Can You Treat Opioid Addiction Without Medication?

Treatment for opioid addiction commonly involves a combination of counseling, medication, and behavioral therapy. But there are also treatment programs for opioid addiction that do not involve the use of medication.

Treating Opioid Addiction Without Using Medication

Medication for opioid use disorder, also known as medication-assisted treatment, is the most effective form of treatment for opioid addiction.

That’s according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and extensive research documenting its effectiveness.

At the same time, it’s common for people to want to consider alternative options, including treatment services for opioid abuse that don’t involve the use of medication.

Here you’ll find information on:

  • how medication for opioid addiction works
  • benefits of medication for opioid addiction
  • non-pharmacological treatment options for opioid addiction

How Does Medication For Opioid Addiction Work?

Medications that are FDA-approved for the treatment of opioid addiction work by acting on the brain’s opioid receptors, which are associated with the development of addiction.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medications that can be used to treat addiction to prescription opioids and illicit opioids such as heroin.

Medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) include:

  • methadone: a full, long-acting opioid agonist
  • buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex): an opioid partial agonist
  • naltrexone (Vivitrol): an opioid antagonist that’s chemically similar to the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone

While all three medications differ chemically to some extent, all work to help prevent opioid relapse and support individuals on their journey toward addiction recovery.

Here’s what medication for opioid use disorder can do:

Treat Withdrawal

Methadone and buprenorphine are both drugs that can be administered during the opioid detoxification (detox) process.

Both medicines can help to relieve moderate to severe opioid withdrawal symptoms, and shorten the duration of the acute detox period.

Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • irritability
  • diarrhea
  • muscle aches
  • sweating
  • stomach cramps

Naltrexone, on the other hand, is not administered during detox. It’s best to have all opioids out of your system before beginning naltrexone because it can trigger precipitated withdrawal.

Relieve Drug Cravings

One of the most difficult aspects of getting off opioids for those addicted is drug cravings. Fortunately, medication for opioid use disorder can help with this.

Methadone and buprenorphine act on the same receptors in the brain as opioids like heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Because of this, they can help curb drug cravings.

For some, this effect can be life-changing. This can allow you to focus on your recovery, as well as other aspects of your life, such as work, time with friends, and other hobbies and interests.

Help Prevent Relapse

Medications for opioid use disorder have shown to effectively reduce the risk of relapse in people formerly addicted to opioids.

This increases the chance that someone will be able to successfully stay off opioids they previously misused, and be able to build a happy and fulfilling life in recovery.

Prevent Fatal Overdose

Medications such as methadone and buprenorphine cut the risk of suffering a fatal opioid overdose in half, according to research.

This is possible because both allow you to maintain a tolerance to opioids. This can thereby reduce the risk of death in the event of an overdose.

Support Addiction Recovery

The effects of medication like methadone, particularly when taken chronically, can help to restore a sense of normalcy in a person’s life.

This is important. Opioid addiction can destroy relationships, harm your physical health, mental health, and make it difficult to picture an addiction-free future.

Medication, on the other hand, can help normalize your brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of opioids, and support your physical and mental healing process.

What Are The Risks Of Medication For Opioid Addiction?

Substance abuse professionals today broadly agree that MOUD is an effective treatment for opioid addiction, with benefits that typically outweigh potential risks.

One of those risks is the abuse potential of methadone and buprenorphine. Both medicines are opioid-based and can become addictive if misused. But this treatment is safe.

When taken as part of a treatment program, or under the supervision of a healthcare provider, this medication can be life-changing for those who have struggled to overcome addiction without medication.

Is Medication-Assisted Treatment Trading One Addiction For Another?

No. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) asserts that medication for opioid use disorder is safe and effective when taken at the correct dosage.

When taken at the right dosage, MOUD does not cause euphoria. What it can do is help relieve cravings, withdrawal, and help restore balance to your brain circuits.

What Is The Most Effective Treatment For Opioid Addiction?

Medication is effective, but it’s not necessarily a complete treatment for opioid addiction by itself, although it can have its independent benefits.

Treatment options for opioid addiction include:

Medication-Assisted Treatment

The most effective treatment for opioid addiction is a “whole-person” treatment called MAT, or medication-assisted treatment.

This treatment involves a combination of medication, behavioral therapy, and drug counseling.

The benefits of MAT include:

  • improved treatment retention (i.e. staying in treatment)
  • increased ability to gain and maintain employment
  • improved birth outcomes (in pregnant patients)
  • decreased opioid use and associated criminal activity
  • reduced risk of infectious disease transmission (e.g. HIV)
  • reduced risk of fatal overdose
  • may help reduce recidivism in those who receive medication while incarcerated

This holistic treatment approach helps those with addiction by working to address the physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual aspects of drug abuse.

This treatment is safe, and can last as long as is needed. The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends a minimum duration of at least 12 months.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Without Medication

Medication is an effective treatment for opioid addiction, but there are treatment programs that offer non-pharmacological treatment.

This abstinence-based approach typically centers on behavioral treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and self-help groups like NA.

Rehab Programs For Opioid Abuse

Opioid addiction treatment programs can vary in their length and intensity. For those with opioid dependence, treatment will begin with detox.

Opioid detox services can be found through:

  • drug and alcohol detox centers
  • inpatient drug rehab centers
  • some medical centers (i.e. hospitals)
  • outpatient treatment centers
  • individual healthcare providers (i.e. general physician)

After this, entering an inpatient rehab program or outpatient treatment program is generally recommended to help you maintain abstinence from drugs of abuse.

Signs You Need Opioid Addiction Treatment

Opioid addiction affects millions of Americans and their families. If this describes you or a loved one, you’re not alone. And help may be available today.

Common signs of opioid addiction include:

  • taking opioids in ways other than prescribed
  • taking higher doses or taking doses more often
  • mixing opioids with other drugs to get high (e.g. alcohol)
  • hiding or lying about your drug use
  • constantly thinking about getting or taking more opioids
  • being unable to reduce or stop your opioid use despite negative consequences

Find Treatment For An Opioid Addiction Today

If you’re ready to find addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, we may be able to help.

Call our helpline now to learn more about opioid addiction treatment options, or to find a substance abuse treatment program that meets your needs today.

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