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Many people trying to give up drugs or alcohol relapse but they struggle with the withdrawal symptoms. Certain medications can mimic the effects of addictive drugs, which relieves withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

We prescribe medications as part of our outpatient program. Our physicians may adjust dosages during the course of treatment to ensure the best chance for achieving sobriety.

Drug Withdrawal and Detox

During the initial stages of recovery, the body must rid itself of drugs. This is called the detox period. Detox can last several days to several weeks depending on the drug. Coping with withdrawal symptoms is often the most challenging part of detox. During detox, the patient may experience many uncomfortable symptoms. Some of these may include:

    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Nausea
    • Seizures
    • Muscle aches
    • Sweating

Different medications are used to treat different withdrawal symptoms. Some of the drugs that physicians may prescribe in detox include:

  • Benzodiazepines

These drugs reduce anxiety and irritability. Anxiety is a common symptom of withdrawal from many drugs, including cocaine and opiates like heroin. Benzos have a sedative effect, which helps ease alcohol withdrawals. Doctors are cautious about prescribing benzos because they are addictive.

  • Antidepressants

Patients attempting to withdraw from a drug may have challenges producing natural amounts of happiness-inducing chemicals in their brains. Because they’ve relied on drugs to keep them happy for so long, patients often experience depression. Antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac can help relieve these feelings until the brain is able to produce happiness-inducing chemicals on its own again.

  • Clonidine

Used to treat alcohol and opiate withdrawals, Clonidine reduces sweating, cramps, muscle aches, and anxiety. Clonidine can also stop tremors and seizures.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms varies based on past drug use. Those who were taking drugs in high doses for an extended time typically have the worst symptoms.

Alcohol Addiction Medications

Abusing alcohol on a regular basis can prolong withdrawal symptoms, lasting anywhere from weeks to months. This phenomenon is called prolonged or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Maintenance therapy can relieve PAWS and may also curb cravings or make the user unable to stomach alcohol. These medications usually come as a tablet that patients take each day.

Medications for alcohol addiction include:

  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

Naltrexone blocks receptors in the brain that produce alcohol’s pleasurable effects. It also subdues the urge to drink. Naltrexone may cause some nausea or headaches. It may be given via injection every four weeks.

  • Acamprosate (Campral)

This medication relieves emotional and physical distress caused by alcohol addiction. Recovering alcoholics can start taking acamprosate after completing detox. Acamprosate reduces the urge to drink by preventing negative feelings like anxiety and depression.

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)

Disulfiram was the first medication approved for alcoholism. If a person taking disulfiram drinks, the medication causes side effects such as nausea and vomiting. The idea is that those taking disulfiram won’t drink if it makes them sick.

Heroin and Opiate Addiction Medications

Opiates include heroin, morphine and narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin. Medications for opiate and heroin ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Some people experience heroin and opiate withdrawal for as little as a week. Others may have long-term withdrawal symptoms. Addiction medications for heroin and painkillers include:

  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone)

Buprenorphine works in the same manner as methadone but is less closely regulated because the addiction potential is lower.

  • Naltrexone

Naltrexone works the same way for opiate addiction as it does for alcohol addiction. It stops the urge to use. It works for both addictions because alcohol and opiates activate some of the same receptors in the brain.