Drug and alcohol abuse results not only in behavioral alterations but also in physiological changes, specifically in the chemical processes of the brain and major organs of the body. Interruption of these chemical pathways through substance abuse is reversible, but not through willpower alone. In many cases, attempting to self-withdraw from drugs or alcohol without medical intervention can result in severe withdrawal symptoms or even fatal consequences. It is necessary to treat substance abuse with appropriate detoxification medicines in order to retrain the brain and body to function using normal chemical processes, without a dependency on foreign substances. With the correct and appropriate medicinal treatment, full recovery and reduced chances of relapse are not only possible, but probable.
Issues Critical to Reaching and Sustaining Recovery
The type of treatment needed for alcohol and drug use disorders varies with the type of substance the person has misused, as well as with the person’s personal needs and characteristics. In most cases, the process starts with an assessment so that an individualized treatment plan can be developed. As a component of treatment, some people may require medical detoxification (detox), a process under the care of a physician that helps manage physical withdrawal symptoms that can occur when someone stops taking a drug or other substance.
Treatment also may include behavioral therapy (such as counseling, cognitive therapy, or psychotherapy), medications, or a combination of both. Behavioral therapies offer people strategies for coping with their cravings, teach them ways to avoid drugs and alcohol, prevent relapse, and help them deal with relapse if it occurs.
During and after the treatment program, a range of testing, transitional, and after care (follow-up) services—such as mutual support groups—frequently are offered to assist with health care, employment, family concerns, and other issues critical to reaching and sustaining recovery.
There are many different types of medicinal treatments available, each specifically designed to manage withdrawal symptoms and discourage the body’s physiological dependency according to the particular substance that is being misused. The effects of drug abuse vary greatly according to the type of drug, the personality of the user and the body’s physiological susceptibility to the influence of foreign chemicals. This, however, does not mean that choosing the right medication is a difficult task. A full medical consultation is carried out to determine which medical treatment is the best for the individual concerned, based on the above mentioned variables.
How Detoxification Medicines Work
The ways in which these medicines work vary according to the negative physiological processes that are to be targeted. For example, Buprenorphine is a relatively new medicine that controls the symptoms associated with withdrawal from heroin by occupying the brain’s receptor sites in place of the opiate. In addition to controlling the withdrawal symptoms, Buprenorphine ‘kicks out’ any residual opiates occupying the brain receptor sites and prevents their re-occupation, thus making any further abuse of heroin largely ineffective.
Methadone is a member of the opiate family, making it ideal for opiate addiction treatment. It works by blocking the receptor sites in the brain and, unlike it’s family members such as heroin, does not produce a euphoric effect, making addiction highly unlikely. Methadone is also very effective as continued treatment.
Other medicines target the body’s cravings by stimulating an increase in the production of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which encourages relaxation. Common examples of these medicines are Gabapentin and Vigabatrin, used for the treatment of cocaine addiction.
The neurotransmitter dopamine is believed to be responsible for the pleasure associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Medicines such as Topirimate and Naltrexone reduce the production of dopamine upon alcohol consumption resulting in a decrease in cravings.
Medicinal detoxification is central to a successful recovery from substance abuse. While behavioural and psycho-social counseling will have some effect on the mind-set of the user, it is essential that the negative physiological effects of the substance abuse are treated in order to make a full recovery. Under the correct direction and supervised medicinal treatment, breaking the habit and repairing the damage can be achieved effectively with minimum discomfort and can drastically reduce the chances of relapse.