Medications to Help Ease the Pain of Substance Abuse Withdrawal
Substances of abuse can change chemical levels deep inside the brain. When those chemical changes are in place, it can be difficult for people to amend their drug use behaviors. The drugs seem necessary due to the damage the brain has endured.
Medications for Drug Withdrawals
- Sedative hypnotics
But drugs of abuse do not have to take over a person’s life. In fact, there are a number of medications that can correct chemical imbalances caused by drugs. When they are used, they can help drug problems to ease. These are five of those drugs:
- Methadone: Some medications used during the withdrawal process are replacement medications. They are designed to mimic the action of the addictive drug, without causing the euphoria of addictive drugs. Methadone is one such medication, and according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, this medication has a mild and gradual onset of action. That means it works on the same receptors as drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers, but it does not make people giddy with happiness. When used in a withdrawal program, this drug is applied at a dose that quells cravings. And the dose gets smaller and smaller with time. This can allow people to wean from drugs altogether.
- Buprenorphine: This is another replacement medication, and according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it is considered so safe that it can be prescribed in physicians’ offices. That means this is a medication that could, in theory, be provided to someone planning an at-home detox. This medication is sometimes provided on a solo basis, especially in inpatient medical detox programs, so people can get the full power of replacement help, but there are some formulations that mix buprenorphine with a blocking medication. That combination allows people to get all of the power of replacement, while lowering the risk of abuse. Whether the medication is provided solo or in combination, it is typically used to quell cravings, and it is provided in doses that get smaller with time.
- Benzodiazepines: This classification of medications has the ability to reduce electrical activity inside brain cells. That could be vital for people in recovery from alcoholism, since an alcohol withdrawal seizure is caused by a firestorm of electrical activity. Using a medication to soothe those impulses could keep a seizure from ever starting, and that could be key to recovery. According to Psychology Today, a typical withdrawal process with these medications involves using long-acting formulations of benzodiazepines for three days, followed by other medications as needed. Since these drugs can also be addicting, they should be used with caution in controlled formats. But for some people, they can be quite helpful.
- Clonidine: Some detox medications are a little unusual, in that these substances were designed to assist with a completely different problem, but they can also help with an addiction issue. For example, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that clonidine is the most commonly used medication in the recovery process from an opiate addiction. This medication was originally developed to help with cardiovascular problems, but it can help with the muscle pain and anxiety people feel while withdrawing from opiates. This is a medication that is typically provided on a short-term basis. When detox is over, the medication’s use is over too.
- Sedative hypnotics: This classification of prescription medication can assist with sleeping difficulties, and as an article in the Journal of Addictive Diseases points out, sleep difficulties are common for people in recovery from alcoholism, and those issues can last for months. The same problems can happen in people addicted to other drugs. And that insomnia can make relapse likely. This medication, when used properly, can allow sleep to come, and that might allow sobriety to persist.
Medications can be an important part of the drug addiction recovery process, but they are not all that a person might need in order to make a full recovery. Therapy is vital. Group support is vital. A healthier life plan is vital. Recovery involves amending and addressing all sorts of issues that may have gone wrong before the addiction appeared, as well as tending to all of the difficulties the addiction caused as it progressed. This is a full recovery, and it can happen. Medications are just part of the process. It is the rest of the recovery plan that might make the real and lasting difference for a person who needs to recover.
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