Drugs Used to Treat Addiction and Alcoholism

Dr. Purushothaman
September 1, 2013

While it might seem counterintuitive to some people, the use of drugs to treat addiction and alcoholism has helped tens of thousands of people all over the world to stop using or maintain a current recovery program. In fact, some of the most successful programs for addiction treatment - especially addiction to dangerous street drugs like heroin - use certain drugs to enable people to break free from the bondage that is addiction and alcoholism. However, there are certain risks involved and not every type of addiction can be treated with medication. Management of addiction with the use of medication is only a temporary part of a long term recovery plan, so gaining an understanding of the risks and benefits is critical for anyone considering this type of treatment.

On of the most common forms of treatment for addiction that involves the use of other drugs is Methadone treatment. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Methadone:

"... works as a substitute for opiate drugs of abuse by producing similar effects and preventing withdrawal symptoms in people who have stopped using these drugs."(National Center for Biotechnology Information Publication on Methadone February 1, 2009)

This drug is especially useful for people who are trying to stop using opiates such as heroin, morphine or Oxycontin pain killers. By mimicking the effects of more powerful opiates but not producing a similar euphoric "high," many addicts are able to gradually wean themselves off of other drugs when methadone is used as part of a broader managed treatment for addiction program. Often methadone is used to treat addiction while a person is in detox, but this treatment may continue as part of an inpatient treatment program or an outpatient treatment center. Some clinics even provide Methadone for people who are still using drugs if they agree to a counseling session or other form of treatment in exchange for the drug.

Methadone is also used by people who are already in recovery and need a pain management program. This is most useful when there is a situation that causes pain such as injury or surgery, but the recovering addict cannot risk using traditional pain killers such as Vicodin or Percocet. Using Methadone to treat pain in this type of situation is much less likely to produce a relapse event - especially when part of a medically supervised pain management program.

Drugs such as benzodiazepines are often used to treat detox symptoms from alcoholism. (National Institute on Drug Abuse NIDA InfoFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Abuse) Drugs in this class include Valium and Ativan and work to relax the person, relieve pain, and keep them in a calm state while their body detoxes from alcohol. These drugs are very effective but because they are extremely habit-forming, they are generally only used during the initial stages of recovery from alcoholism.

Other drugs used to treat alcoholism include Topiramate, which reduces the "good feelings" a person gets when they use alcohol and thereby reduces the urge to drink (Science Daily Pill To Fight Alcoholism Neuropharmacologists Find Topiramate Effective For Treatment Of Alcoholism November 1, 2008), and Acamprosate, a relapse prevention drug that has shown promising results as a long term recovery aid. (Science Daily Acamprosate Prevents Relapse to Drinking in Alcoholism, Review Finds September 17, 2010)

However, while these drugs may be useful in helping a person to overcome addiction or alcoholism, they should not be considered a long term solution to the permanent problem of addiction. They should only be used in a carefully managed detox or recovery plan when success is unlikely with traditional treatment alone. If someone you love is suffering from addiction, treatment with Methadone, Benzodiazepines or Topiramate could help them finally break free from the vicious cycle of substance abuse or alcoholism. Take action right now and call a professional inpatient treatment center for a free, confidential consultation.

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