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January 5, 2012

Treating Addiction with Medication

Sometimes medication is used to help treat addiction. It may sound oxymoronic, treating a substance problem by introducing another, but it's not that simple. Addiction is not a matter of having little willpower; it's a complex disease that makes a person compulsively crave a substance or activity. Addiction actually causes changes in the brain, that often prevent an addict from being able to stop using, even when they want to. These changes to the brain can last long after an addict stops using, which means the cravings are still there, even after they've become sober. That's why it is so easy for addicts to relapse and why relapse rates are so high. Some drug treatment programs use prescription drugs to help treat cravings. It buys time for behavioral and cognitive therapies to begin working. Other times, drugs are used to help patients through the detoxification process. Symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, frightening, or life threatening. Using medications to help someone detox without a lot of pain or suffering can increase an addict's chances of recovery. This helps prevent symptoms of withdrawal and keeps the patient's brain stabilized long enough to complete the detox process. Naltrexone, also known as Revia, Trexan or Vivitrol, is taken as a pill or injection to help treat alcohol or opiate addiction. By blocking the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, naltrexone turns off the pleasurable effects of alcohol and opiates, thus helping to reduce cravings. Research shows that naltrexone works best when used with counseling and other treatment programs. Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse, is also used to treat alcoholism. It changes the way your body responds to alcohol, so that if one drinks after taking this medication, severe nausea, vomiting and headache will occur for up to two hours. 5-10 minutes after drinking alcohol, the patient will experience these unpleasant symptoms. Methadone and LAAM, or Levo-alpha-acetylmethadol, are both medication therapies used to treat people who are addicted to opiates, such as heroin, morphine or vicodin. These drugs prevent withdrawal symptoms, block the effects of opiates, and even help reduce cravings. It's key to note that methadone is a narcotic drug that people can become addicted to. Acamprosate, also known as Campral, helps people recover from alcohol addiction. It's believed that acamprosate helps restore the brain's natural chemical balance, but it doesn't prevent symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Buprenorphine is used alone or in combination with naloxone to reduce cravings, prevent withdrawal symptoms and block the effects of opiod drugs, including heroin and narcotic painkillers. It has milder withdrawal effects than methadone. Bupropion, a common antidepressant known as "Zyban" or "Wellbutrin", can help people quit smoking, sometimes doubling success rates, by reducing cravings for nicotine and lessening withdrawal symptoms. If you're suffering from an addiction, talk to your doctor about your options, and find out if one of these medications is right for you.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012