Drugs Role in Addiction Treatment

The use of medications to treat substance abuse is becoming the new “biggest thing” in addiction treatment today.

Last month, the British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP) released new guidelines on the best methods to treat substance abuse and addiction in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Interestingly, these new guidelines emphasize the pharmacological management for treatment–meaning, the guidelines focus on how medications can help treat drug addictions.

The new guidelines explain the use of medications to treat the following areas:

withdrawal syndromes
relapse prevention
reducing harms associated with illicit drug use by prescribing a substitute drug or drugs
preventing substance use complications (e.g. using thiamine to prevent Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s syndrome)
Some addiction experts even envision a future in which alcoholism can be treated like depression: Patients will choose from a range of drugs to find the one that best suits them, then combine it with counselling and other behavioral therapies.

How effective are drugs in treating substance abuse?

Medications have been used as part of de addiction centers for many years. Already, researchers have found quite a few medications that make the recovery process smoother for more than just one type of addiction.


Methadone: suppress withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings
Buprenorphine: suppress withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings
Naltrexone: blocks the effects of heroin and other opioids at their receptors sites and are used only in patients are have already been detoxified.
Suboxone: suppresses withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings

Nicotine replacement therapies
Bupropion: prevents relapse
Varenicline: prevents relapse

Naltrexone: blocks rewarding effects of drinking, thus reducing cravings. It also reduces relapse to heavy drinking. (It can be highly effective in some patients, such as those with a family history of alcoholism.)
Acamprosate: reduces withdrawal symptoms
Disulfiram: produces unpleasant reactions such as flushing and nausea when the patient drinks alcohol (effective among patients who are highly motivated)
Topiramate: blocks rewarding effects of drinking, thus reducing cravings. It also reduces relapse to heavy drinking, as well as lowers liver enzymes and blood pressure.
Ondansetron: reduces drinking in alcoholics with a specific genetic variant

Just lately, topiramate has been found to help recovering methamphetamine addicts stay sober, as found by the Virginia School of Medicine. His study found that topiramate significantly decreases the chance of relapse.

Analysis: Benefits and Drawbacks

Drugs play a significant role in the recovery process in two big areas: treating withdrawal symptoms and preventing relapse.

Since most people drink to prevent the withdrawal symptoms, taking a drug that also eases the symptoms of withdrawal can be an effective way to prevent early relapse.

Of course, finding a drug that prevents long term relapse is also a valuable tool, just as long as it works. Recovering addicts are most likely to relapse during the 12-18 months after rehab, so sometimes giving a medication to keep people sober during that period can affect the long-term outcome.

“I felt like I had found something that finally helped me through the cravings. I don’t think I could have gotten sober without it.” said Patty Hendricks, 49, who used naltrexone to help control her drinking habit after four failed rehab attempts.

While these drugs may be effective for some people, not all medications work for everyone.

Combined Therapy is the Most Effective Treatment

While meds are an important facet of treatment programs, they are most effective when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies. (Abstinence and 12 step programs are not a thing of the past; they are still vital components for a successful recovery.)

No single treatment is appropriate for everyone–and at Duffy’s we recognize this. We recognize that addiction has many contributing factors, from genetics to an underlying mental disorder, so not every drug or program will work the same for everybody. This is why we offer an approach that combines

12 Step Meetings,
Education sessions and interactive learning,
Extensive private counselling, and even
Family counseling opportunities
in addition to drug therapy to provide a successful recovery experience.

Click here for additional information about our unique approach. If you have any further questions, please call us today.





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