Years of research have shown us that addiction to any drug, illicit
or prescribed, is a brain disease that can, like other chronic diseases,
be effectively treated. But no single type of treatment is appropriate
for all individuals addicted to prescription drugs. Treatment must take
into account the type of drug used and the needs of the individual. To
be successful, treatment may need to incorporate several components,
such as counseling in conjunction with a prescribed medication, and multiple
courses of treatment may be needed for the patient to make a full recovery.
The two main categories of drug addiction treatment are behavioral
and pharmacological. Behavioral treatments teach people how to function
without drugs, how to handle cravings, how to avoid drugs and situations
that could lead to drug use, how to prevent relapse, and how to handle
relapse should it occur. When delivered effectively, behavioral treatments
- such as individual counseling, group or family counseling, contingency
management, and cognitive-behavioral therapies - also can help patients
improve their personal relationships and ability to function at work
and in the community.
Some addictions, such as opioid addiction, can also be treated with
medications. These pharmacological treatments counter the effects of
the drug on the brain and behavior. Medications also can be used to relieve
the symptoms of withdrawal, to treat an overdose, or to help overcome
drug cravings. Although a behavioral or pharmacological approach alone
may be effective for treating drug addiction, research shows that a combination
of both, when available, is most effective.
Several options are available for effectively treating addiction to prescription
opioids. These options are drawn from experience and research regarding
the treatment of heroin addiction. They include medications, such as methadone
and LAAM (levo-alpha-acetyl-methadol), and behavioral counseling approaches.
A useful precursor to long-term treatment of opioid addiction is detoxification.
Detoxification in itself is not a treatment for opioid addiction. Rather,
its primary objective is to relieve withdrawal symptoms while the patient
adjusts to being drug free. To be effective, detoxification must precede
long-term treatment that either requires complete abstinence or incorporates
a medication, such as methadone, into the treatment plan.
Methadone is a synthetic opioid that blocks the effects of heroin and
other opioids, eliminates withdrawal symptoms, and relieves drug craving.
It has been used successfully for more than 30 years to treat people addicted
to opioids. Other medications include LAAM, an alternative to methadone
that blocks the effects of opioids for up to 72 hours, and naltrexone, an
opioid blocker that is often employed for highly motivated individuals in
treatment programs promoting complete abstinence. Buprenorphine, another
effective medication, is awaiting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval
for treatment of opioid addiction. Finally, naloxone, which counteracts
the effects of opioids, is used to treat overdoses.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse