • Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium are common brand-name benzodiazepines
  • Note: these medications can be addictive themselves, meaning you might need to gradually reduce your dose over time to minimize withdrawal
  • Naltrexone
    • Naltrexone can treat both opioid and alcohol addiction
    • This medication blocks opioid receptors in the brain, which create the rewarding or euphoric feelings associated with substance abuse
    • You can take naltrexone in the form of an oral tablet or a long-lasting injection
  • Buprenorphine 
    • Buprenorphine treats opioid addiction by tricking the brain into thinking you already have opioids in your system
    • This medication will help to reduce cravings and urges that could distract you from getting anything out of other forms of treatment like peer support groups and talk-therapy
  • Methadone
    • Methadone helps to reduce cravings and withdrawal by activating the opioid receptors in your brain without getting you high
    • This medication is an FDA-approved treatment for opioid use disorder
    • Since methadone is an opioid (though not as potent as heroin, fentanyl, or morphine), you need to be monitored to reduce the risk of abuse 
    • You need to take a daily dose under the supervision of medical staff at a methadone clinic until you can prove that you can take your doses independently 

MAT can be a viable option if you have a severe addiction and need help reducing withdrawal symptoms. If you have tried to quit “cold-turkey” in the past only to relapse soon after due to painful — or even dangerous — withdrawal symptoms, MAT could help you engage in long-term sobriety and recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment in Denver, CO

The medications used to treat addiction are essential in easing severe withdrawal symptoms associated with detoxing from opioids and alcohol. Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado is here to help you find a comprehensive treatment program — which can include MAT — to maximize your physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. Call us today or visit our admissions page for more.