The Impact of Medication in Long-Term Recovery from Substance Abuse

Addiction is a long road for many people. That journey comes with its ups and downs, good days and bad days.

The question of whether or not to add medication into your long-term recovery plan is a personal decision you should discuss with your doctor. In some cases, medication can have a positive effect on your sobriety and mental health.

The Great Debate: Should People Struggling with Substance Abuse Avoid Medication?

Some recovery programs push for complete drug and alcohol abstinence to beat addiction. This firm stance has had some success but also some disastrous results when mental illnesses were left untreated. In some cases, patients committed suicide.

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) worked with a group of physicians to publish literature that addresses the complicated issue of medication in long-term recovery. The A.A. pamphlet outlines basic guidelines and shares personal stories from alcoholics pressured into stopping their medication.

The literature states: “It becomes clear that just as it is wrong to enable or support

any alcoholic to become readdicted to any drug, it’s equally wrong to deprive any alcoholic of medication, which can alleviate or control other disabling physical and/or emotional problems.”

We must remember that the two issues may or may not be linked. Not everyone with addiction suffers from depression and not everyone who feels depressed struggles with addiction. These can be separate issues that require different types of treatment.

Physical and mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, and others can play a critical role in long-term recovery. Cutting medication out of the equation isn’t always possible or recommended.

Common Types of Medication in Long-Term Recovery

Before you consider adding medication to your recovery plan, you should have a long, honest conversation with your doctor. Be upfront about how you feel. Your doctor may decide that you could benefit from:

1. Antidepressants

The risk of becoming addicted to antidepressants is low. They don’t make users feel high, and it can take weeks or even months before they take effect.

The primary types of antidepressants include:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
  • Serotonin modulator and stimulator (SMS)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Substance abuse and depression often go hand in hand, but your doctor will want to try and understand their relationship. Are your symptoms of depression and anxiety the result of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS)? Or is your depression an independent factor that contributed to the substance abuse in the first place?

Untreated depression will undoubtedly make your recovery much more difficult or even lead to a relapse or suicide. In these cases, adding antidepressants into your routine can have a profoundly positive effect on your long-term recovery.

2. Anti-Abuse Meds

Antabuse (disulfiram) is a prescription medication to helps deter chronic alcoholics from drinking. It’s not a one-stop solution – Antabuse works best when combined with therapy, counseling, and a support system.

Antabuse blocks an enzyme involved in processing alcohol. This causes unpleasant side effects such as nausea, dizziness, chest pain, accelerated pulse, thirst, and flushing when you introduce alcohol into your body.

This medication isn’t supposed to make you feel better like antidepressants. But for some people, the extra deterrent can finally break the cycle of substance abuse.

3. Vitamins and Supplements

Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies are common problems for substance abusers. About 70% of drug users admitted for detoxification have a below-average BMI. This correlation between physical health and substance abuse has several factors:

  • The substances are filled with toxins.
  • Some drugs suppress a person’s appetite and metabolism, often causing the user to skip meals and snack on junk food instead of a nutritious meal.
  • In many cases, substance abuse affects how efficiently the body can absorb vitamins and nutrients.

Detoxing is only the beginning. The body needs time to heal itself, and adding the right vitamins and supplements into your regimen can help give your body the boost it needs.

Some of the best vitamins to aid in substance abuse recovery include:

Alcohol flushes Vitamin B out of our system, but we need this crucial vitamin for many reasons. It’s primarily responsible for creating new blood cells, converting food into energy, and maintaining skin and brain cells.

This powerful antioxidant is well known for boosting our immune systems. It also assists with the growth, development, and repair of our bones, skin, blood vessels, and bodily tissues. Vitamin C interrupts opioid dependency and mitigates withdrawal symptoms.

Research has shown a link between Vitamin D deficiencies and opioid use. Restoring Vitamin D levels to normal may help to curb opioid dependency.

Researchers have also found a connection between zinc and opioid consumption. Deficient patients were more likely to consume opioids, while patients taking zinc supplements experienced reduced dependency.

This vitamin supports energy production, muscle, and nerve function. Magnesium has also proven to be effective at helping to manage pain, including fibromyalgia and acute migraine attacks. If you’ve used Epsom salt, you’re already familiar with magnesium.

Quashing the Stigma: Medication in Long-Term Recovery Can Be a Positive Addition to Treatment

Doctor-prescribed medication and vitamin supplements alone won’t be enough to break free of the cycle of addiction. But they can be valuable pieces of your overall long-term recovery.

In addition to considering medication options, you should think about the other aspects of your treatment for a well-rounded approach to a healthy life. A reliable support system is crucial. Therapy can be a great tool to help you understand underlying conditions that lead to addiction and teach you how to develop healthier coping mechanisms.

For many people, a therapeutic community is beneficial for long-term recovery from substance abuse. It provides the necessary support system with structured sober living and resources to help you stay on track with your recovery.

Ethos Recovery is a therapeutic community dedicated to helping people break free of their addictions and live happy, healthy lives.

If you’re ready to make that positive change, contact us and let’s talk about your future.