What Medications are Used in Drug or Alcohol Addiction Treatment?

Medications are often prescribed by your doctor during the detox or inpatient part of treatment. Prior to entering an outpatient treatment center like Mission Harbor, you or your family member may or may not be prescribed certain medications to assist with your treatment process. These medications may be used for a short period of time or an extended period of time.

Mission Harbor does not provide nor dispense any medications. The following resource is informational only, please consult your physician. 

When people attempt to quit drugs or alcohol, they are often optimistic, ambitious, and determined to make it work. But as withdrawal symptoms manifest and continue to worsen, the pain can become too much, and relapse can occur. Relapsing puts people at risk of a fatal overdose and also makes it much harder for them to quit drugs or alcohol again.

Withdrawal symptoms and the risks involved is one of the many reasons why people can benefit from medical detox. Safe medications, given in a controlled healthcare facility, can lessen and even prevent painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms from occurring. This decreases the risk of relapse and also protects the patient’s mental and physical well-being during this critical time. Some medications are specifically designed to combat addiction, while others are prescribed for off-label use during the withdrawal phase.

Medications Used in Treatment

What medications are used during drug or alcohol addiction treatment?

First, it depends on what type of addiction the person is trying to treat. Different drugs will manifest different withdrawal symptoms that require specific treatments. For example, some drugs cause extreme, intense cravings while patients are trying to detox. There are safe, effective medications that patients can take to curb these cravings, and make the withdrawal process a little easier on them physically and emotionally. Some of the most common medications prescribed in detox for drug addiction include the following prescriptions.


Opioid addiction has become a national health crisis in the U.S. Opioids are incredibly addictive, and completely rewire the brain’s reward pathways, making it incredibly hard for people to quit. Naltrexone works by blocking those reward receptors in the brain. If someone relapses while taking Naltrexone, they will not experience an addictive high. Naltrexone is safe to use after someone has completed detox. The medication is easy to administer and does not produce any serious or distressing side effects. It is also not addictive.

Disulfiram and Acamprosate

These two drugs help to combat alcoholism and prevent relapse. Disulfiram causes an unpleasant reaction when someone consumes a small amount of alcohol. The medicine stops the body from breaking down the drink. People can get a headache, or feel nauseous. The medication is given to help people addicted to alcohol associate drinking with a negative, instead of a pleasurable, experience. Disulfiram cannot be given to anyone who is already intoxicated. It can only be given at least 12 hours after someone has had their last drink. People are able to take disulfiram every day until their desire to drink is gone.

Acamprosate protects the neurons in the brain that would be damaged or destroyed during the process of alcohol withdrawal. Acamprosate is given to people during the withdrawal process to lessen the severity of withdrawals and prevent serious, permanent damage from occurring. Patients given acamprosate have a higher chance of achieving continuous, long-term abstinence from alcohol than those who do not take acamprosate.


Depression is a frequent side effect that occurs during many different drug withdrawal timelines. Long-term alcoholics are some of the most at-risk patients for major depressive disorder once they stop drinking. Paxil helps to restore the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in the brain, and this chemical is released during stress. A lack of norepinephrine explains why people may experience clinical depression because of a stressful event. Paxil also helps calm patients and reduce anxiety, which is a common withdrawal symptom.


Modafinil was initially used to treat narcolepsy, but it has since been found to be a useful tool against cocaine addiction and withdrawal. Modafinil works by counteracting many of the adverse side effects of cocaine withdrawal, including an inability to stay alert and concentrate, and also increased fatigue, lethargy, and trouble maintaining proper sleep patterns. In clinical studies, modafinil has been successful in helping cocaine addiction patients reduce their cravings and maintain sobriety.

Other common medications used during detox and rehab include short-term sleep aids, SSRIs and SNRIs, and anti-nausea medications. Seizures and convulsions are a risk during heroin, opiate, and alcohol withdrawals. Anti-seizure medications like gabapentin can counteract and prevent these effects.

It is true that sleep aids can be addictive, but in a detox center, patients are monitored by their doctors. Sleep aids are only given for short periods to counteract the most intense withdrawal symptoms, and addiction to a new drug is not possible in a controlled, clinical environment.

There are many adverse consequences people can experience if they are unable to access safe medications during the detox timeline. Withdrawals are unpleasant and can cause many dangerous side effects, including major clinical depression. Painful and distressing withdrawal symptoms make it easier and more tempting for patients to take drugs or drink again after initial cessation.

Drugs like naltrexone and disulfiram prevent people from obtaining an addictive high and lessen their chances and even the severity of relapse. When it comes alcohol withdrawal, the process can permanently damage the brain. Safe medications like acamprosate protect patients and prevent the risk of serious, long-term damage. Also, drug withdrawals cause intense cravings, and medicines can lessen or even eliminate cravings for specific substances.

For people who wish to obtain sobriety, it’s best to give them all of the tools available to help them safely get through the withdrawal process and have the highest chance of success. A combination of medications, therapy, and behavioral modification is needed to give patients a strong foundation for achieving long-term sobriety. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out to a rehabilitation specialist today to explore your addiction treatment options.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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