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Addiction is a chronic condition that requires a comprehensive treatment approach. While therapy and aftercare support are critical in addressing the root causes of a person’s addiction, professionals will also often prescribe medications to aid you through the withdrawal process. These medications may help reverse, prevent, or reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms — getting you through detox safely so you can focus on your recovery.

Understanding Drug Withdrawal and Detox

Substances like opioids and alcohol rewire the brain’s risk and reward neural pathways. Over time, taking substances can directly impact the brain’s functions, causing the brain and body to become dependent on the substance until they cannot function without it. As a result, quitting substances without professional intervention can lead to distressful withdrawal symptoms as the body attempts to rid itself of the drug.

Examples of common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches

In severe cases, withdrawal can be dangerous. For instance, people with alcohol use disorder can experience delirium tremens (DT) when they attempt to stop drinking without professional intervention — a seizure disorder that can be life-threatening. Additionally, the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal can make it more difficult to quit, often causing a person to relapse. This can be risky since the body is no longer used to the same amount of drugs you used to take, increasing the risk of an overdose.

For this reason, medical professionals will provide supervised detoxification, prescribing medications to restore balance in the body, lower the risk of relapse and prevent dangerous issues like DT.

Why Is Medication Often Used in Residential Treatment?

Medications in addiction treatment may work in different ways to help a person safely eliminate drugs from their body. Depending on the specific prescription medication, they may target and treat specific withdrawal symptoms or prevent cravings. Some medicines can also counteract the effects of a substance.

For example, buprenorphine is a common medication used to treat opioid use disorder. It works by normalizing brain chemistry, blocking the euphoric effects of substances and relieving cravings.

Attempting to detox without medical supervision can be life-threatening. In residential treatment, medical providers will supervise the detox process and ease health issues. They’ll track vital signs, relieve discomfort, adjust medications as needed, and develop long-term plans for your recovery.

Medications Used During Detox

Because these medications can be misused, it is important that you only have them legally prescribed at specialized clinics and take them under a doctor’s supervision. Some of these medications may also interact with other substances and medications. Common medications used in rehabilitation include:

  • Benzodiazepines: Anxiety is a common medication often prescribed for short periods. It can help reduce irritability and symptoms of anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal. The medication works by working on brain receptors in a similar way that alcohol impacts them, reducing the chance of seizures.
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone): Suboxone is the most common form of medical treatment for opioid addiction. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medication is often used at the start of detox to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. In other cases, it is used as a long-term approach to OUD treatment.
  • Methadone: This opioid is among the other most prescribed medications for opioid use disorder. It works by binding to the same receptors as pain medications, though it does not cause euphoria when taken at the prescribed dosage. When taken in residential treatment, it can manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings from opioid withdrawal.
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol): Naltrexone works by binding and blocking opioid receptors in the brain, reducing cravings to prevent relapse. Vivitrol is the same medication but in an injectable medication given once every few weeks. It is often confused for Naloxone, also known as Narcan, which is an emergency medication used to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

Other medications during detox can come from over-the-counter medications for nausea, vomiting, constipation, headaches, and other symptoms. A prescription-strength medication might also target symptoms, such as Clonidine, which can help reduce sweating, muscle aches, cramps, and flu-like symptoms of withdrawal.


Medications Used After Detox

Medication management often expands into the first weeks after detoxification, often for alcohol use disorder. Common examples of medications include:

  • Acamprosate (Campral): Campral is a medication that helps with alcohol cravings by managing how brain receptors function post-alcohol use. It can also be used to reduce anxiety and insomnia. For this reason, it is one of the most common medications for alcohol use disorder, as it may prevent relapse in early recovery.
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse): Antabuse is another medication that can reduce alcohol consumption by discouraging ingestion at all. The medication causes uncomfortable symptoms like nausea, vomiting, headache, sweating, and other symptoms that occur after drinking. The goal is to reduce interest in alcohol use as a learned mechanism and can be effective when taken with supervision.

Mental Health Medications

Approximately 21.5 million adults in the United States have a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health condition. While a condition like anxiety or depression can occur at various stages in a person’s life, they are often experienced alongside addiction. Research shows treating mental health conditions and addiction simultaneously can increase the chances of a successful recovery.

Common mental health medications prescribed in treatment include:

  • Antidepressants: Common antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), and citalopram (Celexa). These are typically used to treat major depressive disorder.
  • Anxiolytics: These are medications used to treat anxiety disorders. Buspirone is a common example of a medication prescribed for people with both addiction and anxiety, though antidepressants may also be prescribed.
  • Mood stabilizers: These are often used to treat bipolar disorders, where a person’s mood changes dramatically from a low, depressed feeling to a high mania. Examples of mood stabilizers include lithium, lamotrigine (Lamictal), and divalproex sodium (Depakote).

In addition to prescribed mental health medications, some form of talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often employed in addiction treatment to get the best results in treating both conditions. It is important to note that some medications used for SUD and mental health conditions may have serious adverse effects, so they must only be prescribed and taken under professional supervision.

Sana at Stowe

Residential treatment offers various services to help you recover from substance use disorder — including medication-assisted treatment. When prescribed by medical professionals, these medications can ease you through detox, recovery, and aftercare. For people considering addiction treatment, Sana at Stowe offers evidence-based treatment services and a serene space to heal and begin the path to recovery.

We tailor our comprehensive treatment plans to your unique needs with behavioral therapy options, medication-assisted treatment, and holistic modalities. Contact us today to learn how our treatments can support a healthy, substance-free lifestyle.

Sana is Here to Help

Sana is here for you and your loved ones. Sana at Stowe provides high-quality treatment for those struggling with substance abuse, alcohol addiction, trauma, and PTSD. Our compassionate and professional staff is dedicated to giving our patients the recovery experience they deserve in a safe and healing environment. To learn more or to get started on your journey to recovery today, give us a call or visit our contact form.

Click here to call us: 866-575-9958