Every year, it seems, drug companies come up with new drugs to help addicts fight their addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics. But do these drugs work? Are they dangerous? In one of the more ironic wrinkles in medical history, are they addicting?
The quick answer to these questions is yes, often these drugs work well if matched up with clinical support, rehabilitation efforts, and counseling. The reason is simple: These drugs can block cravings, reduce anxiety and depression, help patients through withdrawal and even provoke an allergic reaction to the addictive substance in the case of Disulfiram (Antabuse). But while these prescribed responses to addiction can be extremely helpful, none of them are a silver bullet that makes all of an addict’s pain go away.
Furthermore, when the prescription medication wears off or when it is time to reduce one’s dependence on these helpful drugs, the addict must still have an arsenal of psychological insight and community support to help them stay clean and sober.
Out of the top 100 drugs in the U.S. market, many are addictive, pointing to the clear indication that all prescription drugs require a physician’s approval and medical support.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the drugs used to combat various addictions:
Antabuse was one of the first drugs used to treat addictions and it is used to fight alcoholism. It was designed to provoke discomfort in people when they drink alcohol. Facing this discomfort, which included hot flashes and nausea, and sometimes death, an alcoholic was expected to choose sobriety over drinking.
Naltrexone was also designed to combat alcoholism. It is known to reduce the craving for alcohol, but it is usually prescribed for only a short period – generally for six months to a year.
A companion prescribed for Naltrexone is Acamprosate (Campral). It also reduces cravings for alcohol. Both drugs, however, are recommended for patients along with professional help from a therapeutic program.
The most common drug used to fight tobacco addiction is nicotine, which comes in the form of patches – with the nicotine absorbed through the skin – lozenges or chewing gum.
A replacement nicotine system that also works is making the switch from smoking tobacco to “vaping” or smoking through a vapor system that uses liquid that includes nicotine.
Yes, this is the same as replacing nicotine with nicotine. The difference in the patch, gum, lozenges or “vaping” however, is the ability to control the amount of nicotine absorbed by the body each day. This allows smokers to very slowly wean themselves from nicotine, rather than going “cold turkey” which means quitting smoking very suddenly.
Varenicline (Chantix) uses a different strategy to help smokers quit. It blocks receptors in the brain that register the pleasure people get from smoking. When it kicks in, a smoker might as well be smoking air, instead of tobacco, because they get no pleasure from it. Eventually, they simply put the cigarettes down, because they aren’t giving them any pleasure, anyway.
There are many drugs used to help addicts combat opioid addictions, the category that includes painkillers, opium, morphine and heroin.
None of these drugs are the magic bullet that can fight an addiction on its own, but all reduce the craving for opioids, whether they be painkillers or heroin. So what’s the difference? Why take an addictive substance to combat an addictive substance?
There are many reasons. Obviously, cravings in early recovery can overcome even the best of intentions, so any tool that can be found could be necessary to help while counseling, group therapy, 12-Step programs and other professional interventions begin to work.
On paper, at least, an addict working with a physician and professional help will have control over their doses with the aim of reducing those doses at the right time. With prescription drugs, in effect, an addict can control their withdrawal.