Traditional methods of treating alcohol or drug addiction usually take place in recovery programs that focus on psychosocial treatment. Addiction treatment has evolved over time and the most common approaches involve detoxification and abstinence, individual and group counseling and, in many cases, a twelve step or other form of support group. While these methods have proven effective for a significant portion of people suffering from addiction, there are those who feel they require prescription medication to help manage their symptoms. Using medication to treat substance abuse is not a new idea, but it remains somewhat controversial among those in the recovery community. Some patients believe medication is the best option for them but there are certain risks involved in using prescription drugs to treat addiction.
Medications for Alcohol Abuse
There are a variety of different medications available to treat certain types of addictions but the most common are those used for alcoholism and opoid dependence. Many newer medications can be obtained in a primary care setting from doctors’ offices and clinics although many healthcare providers are reluctant to prescribe them due to inherent risks. For alcohol dependence, the more common medications are disuliram or naltrexone. Disuliram or Antabuse is one of the oldest medications used to treat alcohol addiction and is designed to provide users with unpleasant side effects when they drink alcohol. This medication involves a number of risks due to sometimes dangerous results and complications that in some cases have led to patient death. Patients using this type of medication must be very cautious and only use it as prescribed by a doctor. Naltrexone is a newer medication used for both opoid dependence and alcohol abuse that has been shown to reduce the frequency of drinking and the likelihood of relapse. Patients using naltrexone can experience some negative side effects and also run the risk of overdosing due to its ability to block the effects of opoid drugs.
Treating Opoid Addiction with Prescription Drugs
One of the most widely used medications for drug addiction is methadone which is designed to replace and treat opoid addiction. Methadone has been in use since the 1960s as a prescription treatment for opiate addicts who need a replacement drug to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms. Although it may be useful in reducing symptoms of early detoxification, many addicts end up using methadone for long term maintenance of their heroin dependency. The major risks of using methadone are the tendency of patients to become dependent on the medication and unable to wean completely off of it as well as the possibility of a fatal overdose. The main problem with methadone is that users can begin to develop a tolerance as they would with opoids or other drugs. They may begin to take higher and higher doses of the medication without understanding the danger involved. Too high of a dose of methadone can be fatal and patients may not be aware when they have taken too much.
A newer medication used to treat opoid addiction called buprenorphine has become more popular in recent years. Some recent studies have shown positive results on the effectiveness of buprenorphine and it is considered less dangerous than methadone for treating addiction. Because it is considered less addictive, buprenorphine is easier for patients to access from their physicians without having to attend a clinic several times per week as they would with methadone. However, like most medications prescribed to treat drug addiction it still has the potential for patients to overdose in spite of its relative mildness. Although medications for addiction can be useful in certain more severe cases, for many patients the risks of prescription drugs outweigh the benefits.