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Medications Used in Drug Treatment

When people make the important decision to stop using and abusing drugs, they often make the vow that they will never use any drugs of any kind from this point forward.

These people are sometimes surprised when they enter treatment for their addictions and discover that medications are often prescribed by consulting physicians during traditional addiction care. While it might seem like a contradiction, there are good reasons to use drugs in drug rehab.

For some people, medications are an absolute must as they learn to live a life without drug addiction. However, for those who do not want to use medications in their recovery processes, options do exist.

During Detox

During the detox process, the body is adjusting to the lack of drugs, often for the first time in months or even years. Sometimes, people can move through this process without drugs by relying on counseling, nutritional support or simple willpower. There are some addictions, however, that cause such significant damage to the brain that medications may be necessary in order for the person to get through the detox process without being tempted to relapse to drug use.

People who are addicted to heroin, prescription medications or other opiates are examples of addicts who might benefit from receiving medications from consulting physicians during detox.People who are in the withdrawal stages from these drugs may experience the following side effects:

  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Yawning[i]

They may also experience deep cravings to use the drugs again, and these cravings can be difficult for them to ignore. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the most common medication given to people undergoing opiate withdrawal is clonidine. This medication helps to reduce symptoms pertaining to anxiety and agitation, and it also might help with running noses and sweating.

Some people benefit from replacement medications that can trick the body into believing it has access to hard drugs, even when it does not. Medications like buprenorphine and methadone can help to soothe cravings and help the addicts to feel more relaxed and at ease. Some people find that taking high doses of these medications at the beginning of the detox process, and then shifting to smaller and smaller doses as the process moves forward, is a great way to move through detox without feeling pain or withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor will have to determine what medications are right for you.

People who are addicted to other substances such as alcohol, cocaine or methamphetamine may not have specific medications that can help them with their cravings and their physical symptoms during withdrawal. However, consulting physicians may prescribe medications that can soothe the specific symptoms of these patients.

A study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that people recovering from a methamphetamine addiction benefited from taking antidepressants during their detox programs. Other studies have found anti-anxiety medications, sleeping medications and anti-nausea medications helpful in keeping addicts comfortable during the detoxification process.

Ongoing Use

People who have abused opioid drugs often lean on methadone as they move through their rehab programs, and move out into the community. Methadone, as mentioned, is a replacement medication, so it can help addicts to feel calm and comfortable, even though they’re not taking the illicit drugs they once so desperately needed. Methadone has a long track record of helping addicts to move forward with their lives.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methadone has been helping people with addictions for more than 30 years, and it’s considered safe and effective.[ii]

Methadone must be given by licensed providers, however, and addicts often have to go to special clinics to get it. This can keep some people from experiencing the true benefits of methadone, as they think the drug is too cumbersome to use.

Buprenorphine works much like methadone for people recovering from an opiate addiction, but this medication can be provided in a tablet form, and people can take the medication at home as they would take any other medication prescribed by a doctor. In the early days of the rehab process, consulting doctors might only provide a few tablets at a time, just to ensure that people aren’t tempted to crush or snort these drugs and abuse them, but buprenorphine can be used for years by people who have difficulty with cravings, and the drug doesn’t seem cumbersome to get. According to a separate study of opiate abusers conducted by the NIDA, extended therapy with buprenorphine seems to be superior to shorter stints of medication use. In this study, one year after the start of the therapy, 60 percent of those given medications for 12 weeks or longer could submit opiate-free urine samples, compared to 25 percent of those given therapy for only three days.

For some people, extended therapy seems to provide important help. If patients are not comfortable removing medications at the end of the detox process, consulting doctors often closely monitor their progress by asking them to describe their physical symptoms, as well as their cravings to use drugs. Some people are able to begin tapering their medication dosages almost immediately, slowly moving down to taking no drugs at all while others see a resurgence in their symptoms each time they try to taper. People who are taking replacement therapies should expect to stay in close contact with their doctors just to ensure that their dosages are correct at all times.


While medications can be helpful for some people, there will always be people who choose not to allow medications into their therapeutic programs, and some holistic addiction rehab facilities don’t believe that medications should be used as a front-line treatment for addiction in the first place. This doesn’t mean, however, that people who do not use medications are asked to simply endure their withdrawal symptoms and ongoing cravings without obtaining any help at all.

Some rehab programs use acupuncture to help their patients deal with the physical and emotional aspects of drug withdrawal. In these sessions, addicts are asked to lie down and stay perfectly still while trained practitioners use a series of tiny needles to stimulate specific pressure points along the addict’s body. Many people who go through these sessions claim that they are relaxing and beneficial, but according to a study in the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing, those benefits weren’t proven in a study of people going through cocaine withdrawal. In this study, there were no benefits over the placebo treatment given to other participants.

Rehab programs might also use massage to help people loosen tight muscles and perhaps lower their pain levels. Massage can also be quite relaxing, and this may help some people in recovery to get the sleep that eludes them. Programs might also use sweat lodges or saunas to help people to soothe their muscles and feel more relaxed without using any medications at all.

Yoga and tai chi have also been used as alternatives to medications in addiction treatment. Here, people are asked to perform specific types of movements under the watchful eye of an instructor, and they may feel their muscles grow stronger and their sense of flexibility increase. These therapies have been proven effective in treating a variety of other conditions. For example, a study in the journal Clinical Psychiatry Newsfound that tai chi was helpful in improving the cognitive function of older adults. It’s quite possible that people who struggle with cognition after drug addiction could experience a similar benefit if they’re exposed to tai chi during rehab.Other alternatives provided include the following:

  • Exercise therapy
  • Herbal remedies
  • Nutritional support
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery

Study results on treatments like this have been mixed, but again, many people who use these treatments report that they’ve been vital to their long-term success in steering clear of drugs. It is possible that some people in recovery could benefit from therapies like this.

At The Canyon, we strive to provide a healing space that people with addictions can utilize in order to make real changes and heal.

We provide many of the alternative treatments described above, but as a holistic center, we strive to provide customized care that’s tailored to the specific needs of the people who come to us for help.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach used at The Canyon. If you’d like to know more about addiction and how we can help, please call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline today. We want to help you begin your life of sobriety.



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