Addiction is a disease that involves the brain’s reward and motivation circuitry, and it has biological, psychological, and social manifestations in varying combinations. Each individual with a drug addiction has his or her own addiction pathology, but the results often include serious problems with interpersonal relationships, problems functioning in society, and mental and physical health issues.

It may seem counterintuitive to treat drug addiction with medications, but in many cases that is exactly what is required. Which medications are used and how they are administered will vary and has to be customized to the individual. Here is why medication is sometimes key to successfully overcoming drug addiction.

Drug Withdrawal Can Be Dangerous if Not Medically Managed

Many addictions involve serious physical dependency on substances, and when someone suddenly stops ingesting that substance, withdrawal symptoms can range from unpleasant to life-threatening, depending on the substance, the length of dependency, and other health factors. Sudden withdrawal from alcohol, for instance, can be extremely dangerous without medical supervision and sometimes medication intervention with drugs such as anticonvulsants or benzodiazepines. Medically managed detox helps ensure patient safety and helps improve the likelihood of completing rehabilitation, which also may or may not be medically managed.

Why Medications Make Sense in Treating Some Addictions

Alcohol addiction can result in serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and alcohol addiction rehabilitation may make use of supplements to replace these. Sometimes extra fluids or supplements are needed to avoid dangerous electrolyte imbalance. Other drugs affect alcohol addiction more directly, such as Antabuse, which causes severe nausea when the user drinks alcohol, or Naltrexone, which takes away the pleasurable sensations many people feel when they drink. Drug addiction to painkillers is often treated with Suboxone, which has shown promising results compared to methadone therapy.

Medications in Treatment of Underlying Mental Health Disorders

Drug addiction

When mental health disorders are diagnosed alongside addiction, medical management of those mental health conditions can help with long term addiction recovery.

Addictions are frequently diagnosed alongside mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and other illnesses. In fact, around one-third of people with mental illnesses and up to half of people with severe mental illnesses experience drug addiction as well. In these cases, treatment of the mental illness is important as well as treatment of the addiction. Better mental health can help a person overcoming drug addiction to be more successful at avoiding a relapse, and can also help with other processes, like returning home or to a sober living house, obtaining or resuming a job, and handling the many daily activities that involve interaction with others. In these “dual diagnosis” cases, treating only the addiction is less successful than treating both the addiction and the mental health disorder.

Successful Treatment is Comprehensive and Personalized

No two drug addictions are alike, and treatment must be personalized to each individual’s needs for the best chances of success. Medications are frequently necessary to make the detox process safe, and they can assist with the rehabilitation process as well. People who have co-occurring mental illnesses often benefit from medical management of those diseases, enjoying better overall health and better functioning, and being less likely to relapse.

Trying to overcome drug addiction without help is dangerous and likely to be ineffective, because addiction is a serious disease. If you or someone you love is struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism, we encourage you to learn more about admissions at any time. We’re ready to help whenever you’re ready to reach out.

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