Do Medications Help with Sobriety?: Non-Addictive Meds For Cravings & Mental Illness
If you’re a recovering addict or you are considering therapy and rehabilitation for an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may be wondering what medications are available for you to help curb cravings and feelings of anxiety, depression and other mental problems while recovering from addiction.
Advances in the understanding of sobriety and treatment for addiction in recent years have encouraged many professional therapists and doctors to look to pharmaceuticals to help with drug addiction.
Can Medications Help With Sobriety?
In a clinical study that examined the use of medication to treat patients with addiction, it was found that drugs like naltrexone, buprenorphine and methadone had very positive effects when used to aid in recovery from the use of alcohol and opioids.
Today, there are a wide variety of medications that can be used in combination with therapy and clinical rehabilitation to help those addicted to drugs and alcohol, recover and live a sober lifestyle. Primarily, these medications either address drug cravings or assist with the negative mental health consequences of withdrawal, such as depression and anxiety.
Let’s take a look at how these medications help with sobriety as well as the basics of a few commonly-used pharmaceutical treatments for detoxification.
Sobriety Medications For Cravings
One of the most difficult parts of withdrawal and sobriety for drug and alcohol users are the cravings brought about when they no longer have access to their drug of choice. This is one of the reasons that the relapse rate among addicts often reaches 65-90% for nicotine, drug, and alcohol addiction.
Sobriety medications for cravings can help reduce the craving for a drug of choice, or create an unpleasant reaction to the drug of your choice, and eliminate its effects. A few sobriety medications that are commonly used to help address cravings include the following:
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol) – Naltrexone, also known by the brand name Vivitrol, is commonly used to manage both opioid and alcohol dependence. It is an opiate antagonist that can help reduce the craving for opioids like heroin and morphine, as well as the desire for alcohol. It’s typically used about 7-10 days after abstinence has begun because the presence of alcohol or opioid drugs in a patient’s system can result in serious side effects like nausea and vomiting.
- Disulfiram (Antabuse) – This medication is intended for alcohol abuse disorders. By inhibiting specific enzymes in the body, it produces an acute sensitivity to ethanol, which immediately creates the unpleasant effects of a hangover, such as nausea, flushing, blurred vision, and confusion. It may only be taken 12 hours after the last consumption of alcohol.
- Methadone (Dolophine) – Methadone is used to manage pain and opioid withdrawal as part of a complete opioid withdrawal system. It’s often used for long-term treatment for at least 12 months and can be used for multiple years, in some cases. Methadone is intended as a replacement for other, more dangerous opioids like heroin, and is provided in decreasing doses to assist addicts in recovering and becoming sober.
When used as part of a therapeutic program at a rehabilitation center, these medications make it much easier for addicted individuals to cease the intake of drugs or alcohol and begin the process of recovering and living a clean, sober life.
Mental Health Medication To Aid With Sobriety
Withdrawal from alcohol and drugs can often cause serious, short-term mental health issues like depression and anxiety. In addition, many addicts use illegal drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to help with mental health problems. It’s been estimated that about 6 in 10 people suffering from addiction have untreated mental health issues.
For this reason, mental health medications are often used to help treat depression, mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks, and other such common issues among those recovering from addiction. They can help stabilize mood, and treat mental health problems that can cause the recurrence of addictive behaviors. A few common medications used to aid with sobriety include:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac) – Prozac is an antidepressant SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), and is used to treat a major depressive disorder, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), panic disorder, and some eating disorders like bulimia nervosa.
- Escitalopram (Lexapro) – Commonly known by the trade name Lexapro, this medication is an antidepressant SSRI similar to Prozac. It’s primarily prescribed to patients with major depressive disorder, but it is also used to treat General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Its side effects are milder compared to other SSRIs like Prozac.
- Gabapentin – Gabapentin is a type of anticonvulsant medication that can help with symptoms of withdrawal from drugs, including seizures and neuropathic pain. It’s also shown benefits as a treatment for anxiety, which can be helpful for recovering addicts who may suffer from anxiety disorders.
When used properly, mental health medications that aid with sobriety can help stabilize the mood, treat underlying mental health conditions that may lead to addictive behaviors, and prevent relapse.
Medication Can Help With Sobriety But Does Not Replace Rehabilitation Or Therapy
While medications for drug and alcohol cravings and mental health can be very helpful in recovery, they are no replacement for recovery at a rehabilitation center, or outpatient rehabilitation from a hospital or clinic. Indeed, most of these medications must be prescribed as part of a comprehensive therapy program from a qualified professional.
Medications that inhibit cravings or create negative reactions to particular drugs or alcohol use are intended to be used to help with the short-term effects of addition and are not meant to be used on a permanent basis. Medications for mental health like SSRIs may be part of a long-term care plan, but usually in a reduced dosage after sobriety has been achieved.
Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction can be incredibly difficult, and medication alone is not enough to help you live a sober life. Proper psychological and interpersonal intervention from qualified professionals through a multi-step treatment program is also essential.
If you are in need of assistance recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, Ethos Recovery is here to help. Click here to contact us, and explore your options for rehabilitation and sober living in Los Angeles.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.