Medications Used to Treat Drug Addiction

Addiction to drugs continues to be a major public health concern all around the world and people who are dependent or addicted to hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and morphine require help and assistance in any way possible to overcome this addiction.

Some patients respond well to drug counseling but for many, this standard psychological treatment is inadequate. There is, therefore, a need to develop effective medication for the treatment of drug dependence and abuse. These medications should be able to block drug euphoria or reduce the cravings altogether and they can serve as relapse prevention drugs.

Medications in Rehab Process

Drugs used to treat Substance AddictionUsually, treatment is approached either from the behavioral angle or the pharmaceutical angle both in an attempt to restore some normalcy to brain function and behavior. Research has shown that although these treatments can be extremely useful when utilized on their own, for some people integrating the two methods is more effective.

What medications are used during rehab?

Medications are used during the rehab process to help restore normalcy to brain function. These medicines are used in conjunction with behavioral treatment. Medications used during rehab treatments are also used to effectively manage the unpleasant effects of withdrawal symptoms that might be experienced.

What medications are used to treat opiod addiction?

The medicines used to treat opioid addictions include:

  • Buprenorphine – Triggers the same receptors as opiods, but induces a lesser response
  • Suboxone – Used along with Buprenorphine and Naltrexone to treat opiate dependence
  • Naltrexone – Blocks the opiod receptors and keeps responses at bay
  • Methadone – Prevents opioid dependency and withdrawal symptoms

Some people have suggested using natural supplements to treat the symptoms that are associated with withdrawal from these hard drugs. Addicts going cold turkey on drugs experience a vast array of withdrawal symptoms that persist for up to 2 weeks. Orthomolecular medicine has shown some promise in some cases. This was conceptualized by double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling and it aims to restore the optimum environment of the body by correcting imbalances or deficiencies based on individual biochemistry, using substances neutral to the body such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids. Success has been registered in cases where massive amounts of vitamin C has been used to help addicts reduce or eliminate the cold turkey withdrawal symptoms.

There is a more promising method of treatment which extends beyond the supplements to actual drugs and medication. Fighting drugs with drugs seems strange but this has proven to be successful in combating the addiction to certain drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 800,000 Americans are addicted to cocaine so one form of treatment or the other is a necessity at this point.

Ritalin Use in During the Rehab

MethylphenidateA study shows that using Ritalin might be the answer to breaking cocaine addiction. Psychiatric researchers found Ritalin which is a stimulant prescribed to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder to be very useful in regulating the nerve pathways that go out of control in addicts. Ritalin is a powerful stimulant that has a similar structure to cocaine and they both increase dopamine levels in the brain but Ritalin’s uptake is much slower in the brain compared to cocaine. The researchers took adults who were addicted to cocaine and gave them either Ritalin pills or a placebo and then took MRI scans of their brains and they found Ritalin normalized their brain activity. Researchers said the study was purely a brain imaging one so it didn’t confirm if it is an actual treatment for a cocaine addict but it was an interesting step.

How does Ritalin work?

Ritalin is a powerful stimulant that is structurally similar to cocaine and is often prescribed to people with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to studies, Ritalin can also be used to help break a cocaine addiction. Ritalin works by regulating the addict’s nerve pathways that have gone out of control.

Despite extensive research over the years, no medication has been found to be consistently effective in treating cocaine addiction. The medications that have shown the most promise are baclofen, topiramate, tiagabine, and modafinil. These medications are all referred to as GABAergic medications. These medications are administered as relapse prevention drugs. After the patient has been sober from cocaine for a certain period of time, relapse prevention is the most difficult phase of the treatment.

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and when the GABAergic neurons are activated, they decrease the activation of the dopamine reward system. The GABAergic medications foster this reaction and it has been stated that these compounds decrease the brain’s rewarding dopamine response both to cocaine intake and even mere recollections of prior use of cocaine.

At this time there is no FDA-approved medication for the treatment of cocaine dependence. But with the advancements in the understanding of the cocaine addiction cycle, researchers are getting closer and closer to tackling the problem.


Buprenorphine is a medication that is used for the treatment of opioid dependence and addiction. This medication is developed to trigger the same receptors as the addictive drug but it is safer and produce a smaller response. Buprenorphine is scientifically known as a partial agonist (activates opioid receptors but produces a smaller response) contrary to popular belief that it is an antagonist (blocks receptors and interferes with response). It is a very powerful opiate receptor with a great affinity so basically, it is a very powerful painkiller. More powerful compared to methadone or oxycodone so it serves very well as a painkiller and it also serves as a treatment medication for opiate addiction. Buprenorphine is available as Subutex, Norspan, Temgesic, and Cizdol etc.

Suboxone for Treating Drug Addiction

Suboxon Addiction TreatmentSuboxone is more specific in its use. It is specifically indicated for the treatment of opiate addiction in the United States and it is a combination of Buprenorphine and Naltrexone. Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist and it is basically administered intravenously. But when mixed with Buprenorphine, it becomes like a film or a pill so addicts can’t shoot this combination up intravenously. The pill is indicated in the US for the treatment of opiate dependence. A starting dose of 2mg once a day is prescribed and it gradually increases possibly up to a maximum dose of 32mg. Most opiate dependents use 8mg daily and this accounts for about 80 percent of the opiate dependent treatments. Suboxone is given to patients after the opiate is already out of the system. Typically your last dose of opiate should be at least 16 to 24 hours ago before using this medication.


Naltrexone on its own is an antagonist and it completely blocks the receptors for opioids and keeps response at bay. It is not addictive nor is it sedative and it is not particularly effective because patients often have trouble sticking to this treatment. Naltrexone is available as Vivitrol.


Methadone is another medication that has been used to treat opioid dependency. It is a slow acting agonist and it is administered orally thus reaching the brain slowly and cushioning the high that is experienced with other means of administration while preventing withdrawal symptoms. Methadone has been prescribed for a long time especially for patients who don’t respond very well to other forms of medication. The drug is only available through outpatient programs and it is usually dispensed to patients on a daily basis. Methadone is available as Methadose or Dolophine.