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5 Drug Detox Medications That Help

There are plenty of safe and effective drugs that can be immensely helpful for you during drug detox, and when administered correctly, none of them will trigger addictive patterns or foster a dependency. 

If you’ve ever been without drugs for a prolonged period of time, you’re familiar with withdrawal symptoms. You know that they can be so severe that it deters you from completing the detox process, whether you want to or not. 

Withdrawal is unpleasant, but medically managed detox with the right medications makes the process significantly easier.

The Process of Detoxing from Drugs

Most people don’t realize that the symptoms and side effects of withdrawal are a good thing. They feel so unpleasant to deal with — how can they possibly be good for you? 

When you were on drugs, you didn’t realize that you actually felt unpleasant. The drugs blocked your brain from ever registering those feelings. 

You didn’t know that all of the neurotransmitters in your brain were heavily impacted by drugs, unable to perform their necessary functions. The “high” feeling, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and profound sense of relaxation you felt were a result of your brain being so impared that your body couldn’t function properly.

When you remove the drugs from your system, your brain is happy. It wants to fix you right away. It rapidly attempts to rebalance your chemicals and eliminate toxic byproducts from your body, and the result of this process is what causes the withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is a complicated and transformative form of healing. 

Your body rapidly attempts to flush your system, leading to nausea, vomiting, fevers, diarrhea, and cold sweats. While it’s trying to purge things it knows shouldn’t be there, it’s also trying to replenish the things it knows it needs.

Chronic drug use has prevented your body from producing adrenaline, the same chemical that rushes when you’re on a rollercoaster or watching a scary movie. It heightens all of your senses, makes your heart beat faster, raises your blood pressure, and changes your respiration. When surges of adrenaline seemingly come out of nowhere, you might feel anxious, irritable or prone to mood swings. 

Although withdrawal symptoms are a sign that your body is successfully rebounding from the trauma you’ve subjected it to, the process will still be physically and emotionally taxing. Some medications can help to ease or mitigate the severity of these symptoms, making it easier to fully commit to one of the hardest parts of recovery. 

Many of these medications are best used in an inpatient treatment environment.

1. Methadone

Methadone is a drug used to treat or prevent withdrawal in opioid addicts. Methadone is an opioid, but it’s ability to induce the kind of high that most addicts seek is only possible with larger doses of the drug. Otherwise, it works on the brain exactly the same way that any other opioid might. It binds to the same receptors and dampens them the same way.

Controlled doses of methadone can be used to slow withdrawal symptoms by preventing them altogether. 

When you’re using an opioid, you aren’t withdrawing from an opioid. A medical professional will provide you with a minimal dose of methadone – just enough to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. Over time, the dosage of methadone will be incrementally decreased until the methadone can be completely stopped. 

At the end of managed methadone care, the withdrawal symptoms will be so minimal that they won’t have an overwhelming impact on the patient. They may feel flu-like for a couple days, but they’ll begin to get the sense that they’re getting better, rather than the sense that they’ll never feel right again.

Methadone is especially helpful when treating opioid addicts who have severely increased tolerance and may experience high-risk withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal hits these patients the hardest, and methadone can be used to help patients wean down enough to make the final blow a little less intimidating. 

Methadone is not intended to be used forever. You’ll work with your care provider to develop a plan that should always end in your cessation of the drug. 

This timeline may be different for everyone, but the end goal is always to stop using all opioids. 

2. Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine works similarly to methadone. It’s designed to be administered and reduced the same way methadone does, and it also binds to the same opioid receptors to prevent withdrawal symptoms. The biggest difference between methadone and buprenorphine is that buprenorphine is barely psychoactive at any dose. 

While methadone users may get a little bit of that “high” at the beginning of their treatment that slowly tapers down until it does away, users of buprenorphine may never get any semblance of that high at all. 

Buprenorphine only does the bare minimum. It has a maximum threshold for how much it can alter your consciousness, and once it reaches that threshold, it completely stops. This reduces the potential for abuse, as an upper limit is clearly defined.

People who have tried to use methadone and failed to fully recover or people who worry about becoming dependent on methadone have a valuable alternative in buprenorphine. Given your usage habits and medical history, your recovery specialist may recommend buprenorphine over methadone. 

3. Antidepressants

There are several reasons why antidepressants may play a crucial role in the detox process. One is that many drug users actually experience depression. Drugs are the preferred coping mechanism of dual disordered patients. A dual diagnosis or dual disordered patient is someone with a mental illness who is also addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

These patients use their substance of choice to self medicate for the mental illness, creating an endless negative feedback loop that causes them to feel worse, and in turn, use more drugs. It’s a vicious cycle, and recovery isn’t possible until that cycle can be broken. 

In order to treat the addiction, the mental illness must also be treated.

Antidepressants taken at the beginning of the detox process will begin to kick in. By the time the patient is fully detoxed and receiving therapeutic addiction and mental health treatments, the antidepressants will make the process easier. 

The patient will feel less mental dysphoria, reducing any barriers they may have about discussing their feelings or past trauma with their addiction specialist therapist. 

4. Medications to Manage Nausea

Upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea are common side effects of withdrawal. Medication can be administered to ease stomach discomfort during withdrawal. Medications for gastrointestinal distress can be administered every few hours to keep detox patients in a constant state of relief. These medications may not completely eliminate the symptoms, but they may reduce them to a point where a detox patient is comfortable enough to get some sleep. 

Nausea can also be managed through proper hydration and restoring electrolytes. Vomiting and diarrhea deplete the body of its necessary water stores and throw off its natural hydration balance. Using electrolytes and hydration balance in conjunction with medications will help to keep withdrawal patients healthy and stable. 

5. Acamprosate

Alcohol is a drug just like any other habit forming substance. Withdrawing from alcohol may even be more dangerous, complex, and lengthy than withdrawing from other drugs. There are many medications and treatments available to help those looking to overcome their addictions to alcohol, and they all serve different purposes.

One of the most promising solutions is a drug called acamprosate, and it’s been proven to safely induce long term beneficial changes that help keep patients on the right track. 

Acamprosate is a drug primarily prescribed to patients with alcohol use disorder to help with detoxification and building healthier habits. Acamprosate works to rebalance the brain, changing the way it responds to substances like alcohol and the way it craves them. 

People recovering from alcoholism will first experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and afterwards, some may experience something called protracted withdrawal syndrome. Protracted withdrawal syndrome is when some of the symptoms of withdrawal carry over even after the body has long since completed the withdrawal process, and they may remain to some degree for years. 

Acamprosate is most helpful to those recovering from alcohol use disorder that experience protracted withdrawal syndrome. It helps to restore the brain’s neurotransmitters to their ideal balance, and may reduce cravings for alcohol in the long term. 

Conclusion

The best solution to a drug habit isn’t a simple answer of just cutting out the drug — drug detox is a complex process that’s individualized to each person, which is why it’s so important to have a professional guide through the process. 

Don’t attempt to detox at home. It’s dangerous and it may cause you undue pain from the lack of resources you have. 

Medically supervised detox makes these drugs available, and they can be properly dispensed by a professional who knows the exact dosages you’ll need and when to administer them. 

Sources:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/add.13512

https://psychiatry.uams.edu/clinical-care/cast-2/what-is-methadone/

https://www.naabt.org/faq_answers.cfm?ID=2

https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-91488/acamprosate-oral/details