Medication can be an invaluable component to effective treatment of drug addiction. As with other chronic conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, when medication is used in conjunction with lifestyle change, the treatment can be powerful and long-lasting.
Think of drug addiction as being like heart disease. A pill alone won’t solve the problem and, usually, neither will changing diet, reducing stress and getting more exercise. Medication is an essential part of treatment and so is lifestyle change. Taken together, major improvements become possible and patients are able to enjoy a normal, productive life without disability.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Just as there are medications available to help people with diabetes maintain a healthy blood sugar level, and to help people with high blood pressure keep their numbers in a healthy range, we now have medications that are scientifically proven effective at treating drug addiction. These new drugs target drug addiction at the source, by reducing cravings and helping soothe the symptoms of withdrawal. This helps the person in treatment focus on other topics beyond the drug problem, enabling him or her to get back to a normal life.
How Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?
Drug addiction causes brain changes at the neurochemical level. Medications address this problem by activating the dopamine pathway in the brain, which has been altered by drug addiction. Here’s how that happens:
Dopamine is a neurochemical (literally, a chemical in your brain) that motivates you to do things that make you feel good. In a healthy person, the brain produces dopamine, carried by transporters to dopamine receptors (literally, where dopamine is “received” by the brain).
Drug addiction floods the system with too much dopamine. Though drug addicts no longer feel “good” when using their drug of choice, their brain circuits have been changed so that they keep pushing out more dopamine, which has nowhere to go. A person who is addicted to drugs is producing anywhere from two to 10 times as much dopamine as a healthy person.
Using the “drug of choice” is the only way a person with drug addiction knows to calm this process down– but the fix is only temporary. The cravings return and grow in intensity. For people with drug addiction, medication-assisted therapy helps eliminate cravings by reducing dopamine production. That is why it is such an important piece of an effective drug addiction treatment program.
What Medications Do We Use?
In our Manage Addiction Lifeline program, we use only medications that have been found safe and clinically effective in treating drug addiction.
Though every person’s treatment is personalized, the medications we use most often in our program include:
- Buprenorphine, sometimes with Naloxone and sometimes without
How Long Do People in the Manage Addiction Lifeline Program Stay on Medication?
Though drug addiction is a recognized disease accompanied by specific symptoms, effective treatment must address each person’s unique and highly individualized needs. All of the medications that we use in our program are proven safe for both short– and long-term use.
How long each patient remains on medication varies depending on his or her needs. For many people who don’t have a long history of drug abuse, medication will be used for just a short period of time. Others may need medication for months, a year, several years or even for the rest of their lives.
What Are the Benefits of Medication-Assisted Therapy for Treating Drug Addiction?
A key reason why it is so hard to move past drug addiction is because the person with the addiction is unable to think about anything else besides getting the drug they need to feed the craving. The craving takes over the mind, making it impossible to focus on loved ones, job responsibilities and doing all the other activities that make for a healthy life.
By calming the cravings, medication-assisted therapy empowers the person with addiction to also address the other problems in his or her life. The behavioral therapy components of our program, peer support and family counseling are designed to help solve some of the issues that created the vulnerability to addiction. Our emphasis on recovery counseling and coaching enable people to plan their post-treatment lives in a way that ensures they will stay healthy and drug-free.