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Can You Ever Really Get Over An Addiction? (Part 1)

The word Recovery on puzzle piecesIf you’re wondering if an addict can ever be truly cured, if an addiction can ever disappear, popular wisdom from the experts says no. But don’t despair!

Like other chronic diseases, addiction is treatable and manageable. Addicts can stop abusing drugs or alcohol, resume productive lives, and even counteract the changes that addiction has made to their brains and their behavior. How?

Treatment is key.

The majority of the research has shown that a combination of medication and behavioral therapy will work for most substance use disorders. However, one size does not fit all. What works for one person may not work for another—treatments must be designed to address the individual’s drug of choice, usage patterns, and any related medical, psychiatric, and social problems.

Today we’ll be discussing some medications that can help treat substance use disorders. In our next post, next week, we’ll discover more about behavioral therapy options.

So, what kinds of medications might be prescribed?

Different medications can be used at different stages of treatment to help the addict stop using drugs, stay in treatment, and avoid relapse:

  • Medications for Treating Withdrawal. No matter how much an addict wants to stop using, the fear of withdrawal symptoms is very real. In addition to physical symptoms like sweating, a racing heart or heart palpitations, tightness in the chest or difficulty breathing, the shakes, or nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, the patient might experience depression, anxiety, restlessness, or sleeplessness. However, there are prescription medications designed to reduce these symptoms. Opioid withdrawal can be eased with naltrexone, buprenorphine, and methadone. Alcoholics can take diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), or chlordiazepoxide (Librium) to help them transition through withdrawal.
  • Medications That Help the Addict Stay in Treatment. The withdrawal stage is only the first step. Treatment with medication can help the an addict’s brain adapt to the absence of the abused drug. They help to stave off drug cravings and calm the body’s other systems that are reacting to changes and stresses, and they make it easier for patients to focus on counseling and other psychotherapies. Again, for opioid addicts, medications like methadone, suboxone, naltrexone and a new one called probuphine can reduce the urge to use again. For alcohol abusers, the most widely known drug is disulfiram, better known as Antabuse, but naltrexone can also curb alcohol cravings, as can another prescription medication called acamprosate.
  • Medications to Help Prevent Relapse. Once a person has gone through withdrawal and therapy with the assistance of prescription medications, there is always the threat of relapse. Research has proved that stress, certain people, places, things, and moods, and exposure to the addict’s drug of choice are the most common triggers for relapse. Unfortunately, there are no medications on the market today that can interfere with these triggers and help patients sustain their recoveries. There are, however, some in development.

Remember, medication is only one component of a successful drug or alcohol treatment program. Next week, we’ll discuss the behavioral treatments that are another important part of fighting substance abuse.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a substance abuse disorder — remember you are not alone. Please call the team at Horizon Health at (716) 831-1800. We can help!