Detox Medication

Medical detoxification is the process of eliminating drugs, alcohol, and any associated toxins from the body to achieve sobriety, treat acute intoxication, and ensure the individual undergoing detox is physically and mentally stable before moving on to ongoing care in an addiction recovery treatment program.

The withdrawal symptoms someone can expect to experience during detox depends on the substance in question as well as the severity of the addiction. Withdrawal symptoms can make detox difficult to deal with, especially without medical intervention, which frequently leads to relapse.

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Detoxing in the care of a professional medical detox center can help avoid relapse and make detox easier to get through. One of the ways they can do this is by administering various detox medications.

Why Use Medications During Detox?

The concept of using drugs during a process meant to flush them from someone’s system can at first seem counterintuitive and possibly even harmful. However, as previously mentioned, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) during detox can be essential to not only a more comfortable but also safer detox process.

The withdrawal process during detox can be unpleasant at best and life-threatening at worst. Detox medications can help deal with whatever unpredictable symptoms or complications might arise during detox.

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There are a variety of medications that have received official approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use during medical detox, from prescription opioids down to over-the-counter supplements.

Detox medications are often used to help people undergoing detox deal with withdrawal symptoms common to most substances, including:

  • Drug cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pains

Detox medications also can be used to wean someone off the substance they have become addicted to by tapering down the dosage slowly rather than trying to stop using cold turkey and bringing on symptoms life seizures.

What Medications Are Used in Detox?

Doctors will often use over-the-counter medications such as Dramamine to deal with nausea, Tylenol for aches and pains, and natural supplements like melatonin for insomnia. Depending on the substance someone is detoxing from, prescription anti-depressants may also be used to help curb the symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts.

Detox Medications for Opioids

The opioid crisis continues to hold the country in its grip with a still-rising toll of overdose deaths. Fortunately, however, whether someone has been using prescription opioids like Vicodin or illicit, more potent ones like heroin, detoxing from opioids is rarely, if ever, a life-threatening experience.

Still, opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, with painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms commonly associated with opioid withdrawal include all of the general substance withdrawal symptoms listed above, as well as:

  • Restlessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Fever and chills
  • Agitation and mood swings
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tremors
  • Uncontrollable crying

Depending on the opioid in question and the severity of someone’s addiction, they might not experience all of these symptoms. But even dealing with just a few at the same time can become overwhelming without medical intervention. Even relatively milder symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and sweating could lead to dangerous levels of dehydration if not carefully monitored.

Some common detox medications used to help treat opioid withdrawal are actually other, weaker opioids. These opioids are used for the double-purpose of lessening drug cravings as well as weaning users off stronger opioids like heroin.

Common opioid detox medications include:

Methadone has perhaps the longest history as a form of MAT during opioid detox. Methadone is strong enough to help relieve cravings but weak enough that, when administered carefully by a medical professional, it does not get the user high.

Methadone is medically useful because of how long its effects last. It can remain in the body anywhere from 15 hours to 55 hours, depending on the dosage, and replace shorter-acting opioids like heroin and take up space in the brain’s opioid receptors.

The goal of using methadone during detox is for it to replace the opioid the user is detoxing from, followed by a steady lowering of the methadone dosage to achieve sobriety.

Methadone has a history of clinical effectiveness when paired with counseling and therapy, but remains controversial due to its own potential for abuse and addiction. Methadone use during detox must be carefully restricted and monitored, and a detox team will typically try using other medications before moving to methadone.

Buprenorphine is another opioid that is used for the same purpose as methadone. The major difference is that buprenorphine is what’s known as a “partial opioid agonist,” which makes it much weaker than “full agonist” opioids and gives it less addictive potential.

Otherwise, buprenorphine works in much the same way, taking up space in the opioid receptors to ease cravings and keeping other opioids out to block any euphoric effects associated with an opioid high. A dose generally lasts about 24 hours.

Despite being much weaker, buprenorphine use during detox requires the same careful monitoring, as it is still often abused and possesses the potential for dependency.

Finally, Suboxone is the name-brand version of the combination of buprenorphine and a drug called naloxone. Naloxone is what is known as a “full opioid agonist,” meaning that it negates the effects of opioids entirely, switching off the brain’s opioid receptors.

Naloxone is used under the brand name Narcan to reverse opioid overdoses, but it is too strong to use on its own during detox due to how it will trigger sudden, intense withdrawal symptoms. Suboxone is meant to combine the most useful effects of buprenorphine and naloxone to make an opioid detox medication that is less likely to be abused.

Detox Medications for Depressants

Alcohol, benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin, as well as non-benzo sedatives and barbiturates can all be grouped under the umbrella of central nervous system (CNS) depressants. These substances all have severe, dangerous, and potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms.

Because of this, detox should not be attempted without professional medical supervision. On top of cravings and the other standard symptoms of withdrawal, common withdrawal symptoms for depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Migraines
  • Severe insomnia
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Delirium tremens
  • Seizures
  • Disassociation
  • Psychosis
  • Memory loss
  • Tremors
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Vivid nightmares

Benzodiazepines and other sedatives can be particularly dangerous if someone attempts to stop using them all at once after a long period of regular abuse. This can throw the nervous system into hyperactive shock and trigger grand mal seizures.

For alcohol, delirium tremens brings a whole other set of potentially deadly consequences as well. In cases like these, detox medications are not only useful for easing the discomfort caused by withdrawal; they can also mean the difference between life and death.

The medications commonly used during detox include the previously mentioned antidepressants and melatonin, along with anticonvulsants in the case of complications from seizures. Other medications administered during depressant detox include:

Benzodiazepines

Much like opioids, benzodiazepines (benzos for short), despite the dangers associated with their abuse, can often be useful in treating dependence on alcohol as well as other benzos. For alcohol, certain benzodiazepines like Valium are helpful in inducing sedation to ease anxiety and as an anticonvulsant while having a very low risk of negative interaction.

Like methadone and buprenorphine, benzodiazepines can be used in tapering schedules to slowly lower someone’s dosage until it’s safe for them to stop using without triggering a seizure.

Also like methadone and buprenorphine, using benzos as detox medication requires very strict and careful dosage control and monitoring to avoid further abuse and addiction.

Detox Medications for Stimulants

Stimulants are a little different from the other substances on this list because the symptoms associated with stimulant withdrawal are mainly mood-based and psychological as opposed to nausea, vomiting and other flu-like physical symptoms.

The reason for this is that most stimulants focus their effects on a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates emotions, cognition, and feelings of pleasure and motivation. Along with some of the common withdrawal symptoms like depression, anxiety, and insomnia, other stimulant withdrawal symptoms include:

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  • Suicidal behavior
  • Impaired cognition
  • Migraines
  • Concentration problems
  • Agitation and mood swings
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Emotional numbness
  • Dulled senses
  • Disassociation
  • Impaired memory

Unlike opioids, there are no medications that have been specifically approved for stimulant detox, but many detox centers will utilize anti-depressants, certain muscle relaxants, modafinil, a medication that’s meant to treat sleep disorders, and on some occasions, buprenorphine.

Recovery Starts with Detox at California Highlands

If you or a loved one is battling a substance use disorder, it can feel like there’s nothing you can do and no one who can help. But there is help at California Highlands Addiction Treatment.

We offer the full continuum of care, beginning with detox into ongoing care and even aftercare planning to help you stay connected to our recovery resources even after you have completed your treatment. Quitting is never easy, but we provide the tools, guidance, and support to make it happen.

Call (888) 969-8755 today to speak to one of our admissions specialists, who are available 24/7 to help you navigate the process of finding the treatment program that’s right for you or your loved one, verify insurance, and answer any questions or concerns you might have.

Don’t wait any longer to seek out help and take back your life from addiction. Call (888) 969-8755 now or contact us online for more information.

Sources

Medication and Counseling Treatment. (2015, June 15). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Pharmacotherapies. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/pharmacotherapies

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016, April 20). Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm