According to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012, more than 9% of people over the age of 12 abused drugs in the previous month, but only 2.3 million of 21.6 million people who needed treatment actually received it. For many people struggling with drug addiction, detox is the first step to remove harmful substances from the body. Following detox, a rehab program can be an effective way to learn new coping strategies and overcome addiction for good.

There are many forms of detoxification, but one of the most beneficial is medication-assisted detoxification or medical detoxification. This type of detoxification uses various medications to ease the process and relieve many withdrawal symptoms. The type of medication used to assist with withdrawal and how long the medication is used depends on the severity of the addiction and the type of substance abused. The following are the most common types of medication used in medical detox.

Medications for Opiate Detoxification

Opiates such as heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers are among the most commonly abused drugs and the most deadly: 25% of all overdoses in the United States involve heroin while opioid-related overdoses represent 60% of all overdose fatalities.

Medications commonly used to ease opiate withdrawal include:

  • Buprenorphine. This medication can reduce the length of the detoxification program and it can be used in a long-term treatment plan like methadone. It works by clearing opiates from the neuroreceptors in the brain and blocks them from returning.
  • Methadone. This drug is often used for inpatient treatment and for intravenous drug users. It can dramatically reduce withdrawal symptoms and allow someone with an opiate addiction to return to a normal life.
  • Naltrexone. This medication is often used after detoxification to help prevent relapse by reducing dopamine production to reduce cravings.

Medications for Alcohol Detoxification

Severe alcohol dependency can result in dangerous or very painful withdrawal symptoms. Many alcoholics also suffer from depression, irritability, and disturbed sleep during withdrawal.

Medications that may be used to ease alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Valium (diazepam).This medication is often prescribed during inpatient treatment for a smoother and easier detoxification. It can reduce the effects of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Ativan (lorazepam). This medication is frequently used during inpatient detoxification. It’s especially common in treating co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety with addiction that are intensified during withdrawal.
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide).
  • Phenobarbitals.

Medications for Stimulant Detoxification

Withdrawal symptoms from stimulant addiction can be serious and many people are left with depression and anxiety. Antidepressants are commonly used during the course of stimulant detoxification.

Common medications during stimulant withdrawal include:

  • Norpramin (desipramine). This antidepressant is used to treat major withdrawal symptoms.
  • Valium (diazepam). This medication is used to treat mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms.
  • Benzodiazepine tranquilizers. This medication is used to treat cocaine and methamphetamine addiction.

Some addictive substances like heroin, stimulants, and even alcohol can be dangerous to quit cold turkey without assistance. Supervised detoxification with the help of prescription medications can make withdrawal easier and safer and increase the chance of successful rehabilitation.

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