The modern recovery movement can trace itself to ideas laid out in the “big book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was first published in 1939. While many fundamental principles that have remained unchanged since then, science has made tremendous relevant discoveries about how the human brain works and is affected by addiction. A truly effective, holistic treatment plan should make use of both old principles and new discoveries to discover what truly works for your unique recovery.
Neuroscientists are just beginning to discover the myriad of ways in which addictive habits are created and sustained through brain chemistry, and these discoveries are leading to exciting possibilities of how medication can be used to reduce addictive cravings and strengthen the resolve toward sobriety. These medications may offer an important part of the recovery process and may be right for you.
From MAT to MSR:
Many people with opioid addiction have found great benefit through medication-assisted treatment, in which Buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone can be used as substitute substances to manage withdrawal and cravings. Meditation supported recovery goes a step further, offering ways to adjust your brain chemistry so that drugs no longer have the same power over you, or the same effects if ingested.
Relatively recent discoveries have discovered that muscle relaxants and some other drugs can cause a “switch to flip” internally so that the desire to consume drugs or alcohol or the effects of use become eliminated as a literal “buzz kill.” These drugs block the brain’s opioid receptors, preventing mood-altering chemicals from being received. This allows a temporary experience of life truly free of addiction and thus can be very helpful in shifting your attention away from simply resisting a substance’s pull, to truly rebuilding your life.
Potentially Helpful Medications:
Like any prescription medication, a large number of complex factors can make a drug either helpful or harmful for each individual person. For that reason, it is vitally important that all these drugs be taken only with the permission and supervision of a trained medical professional. If you feel like any of these medications may be helpful, talk to a doctor or addiction specialist about their use.
Antabuse is one of the oldest in this class of medications that can help support recovery. By blocking the oxidation of alcohol, Antabuse can cause deeply unpleasant but mild physical symptoms when alcohol is ingested, which can in turn make sobriety a more attractive option.
Two drugs that also have been shown to be effective at blocking the results of alcohol are ondansetron and nalmefene, both of which increase sensitivity to serotonin and block the release of dopamine so that drinking alcohol is no longer as pleasurable as usual.
Naltrexone completely blocks the reception of opioids for 24-72 hours, during which time your cravings for alcohol should disappear. Although more studies should be done, naltrexone has been shown to have similar effects supporting abstinence from amphetamines and cocaine.
When going through stimulant withdrawal, Propranolol can reduce anxiety and agitation, making the withdrawal process more bearable.
For preventing cocaine abuse, drugs that release GABA and inhibit dopamine, such as Topiramate, Tiagabine, and Disulfiram have shown promise.
Part of a Larger Program:
No medication itself is a panacea that will completely get rid of your addiction. Even if a pill is able to make your cravings disappear completely, its effect will be temporary. For that reason, it is vitally important that these anti-addiction medications be only a part of a larger recovery plan. There is much more to full recovery than simply going without the use of a particular substance. Recovery must also involve positive steps towards surrounding yourself with supportive friends, taking the time to care for your mental and physical health, and finding purpose in life. These medications will be the most useful if they are part of a larger multifaceted treatment plan of full transformation.