Medication in Drug Addiction Treatment

Treating Abuse and Addiction

For many people who are addicted to drugs, including alcoholics, the most effective treatment consists of a combination of behavioural therapy and medication.

A form of treatment known as "maintenance therapy" is commonly used for opiod addicts. It involves prescribing a comparable drug which produces milder withdrawal symptoms - for example methadone to replace heroin. The dose is gradually reduced until the patient is weaned off the drug altogether. This can be done as an outpatient treatment or in long term rehab/detox centers.

Treatment via Medication: Current Drugs Available

Methadone is a widely used treatment for heroin addicts. The drug is normally taken orally once a day to prevent cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms. Levo-alpha-acetyl-methadol, LAAM, is similar to methadone in that it blocks the effects of heroin. But it's usually administered orally only three times a week which helps reduce the addict's psychological need to take a drug every day.

The drug naltrexone has also been used in the treatment of heroin addiction but it's not popular among addicts. Although it prevents a user getting a high from heroin, it doesn't stop the craving. It can be taken orally but naltrexone implants have now been developed to allow the drug to slowly be released into the system over a period of time. Users with these implants feel no effect from heroin when they inject.

Buprenorphine is a new treatment for heroin and other opiod abuse and research has found it to be more effective than both naltrexone and LAAM in terms of reducing drug cravings. It doesn't produce a hit, dependency or withdrawal symptoms and is only needed every other day.

All maintenance therapies prescribed by doctors and rehab clinics are taken orally to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis from sharing infected needles.

Research is under way in the US and Europe to find the wonder medication to treat cocaine addiction. It's currently the top priority of the USA’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.nida.nih.gov).

Some drugs which have been developed for other medical purposes have had limited success with cocaine addiction. Many are still be trialled for treatment. The anti-convulsant drug gabitrol has been effective in helping some users overcome their craving for cocaine as has the anti-epileptic drug gamma-vinyl-gaba (GVG). Anti-depressants are sometimes prescribed to help addicts cope with the side effects of withdrawal.

The drug disulfiram (brand name Antabuse) is often used to treat alcoholism. It induces nausea, vomiting and other extremely unpleasant side effects in patients who drink even a small amount of alcohol, including alcohol contained in foodstuffs such as vinegar and sauces. Acamprosate is a medication which helps reduce withdrawal symptoms suffered by alcoholics. Naltrexone has also been used in the treatment of alcoholism because, just as with heroin, it can lessen the perceived positive effects of alcohol.

For the majority of other addictions to substances such as stimulants, inhalants and steroids, medications are often prescribed - not to treat the addiction itself but more to combat adverse health side effects such as fits and depression.

Medication for any form of addiction should go hand in hand with various support therapies. Community back up is vital for addicts especially in the early days after they've been weaned off a drug.

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