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Drugs & Health Blog

Treating Addiction With Medication

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

Most people are familiar with taking prescription medications like antibiotics when they get sick. Some people also are prescribed medication to help with a problem like depression or ADHD. Did you know that some (not all) drug addictions actually can be treated with prescription medications, too?

It may seem odd that someone addicted to a drug like heroin would start taking another drug so they can stop using heroin. But research shows that some people respond very well to what is called “medication-assisted treatment.”

Why Does Medication Help?

If a person is addicted to an opioid (like heroin or prescription pain relievers), medication can help him or her get back to a better state of mind—beyond just thinking about seeking and using the drug. It also can help ease withdrawal and cravings, which can give a person who is addicted the chance to focus on changes needed to recover.

Taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication to control heart disease or diabetes. It is not the same as substituting one addictive drug for another. Used properly, the medication does not create a new addiction. 

How Does Medication Work?

Medications to treat opioid addiction (like methadone and buprenorphine) affect the same brain areas as the drugs of abuse they are opposing (like heroin and OxyContin)—but in different ways. Anti-addiction medications “trick” the brain into thinking it is still getting the drug, which stops withdrawal. They help the person feel normal, not high, and reduce drug cravings.

Alcohol dependence also may be treated with medication. Three oral medications and one that is injected have been shown to help patients reduce drinking, avoid relapse to heavy drinking, or stop drinking altogether.

Of course, these medications aren’t available over the counter at your local pharmacy. They are dispensed at treatment centers or by primary care doctors approved to prescribe them.

Medication isn’t the only treatment for opioid or alcohol dependence. Adding counseling or therapy can help, and the support of family and friends is often crucial to a person’s success. See NIDA’s page, Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What To Ask.

To learn more, read Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction: Facts for Families and Friends.  

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


this helped me alot for a report

Health Literacy is so needed as I worked at USPHS and WHO Asia and one whose focus is on Patient and Health Education. I was in NYC Mobile Health Expo and was the only presenter on patient education everyone else was focused on HIT or Mobile Health Apps or Wellness.

Patient education requires social behavorial tools to have the public be aware of daibetes, smoking and health etc.
I knew that I had to create a way for him to always have a coupon that works. A website that would always be updated, would always have a working [commercial link removed, per guidelines] and would be easy for him to use.

I lived close to people who have had a major drug addiction and thanks to drug treatment have overcome addiction, today lead a normal life.
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One should be carefull with antibiotics! People take them more than they should! Not every flue shold be treated with antibiotics! Anyway,a nice post!
Regards from Sarajevo from team [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

Probably the so called “medication-assisted treatment” is practiced to replace in the first stages of abstinence of herion addiction, when the organism is in incredible pain and needs additional relieves. Drug treatment is really an option to return to the normal life.
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I do love meditating every morning because there is away it gives me control of my thought and body.Some of the additions i had have just started dropping off.

Why are drug addictions treated with more drugs? The purpose should be to end addiction not trade addictions. I work with many addicts who never seem to get better when treated with more medication. I have not seen it work. Stop the addiction! Get the addict off all drugs and learn to cope without them. If a medication is needed for a disorder, that's one thing but to continue the cycle in the name of ending an addiction is not fixing the problem

It works for me. 3 years clean and sober thanks to Subutex. Do not judge my recovery and you are probably not a DR. I am guessing.
That makes sense to me as I am dying to get off of methadone , down from 80 mgs to 34. I need something to help me through the horrible detoxing physical symptoms. I will check out Subutex. Thanks.

RE: Dee
The goal is not to get the addiction to transfer to the drug that is being used to treat them. Instead the medication is being used as a tool, to make it easier to cope with the addiction. You need to realize how intense these addictions can be. People have recived more ailments from withdrawal (in certain cases) than actually being on the drug. I can see where your point is, but for certain patients this treatment should work. So for some patients it is fixing the problem, why not try it? If it doesn't work then you end the perscription. Besides these perscriptions are causing no harm, they are given the right doses it does no harm.

Thanks for the articles, I will bookmark this for reference in my site [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

I'd read a great many things about fighting drugs with drugs; back in the 1960s, LSD was used to treat alcohol addiction with a surprisingly high success rate; even the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (Bill Wilson) used it. First he was thinking it would terrify alcoholics out of their habits, but once trying it himself, determined it would help give alcoholics a new perspective on how their addictions were affecting their lives and their loved ones. Research into that ground to a sudden halt when LSD was banned and placed on Schedule I.

As for heroin addiction, there's been success too using iboga (containing Ibogaine), to both give an addict a similar experience as LSD did for alcoholics, but also had the added benefit of letting most addicts literally skip their opioid withdraw. This research is being conducted mostly in Africa and the Caribbean, since Ibogaine too, is banned on Schedule I.

I would really wish to see research on the use of these substances to fight addictions from other drugs to be permitted again. Hopefully Salvia divinorum can be researched and proven to be effective for anti-addiction purposes before that gets scheduled too.

I hate when they assign drugs to little kids because they are a little bit hyper..... those are kids and they are suppose to be hyper
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Somtimes,poeple just take drugs anyhow for any reason.Please tell drug addicts to stop

One should seek medical help during the initial levels of addiction so that it can be cured and the harmful effects can be minimized. Seeking a good doctor regularly and taking the prescribed medicines on time helps recovering from this hazardous drug addiction.
Buprenorphine can be highly addictive and difficult to detox. It also puts an individual at risk for exchanging one addictive habit for another. When an individual comes to us wanting to be free from an addictive life, is giving them an addictive substance to replace another the best choice?
You give some good thoughts on what should be the effects of alcohol drinking and what should be necessary steps to be taken.
Really great information about medication and its work. Keep sharing.
For those who have become addicted to opiate drugs, methadone treatment centers offer comprehensive programs which have proven to be very effective in helping the individual recover from the addiction and return to a healthy and productive lifestyle.