Skip to content

Medications Used to Treat Opioid Addiction: Here’s What You Need to Know

Opioids often have a strong effect on the brain. That’s why opiate addiction has become such a prominent problem, not only in the United States but all over the world.

The purpose of opioids is to make a patient feel better quickly. They were designed to be used to treat things like pain. That’s why opioids such as morphine are given in hospitals, and codeine is found in many over-the-counter cough syrups.

Because they make you feel good, however, it’s easy to become addicted to opioids quickly. They activate the dopamine pathway in the brain, sending out endorphins that make you feel good. So, even though they can help with pain, they are risky too. Because of this, they should only be used with a prescription.

Unfortunately, the misuse of opiates can also lead to a lot of problems including negative long-term effects when it comes to brain function. However, there are plenty of medications used to treat opioid addiction. But how do you know which ones are safer than others?

Methadone

Methadone is an opioid agonist. That essentially means it’s the same thing to the brain as an opiate. It’s designed to help opioid users get through withdrawal symptoms. Studies have shown that withdrawal can be the hardest part of beginning to recover. If they can’t deal with the symptoms, they’re more likely to relapse and even overdose.

It’s important to understand how methadone works. After all, it’s definitely not without flaws or risks.

Essentially, methadone helps to relieve opioid cravings. It does so by triggering the same receptors in the brain that opioids (such as heroin) also act on. The difference? It does it more slowly. The person taking it doesn’t typically experience the same intense “high” that they do when they take opioids.

While methadone has been used to treat opioid addiction for many years, it needs to be heavily monitored. Only those going through a specialized treatment program should use it.

Methadone is sometimes irreverently referred to as the “life time med” as it is essentially a replacement drug therapy. More commonly you may hear it referenced as a “maintenance medication”. This is because once you begin, it is highly unlikely that you can stop taking it without going into withdrawal.

Suboxone

Another one of the medications used to treat opioid addiction is Suboxone. Suboxone is the brand name for a medication containing both buprenorphine and naloxone.

Buprenorphine works similarly to methadone. However, it’s a partial agonist opiate – “tricking” the brain into thinking it is a full opiate. Buprenorphine reduces an addict’s urges and can help them to deal with withdrawal symptoms.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist or “blocker”. It can help to reverse the effects of opioids in the brain. Medical professionals often use it in emergency overdose situations.

The combination of these two ingredients helps to make detoxing from opioids easier while getting rid of some of the lingering symptoms. It’s a long-term prescription whose research shows that it is most successful when taken for at least six months, if not longer. This runs contrary to what many older model detox centers do – often giving it for the first 3 – 5 days.

Some of the potential side effects of Suboxone include:

  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia

Keep in mind that some of the effects you may be feeling could be withdrawal symptoms. Everyone experiences them differently. But, Suboxone can help to make the process easier.

Vivitrol

Vivitrol is another opioid antagonist or “blocker”. It binds to opioid receptors in the brain but doesn’t trigger the release of dopamine. Because they attach to the receptors, they block opioids from “getting in.”

Vivitrol helps to suppress craving and physicians now are using it for opiate, alcohol and even for some types of eating disorders.

Because of how it works, Vivitrol can often help to keep former opioid addicts from relapsing.

One of the risks of Vivitrol is that it’s an injection-based medication and there can be side effects.  Most doctors will start clients on an oral (pill) version for the first few days. This helps to determine if the medication is the best for for the client. Other possible side effects include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Lumps

Vivitrol should be used after the initial opioid detoxification process is complete.

Opiate Addiction Treatment Programs

The medications used to treat opioid addiction work in a variety of different ways to make “coming down” from the addiction easier and relapsing more difficult. Of course, none of them are perfect. Each one has certain side effects to consider.

These medications can be helpful under the right conditions. If you or someone you know is struggling with opiate addiction, please contact me today. You can also visit here to learn about how I can help you.

Over 130 people die each day from an opioid overdose. Getting into treatment now can help to ensure that you or someone you love doesn’t end up being just another statistic.