Medications and Supplements Used to Treat Various Types of Addiction

a pharmacist reaches for medications used to treat addiction

Living with substance abuse is a struggle many people can’t overcome without support. Thankfully, there are many evidence-based therapies and FDA-approved medications used to treat addiction.

Recovery is possible, and Northpoint Washington can help. Our medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program utilizes vivitrol treatment to help our patients manage withdrawal symptoms and enter recovery with fewer cravings. Call 888.450.2153 to get started.

Is Drug Abuse Really A Disease? Can It Be Cured?

Some individuals struggling with drug abuse may be hesitant to recognize their mental health challenges or accept the possibility of finding a cure for their addictions. Various factors, such as environmental influences, community dynamics, and educational experiences, can contribute to the development of drug-seeking behavior.

In an effort to address this issue, numerous supplements and medications used to treat addictions have proven widely effective when administered during the medical detoxification process.

“Get your loved one the help they need. Our substance use disorder program accepts many health insurance plans.”

What Types of Addiction Medication Are Used?

Substance use disorder encompasses various addictions, yet it is classified as a single disease. Each addiction, however, necessitates distinct medications for effective treatment. Medical detox typically involves prescribing these medications, which interact with the metabolic pathway of the abused drug. Often, they inhibit the drug’s effects by blocking specific receptors in the central nervous system (CNS).

While medications play a crucial role in addiction recovery, they alone are insufficient. Successful rehabilitation requires a comprehensive approach, incorporating behavioral therapies and treatments. Through these methods, patients can retrain their brains and cultivate healthier habits, leading to long-lasting abstinence even after the substances have left their system.

Treating Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol abuse is more prevalent in America than one might expect, particularly among the younger generations. Studies indicate that one in four Americans under the age of 30 struggle with alcohol. The choice of medication for alcohol addiction varies depending on factors such as genetics and age, with patients often needing to try different options to find the most effective one.

At rehab centers, medical professionals carefully assess each patient to determine the most suitable course of treatment. The most commonly used medications include:

  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram

Additionally, specific symptoms associated with alcohol abuse are addressed using various medications, some of which are available over-the-counter while others require a prescription. For example, insomnia is a common complaint among patients, and if left untreated, it can hinder recovery and contribute to relapse within the first few months. Alcohol rehab centers often prescribe sleeping pills or mild benzodiazepines to alleviate insomnia. The choice of medication is determined by the treatment center’s protocol and individual patient needs.


Naltrexone can treat alcoholism, as well as opiate addiction. It is also sold under the brand names Vivitrol and Revia and is quite an effective medication. It’s known as an opiate antagonist. This means that naltrexone attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain to block them from being activated by any other substances. By taking up space in the receptors, they block opioids and alcohol molecules.

Naltrexone treats both alcohol and opiate addictions because alcohol has a similar mechanism of action as opiates. Instead of taking pills every day, patients receive an intramuscular injection to their buttocks once a month. Each patient receives the same dose. The dose does not need to be adjusted to each patient’s response to the drug. This means that doctors don’t need to keep an eye on patients when they’re on this medication.

Doctors cannot prescribe patients this drug at the start of treatment. This is because patients must be alcohol and opiate-free for at least seven to 10 days before taking this drug. If there is still alcohol or drugs in their body, they may experience acute, instant withdrawal symptoms.

Although naltrexone is effective, it’s not for everyone. Those who are interested in this medication must fully understand the risks involved with taking it. Some patients should be more wary of this drug than others. Patients who take this drug have an increased risk of the following:

  • An opioid overdose
  • Sudden opioid withdrawal
  • Severe reaction at the injection site

Those who are exhibiting opioid withdrawal symptoms, for example, should not take this medication. Also, those who have a physical dependence on opioid-containing medicines will also have to stay away from naltrexone. In rare situations, some patients may even be allergic to naltrexone or any one of the ingredients in Vivitrol.


Acamprosate works in a similar manner to naltrexone. This prescription drug is solely used to treat alcohol use disorders. It works by modulating regulating glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels. These neurochemical levels become deregulated with heavy alcohol use. When patients quit drinking, they experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, like restlessness and anxiety.

Much like with naltrexone, acamprosate is only effective if individuals who have quit drinking take the medication. Unlike naltrexone, however, individuals don’t have to quit drinking for at least a week. Acamprosate is often recommended for long-term medical detox. Many patients will continue to take this medication even if they don’t have any urge to start drinking again. This medication often comes in the form of a delayed-release tablet.

Although acamprosate is a safe and effective treatment for alcohol use disorder, it does come with some side effects. Patients should be aware of these side effects before they start taking the drug. The side effects tend to be mild and will usually slowly subside with each use. Patients may consider switching to another drug or seeking medical attention if the side effects persist or worsen. The most common side effects associated with acamprosate use include:

  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea and upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, and weakness
  • Gas
  • Insomnia
  • Itchiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience numbness in your extremities. This is a fairly serious side effect or reaction to the drug. Serious reactions are quite rare. Overall, acamprosate is deemed quite safe.


Another medication used to treat alcohol use disorder is disulfiram. Disulfiram is often sold under the brand names Antabuse® and Antabus®. Approved by the FDA in 1951, this tablet is taken orally once a day. Unlike acamprosate, it can be crushed and mixed with water, coffee, tea, milk, fruit juice, or even sodas.

Disulfiram is a unique drug because it is used in aversion therapy. It prevents the body from metabolizing alcohol. If individuals continue to drink, the drug will mix with the alcohol and cause intense and uncomfortable symptoms. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pains
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Respiratory problems
  • Tachycardia
  • Throbbing headaches
  • Throbbing in the head and neck

In serious situations, mixing disulfiram with alcohol can result in respiratory depression, heart attack, and cardiovascular collapse. The effects of disulfiram can kick in as soon as five to 10 minutes after drinking. Even after stopping disulfiram, the drug can have an effect on your alcohol ingestion for the next two weeks.

Disulfiram works by acting on the main alcohol metabolic pathway. Disulfiram inhibits your body from breaking down alcohol from working. This causes a rapid rise of acetaldehyde in the blood when alcohol is consumed. This reaction is also known as the disulfiram-alcohol reaction and is responsible for the unsavory side effects experienced. Once disulfiram is taken, 80% to 95% of it is absorbed into the gastrointestinal tract. The drug is then rapidly distributed to the tissues and organs via the bloodstream.

“We treat both addiction and co-occurring disorders and accept many health insurance plans. Take a look at our inpatient program.”

Medication for Addiction to Opiates

Opiates are substances commonly abused in America, posing significant dangers due to the high prevalence of overdoses, often resulting in fatalities. In 2016, more than 63,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses, with opioids involved in more than 42,000 cases. Shockingly, opioids now claim more lives than breast cancer. As opioid overdoses continue to rise, it is crucial to comprehend how doctors address opioid addictions.

Opiate replacement therapy (ORT) is the primary treatment method involving the use of weaker substitutes administered according to a taper schedule. Although these medications used to treat addiction carry some abuse potential, they generally yield milder withdrawal symptoms and are easier to taper off. Presently, three common medications are employed at opioid addiction recovery centers: naltrexone, previously discussed for alcohol addiction treatment, as well as methadone and buprenorphine, which will be further explored.


Methadone is commonly used to treat opiate addiction. It works similarly to stronger opioids by attaching to the same receptors in the central nervous system. This helps ease withdrawal symptoms with milder side effects compared to drugs like heroin. However, methadone can still be addictive and lead to tolerance and dependence. It comes in various forms and is taken multiple times a day. Gradual tapering is necessary to avoid withdrawal symptoms and relapse. It’s important to follow prescribed dosages, avoid alcohol, and store methadone properly. Overdose can occur, so immediate medical attention is crucial.


Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It works similarly to methadone and other opioids but with a “ceiling effect.” This means there’s a maximum dose before the drug stops having an effect. It’s safer because it’s harder to develop tolerance or dependence. The drug, also known as Subutex, comes in various forms like pills, injections, patches, or implants. Effects usually start within an hour and last up to 24 hours.

Suboxone, on the other hand, is different from buprenorphine. It contains both buprenorphine and naloxone, an opioid-reversing medication. Naloxone prevents overdoses. Suboxone is also less addictive and has fewer side effects. It’s prescribed to patients addicted to short-acting opioids, and the dose is gradually increased to ease withdrawal symptoms.

Supplements Used to Treat Addiction

If one looks at addiction not just as a disease but as a deficiency, the deficiency can be balanced by supplementing the body and brain with the deficient neurotransmitters. Considering most drug addictions are caused by an influx of certain neurotransmitters, rebalancing these neurochemical levels may end drug-seeking behavior.

For example, most amphetamines cause a release of dopamine. Alcohol floods the GABA system. MDMA causes a huge release of serotonin. Experts believe that some amino acids can help treat addiction. At the very least, these amino acids may have the ability to ease withdrawal symptoms.

