Pharmacotherapy to Treat Your Drug Addiction

Close-up of a man inhaling cocaine with a glass straw

If you have not heard of pharmacotherapy to treat your drug addiction, you are probably not alone. Although the practice is not all that new, it is still developing. With modern technology and the advancement in the understanding of brain chemistry and how behavior is affected by chemical stimuli, scientists have had positive results using pharmacotherapy to treat drug addiction. It is the treatment of a disease through the administration of drugs to counteract the disease.

Defining Pharmacotherapy
As alcohol and drug addiction is seen as a brain disease the development of pharmacotherapy was a natural progression. The concept of alcoholism or drug addiction as a disease has found overwhelming medical support through multiple studies proving that the addiction actually adversely affects brain functioning. This change manifests itself in behavior that supports continued dependence on the illicit drugs or alcohol. Self-abstinence is not enough for most addicts, as a recent study has shown a 90% relapse rate without treatment after 1 year, similar to relapse rates of other diseases. Even current addiction treatment therapies have high relapse rates, where pharmacotherapy could aid current programs to reduce the relapse rate further.

Opioid Pharmacotherapies
Currently, pharmacotherapy are being used to treat Opioid addictions such as heroine, morphine and oxycodone through the use and treatment of other Opioids such as Methodone and buphrenorphine. These treatment drugs are being used as maintenance therapies intended to reduce cravings and thereby reduce all the illicit behaviors that tend to coincide with Opioid drug use. Both of these drug therapies can be used as detoxification aids or as long term maintenance medications. With the successes of these programs, scientists are developing other pharmacotherapy for a wider range of addictions. Although some believe this form of therapy is simply substitution, it has been proven to allow participants a normal life, whereas continued addiction to street drugs almost always proves to be a worst standard of living. These treatments are even more effective if taken with behavioral treatment programs.

Alcohol Pharmacotherapies
There are currently four drugs approved for alcohol pharmacotherapy use. Naltrexone blocks Opioid receptors that are involved in the rewarding effects of drinking and cravings of alcohol. Studies have shown a decrease in relapse because of the drug therapy. Acamprosate acts on the neurotransmitter systems of the body thought to reduce symptoms of a protracted withdrawal helping heavily dependent alcoholics in the withdrawal stage avoid relapses. Disulfiram causes a drinker to have unpleasant side effects because it blocks the breakdown of the alcohol. Its effectiveness depends however on the person’s willingness and commitment to continued use of the drug. Topiramate although not specifically FDA approved for alcoholism apparently is used off-label because of its ability to improve multiple drinking outcomes.

Before attempting any of these therapies you should speak to your doctor, addiction counsellor or other medical professional. These drug addiction recovery treatments are best used in conjunction with a behavioral treatment program and a good support network. As scientists study drug interactions and drug therapy treatments, major advances could be accomplished in these areas of addiction treatment.