Should we use Medication to Treat Addiction?

Should we use Medication to Treat Addiction?


A lot of people make a snap judgment or have strong opinions when they hear this sort of question:  “Should we use medication to treat addiction?”

Half of the people get a bit angry and declare that using medications to treat addiction is completely ridiculous, because they argue that we are only creating more dependency.  The other half of the people might have the belief that medication is useful or even necessary for some people to get off of drugs or alcohol.  So what is reasonable to believe?

I think there are always going to be strong opinions on a topic like this because so many people will base their ideas on this off of their own experience.  For example, I know of several recovering addicts who tried to use some form of medication in order to help them with their addiction, only to fail with it over and over again.  Finally they got clean and sober without the use of medication, so now they are firm believers that the path they took is the only way.

On the other hand, there are examples out there of people who have done the opposite.  They struggled to get clean for years, and finally found success after using some form of medication to assist them.  So they are heavily biased towards the use of medication to help with addiction.

My own experience has shown me a few things about this:

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1) I experimented with using medications to help me, long before I made the real decision to get clean and sober.  They did not work for me.  But, understand that I had not really surrendered at the time.  So, medications cannot work miracles.

2) After being clean and sober for a few years, I tried using medication again to help me quit smoking.  Failed.  Ended up quitting successfully years later going cold turkey.  Again, just my experience though, obviously many people out there have used medication to help them successful quit.

3) Working in a treatment center, I get to see a large number of clients who get started on certain medications to help them with addiction while they are in treatment.  These would include things such as Campral to help fight alcohol cravings and Suboxone maintenance to help with opiate dependence.  In both cases, I have to say that nearly everyone who starts on these medications ends up coming back to treatment at some point in the future for another round of detox.  This is just a disturbing trend I have noticed, and something that I did not expect.

4) People who are quick to jump on using medication as their primary strategy for recovery seem to always relapse.  Not too shocking, but a good indicator I think.

So based on these experiences of mine, I have to say that our current medical knowledge and resources don’t really help that much as far as the idea of treating addiction with “magic pills.”  What I’m saying is that we are a long way off from that point, and that in a lot of cases it seems like medications do not really seem to help much.

On the other hand, I still have hope for the future and for the idea that we can start treating addiction as a chemical disease of the brain, and that we can make progress in this area so that we can help more addicts and alcoholics.  But at this point I doubt that medications will ever be the first live of defense against addiction…..


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