On Medication Use During Alcohol and Drug Detox

The process of detox, or detoxification, is a vital one for many people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Because it can be a difficult period for many who are within it, including withdrawal symptoms that can be quite severe in some cases, there are a few different helpful medications that might be used to assist with the process of detox.

At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, we’re proud to provide high-quality medical drug and alcohol detox services to patients throughout Idaho, providing caring support and experienced-based recommendations to help our patients move through any withdrawal symptoms they’re experiencing. Why are certain medications sometimes used as part of this process, and what are some of the types that may be involved? Here’s a rundown.

Why Medications Are Used During Detox

The purpose of detoxification is to remove addictive and harmful substances from the body, but it can be very difficult for some people to accomplish this on their own. The symptoms of withdrawal, which often include things like nausea, vomiting, shaking, sweating, increased blood pressure and heart rate, increased body temperature, agitation or restlessness, anxiety and depression are not only quite unpleasant in general, but they can also make the process of completing detox more difficult.

This is why medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is often utilized. This approach combines detox medications with cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling to help individuals complete the detox process successfully with better odds of long-term recovery.

These programs are meant to hit a few important points:

  • Decrease cravings: Cravings are a huge part of what makes the addiction cycle so difficult to break. The medications used in MAT are thought to help diminish many of the cravings that may be experienced, decreasing the chance of relapse since patients can focus on getting better without fighting off these strong urges for their substance of choice. For instance, opioid agonists will decrease cravings for opioids, and substitution medications like Suboxone can help wean the body off of opioid dependence while reducing withdrawal symptoms.
  • Increase medication compliance: When patients are experiencing moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms that make completing detox difficult, they may be tempted to quit taking the medication and focus on getting better faster. MAT programs allow patients to receive regular medical care and treatment from professionals, which makes it more likely that they’ll feel motivated to continue treatment.
  • Decrease other withdrawal effects: Cravings are only one part of what makes detox so difficult. Another major reason is the discomfort and pain that comes with withdrawal symptoms. Medications like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone can help reduce some of these other withdrawal effects, such as vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.
  • Limiting risk of relapse: Finally, some of these medications are able to limit the risk of relapse. Studies have shown that patients who complete detox in a medical setting are less likely to relapse than those who go through it on their own, and medications can help decrease this risk even further.

Examples of Medications Used

While a variety of different medications may be utilized as part of drug or alcohol detox, here are a few of the most common, plus why they’re used:

  • Methadone: Methadone is perhaps the most well-known opioid agonist, and is often considered an “exit drug” since it can be used to help gradually wean the body off of opioid dependence over time. Methadone is a full agonist, meaning that it has a high affinity for the opioid receptors in the brain and fully activates them, stimulating the flow of dopamine in these areas. As a result of this, methadone is more likely to reduce cravings for opioids and withdrawal symptoms, making the process of detox much easier. Now, methadone may make some people sleepy at first, and it can take a few days for the full effects to kick in. However, once it does, it can be quite efficient at controlling withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Campral: Also known by its generic name, acamprosate, campral is one of a few alcohol detox medications that’s often used. It’s meant to help adjust the brain’s chemical balance while reducing the pleasure the body experiences when drinking. This, in turn, is meant to reduce cravings and the desire to drink. While it does not prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms or other side effects of detox, campral can be a helpful aid for those who are looking to transition from addiction back into a fulfilling life without drinking.
  • Suboxone: In many ways very similar to methadone, buprenorphine (the key ingredient in Suboxone and also similar brands like Zubsolv) can be used to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings in opioid-dependent patients. It’s known for being more difficult to overdose on than methadone, though it still carries some risk of that possibility. While it is also an opioid agonist, buprenorphine has a higher affinity for the receptor and a longer-lasting effect than other opioids, which is why it’s often used in MAT.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone does not activate opioid receptors like methadone and buprenorphine do, but it can be helpful for patients who want to avoid cravings and withdrawal symptoms during detox. This medication may be used in some cases to reduce cravings and prevent relapse by blocking opioid receptors for a certain period of time. However, this can make it more difficult for individuals who are dependent on opioids to feel normal, since the natural painkillers they’d normally use won’t work as well.
  • Librium: Another alcohol detox medication is Librium, which is a form of benzodiazepine that can help relieve some of the anxiety and agitation that can come from alcohol withdrawal. Librium is a sedative, which may cause drowsiness, confusion or lethargy initially. As a result, many who are on Librium often stay at a medical detox center where they can get around-the-clock care if necessary.

When you attend a quality medical drug and alcohol detox facility like ours, know that you’ll receive professional guidance on these medications and why they might be right for you. You’ll also be advised of any side effects or risks, and it’s important to ask questions and confirm any basic facts required.

For more on the use of medications as part of drug or alcohol detox, or to learn about any of our addiction recovery programs, speak to the caring staff at Moonlight Mountain Recovery today.

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