L-Tyrosine and L-Phenylalanine

L-tyrosine is an important amino acid for dopamine synthesis. If the body struggles to produce it, dopamine levels may be insufficient. Another amino acid, L-phenylalanine, can increase dopamine levels as it is converted into L-tyrosine. The main difference is that L-phenylalanine can easily pass the blood-brain barrier, allowing for a higher concentration of L-tyrosine to reach the brain.

Although it takes longer for L-phenylalanine to be metabolized, this supplement ensures more L-tyrosine reaches the brain compared to taking L-tyrosine directly. L-tyrosine supplementation can also improve sleep quality, reduce mood disturbances, boost focus, and enhance alertness. Dopamine is involved in regulating various bodily functions, including the brain’s reward system. This supplement may help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings for a smoother recovery.


Picamilon is a supplement that is converted to GABA once it enters the brain. GABA can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Low GABA levels in people living with addiction can lead to increased stress and anxiety, potentially triggering relapses. Picamilon has been shown to activate GABA receptors and reduce anxiety, making it an effective alternative to benzodiazepines. It can also aid in psychological withdrawal symptoms and improve sleep quality. While there is limited scientific literature on picamilon, many patients have reported additional benefits.


If someone struggles with MDMA addiction, they may want to consider taking 5-HTP supplements. 5-HTP is converted into serotonin, which is responsible for feelings of love and contentment. It is often taken after MDMA use to replenish depleted serotonin levels. This can help patients feel more comfortable during the comedown and ease withdrawal symptoms. Some individuals in recovery also believe that 5-HTP can help with depression symptoms. The supplement has no known side effects, but the optimal dosage may vary for each individual. While there is limited research in this area, it is a common claim in the community.

“We accept many health insurance plans. Get your life back in order; take a look at our residential program.”

Naloxone: The Medication to Counter Overdoses

Naloxone is a unique medication used to treat overdoses, not withdrawal symptoms. It’s an opioid-reversing drug that prevents fatal overdoses and can be used in medically-assisted treatments. Many rehab centers and first responders have this drug readily available. In fact, most states have legalized its sale without a prescription due to its life-saving capabilities. Naloxone attaches to opioid receptors in the central nervous system, reversing the toxic effects of opioids. It comes in various forms, including injections and intranasal sprays. Effects should be noticeable within 5 minutes, but a second dose may be necessary. Regardless, always call 911 for immediate medical supervision.

How to Identify an Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdoses are often fatal and can cause significant harm to both the body and mind. The impact of an overdose can result in severe brain damage, leading to extreme memory loss and permanent cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, recognizing an opioid overdose is not always straightforward. In many cases, individuals who abuse drugs may appear to be simply falling asleep, which is not uncommon. However, the danger lies in the fact that once they fall asleep, their breathing can stop. It is crucial for those who use opioids or are in the presence of someone who misuses opioids to be able to identify the signs of an overdose. Some common indicators include:

  • Blue hue around the lips and fingers
  • Drowsiness leading to a loss of consciousness
  • Slowed breathing or lack of breathing
  • Slowed heartbeat and heart rate
  • Small or pinpoint pupils in the eyes

Opioid overdoses can kick in within minutes. Those around individuals misusing opioids must act quickly.

Prescribing Medications to Treat Addiction Is Only Part of the Solution

Medications alone are not the complete solution for addiction recovery. It encompasses a much broader spectrum, including behavioral therapies, counseling, life skill classes, and more. Patients must also focus on personal growth, cultivating healthier habits, and developing effective stress management techniques.

Presently, addiction is often treated with medications, some of which unfortunately carry addictive properties. Prolonged use of these medications can lead to dependence, shifting the addiction from illegal substances to prescription drugs. Instead of relying on drug dealers for their fix, individuals turn to pharmacies.

To truly conquer addiction, it is crucial to address the underlying causes. Therapy and counseling play vital roles, empowering patients to develop self-awareness, modify destructive thoughts and behaviors, and lead healthier lives. Engaging in exercise or adopting a nutritious diet are just some of the ways individuals can embark on a path to recovery. Treating addiction requires more than medications; it demands motivation and a conscious decision to pursue sobriety. Ultimately, the desire for a sober life must come from within; it cannot be imposed upon someone.

Call Northpoint Washington for Addiction Treatment

If you’re seeking addiction treatment, understanding the medications used to treat addiction is crucial. They play a critical role in the recovery process by easing withdrawal symptoms, reducing cravings, and preventing relapses.

At Northpoint Washington, our experienced medical staff assesses each patient to create customized treatment plans that meet their needs and expectations. We understand what you need because many of our staff members are in recovery themselves. You can trust that you will be treated without judgment.

Contact us online or call 888.450.2153 to speak with an addiction specialist or admissions team. Achieving sobriety is possible with our help.