Medications for Opioid Addiction

Addiction Can Be Treated

Opioid addiction can be treated. Treatment helps people stop using the problem drug. It helps them get through withdrawal and cope with cravings. Treatment also helps them move away from other harmful behaviors, such as drinking alcohol or abusing other drugs. Just as important, treatment helps people address life issues they might have that are tied to the addiction, such as feelings of low self-worth, a bad situation at work or home, or spending time with people who use drugs. In short, treatment helps people move into healthy, addiction-free lifestyles—into a way of living referred to as recovery.

Treatment may include medication.

Medication-assisted treatment is one way to help those with opioid addiction recover their lives. There are three, equally important parts to this form of treatment:

  • Medication
  • Counseling
  • Support from family and friends

These three parts work together to help people recover.

Medication

Medication-assisted treatment is treatment for addiction that includes the use of medication along with counseling and other support. Treatment that includes medication is often the best choice for opioid addiction.

If a person is addicted, medication allows him or her to regain a normal state of mind, free of drug-induced highs and lows. It frees the person from thinking all the time about the drug. It can reduce problems of withdrawal and craving. These changes can give the person the chance to focus on the lifestyle changes that lead back to healthy living.

Taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication to control heart disease or diabetes. It is NOT the same as substituting one addictive drug for another. Used properly, the medication does NOT create a new addiction. It helps people manage their addiction so that the benefits of recovery can be maintained.

There are three main choices for medication.

The most common medications used in treatment of opioid addiction are methadone and buprenorphine. Sometimes another medication, called naltrexone, is used. Cost varies for the different medications. This may need to be taken into account when considering treatment options.

Methadone and buprenorphine trick the brain into thinking it is still getting the problem opioid. The person taking the medication feels normal, not high, and withdrawal does not occur. Methadone and buprenorphine also reduce cravings.

Naltrexone helps overcome addiction in a different way. It blocks the effect of opioid drugs. This takes away the feeling of getting high if the problem drug is used again. This feature makes naltrexone a good choice to prevent relapse (falling back into problem drug use).

Methadone to treat addiction is dispensed only at specially licensed treatment centers. Buprenorphine and naltrexone are dispensed at treatment centers or prescribed by doctors.

Medication is matched to the person. The right medication has been found when the person feels normal, has minor or no side effects, does not feel withdrawal, and has cravings under control.

Following directions is important, because taking the medication improperly can lead to overdose or death.

People can safely take treatment medication as long as needed— for months, a year, several years, even for life. Sometimes people feel that they no longer need the medication and would like to stop taking it. Use of methadone and buprenorphine must be stopped gradually to prevent withdrawal. Stopping naltrexone does not cause withdrawal. Plans to stop taking a medication should ALWAYS be discussed with a doctor.

Counseling

Counseling can provide encouragement and motivation to stick to treatment. It can teach coping skills and how to prevent relapse. And, it can help people learn how to make healthy decisions, handle setbacks and stress, and move forward with their lives

In group counseling, people connect with others in treatment and make new friends who don’t use drugs. They can get these benefits from support groups, too. These are informal meetings of people facing similar challenges.

Support from Family and Friends

It is very hard to go through recovery alone. Support from family and friends can help a person make the decision to enter treatment and stick with it.