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How to Stay Sober Through Medical Treatment

Drug addiction is a common problem in the United States, with a 2011 survey indicating 10% of the population over the age of 12 reporting using illicit drugs in the last month.1 These addictive substances change how the brain functions, making it very difficult to quit cold turkey. Outpatient addiction treatment centers often use medications and medical treatments to help addicts recover.

There are many new treatment protocols to help individuals break free from addiction. Let’s look into why these steps are helpful, what types of medications are available for both detox and relapse prevention, and what other medical treatments might be part of intensive outpatient treatment or inpatient detox.

Why Is Medical Treatment Often Necessary to Recover from Addiction?

Alcohol and addictive drugs change how we process emotions by flooding the brain with neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, stimulate pleasure centers while overpowering natural sensations and emotions.

Over time, the body develops a dependency on the substance, changing its own chemical balance to compensate. When the substance is removed, the individual begins to experience very real withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. Different substances cause symptoms of varying severity and for different lengths of time.

Withdrawal Timelines for Common Addictive Substances

How long will drug withdrawal last? The exact length of time it takes to restore the body’s chemical balance depends on how long the individual has been using and other factors, but these averages will provide a general idea how long the detox process will take:2

  • Prescription opiates, including Vicodin, Oxycontin, and morphine: 5-10 days
  • Heroin: 7 days
  • Benzodiazepines like Valium, Ativan, and Xanax: 2 weeks or longer
  • Cocaine: 1 to 10 weeks
  • Methamphetamines: 2 to 3 weeks
  • Alcohol: 3 days to 3 weeks

What Is Medically Supervised Detox?

During drug or alcohol withdrawal, medical supervision allows treatment of symptoms and monitoring of the individual’s vital signs and mental condition. Outpatient rehab may also provide medications and medical care during a supervised outpatient detox.

Detox is the first step of treatment for addiction. In almost 80% of cases, medications are used to help patients in this phase.3 Going through the physical process of withdrawal is a necessary step, and it prepares the individual for true recovery when they will deal with the reasons behind their addiction and learn to restore their lives.

Medical treatments that can help with drug detox include:3

  • An electronic stimulation device used to treat opioid withdrawal, called the NSS-2 Bridge, can reduce withdrawal symptoms without chemical medications.
  • Methadone and buprenorphine are also used to treat withdrawal symptoms as part of outpatient addiction treatment.
  • Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors in the brain and is used after detox to help prevent relapse by preventing the drug from causing euphoria.
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin) may be helpful in treating cocaine addiction. Baclofen, topiramate, tiagabine, and modafinil are GABAergic medications that may help prevent relapse but have not yet received FDA approval specifically for cocaine addiction.

By using a combination of medications targeting the specific type of addiction, doctors and therapists can help drug addicts break out of the cycle with less painful or life-threatening symptoms. They can resist relapses and use the skills they learn in their treatment program to achieve long-term sobriety.

a young mother smiling while talking to a psychologist in a family support center

Medical Treatment for Alcoholism

Addiction to alcohol causes significant changes to body chemistry and has its own set of withdrawal symptoms and addiction treatment options. For someone who has been abusing alcohol for a long time, medical treatment is more than a good idea; it may be medically necessary.

In combination with counseling and treatment of any co-occurring medical conditions, these medications might be used as part of treatment for alcoholism:

  • Naltrexone removes the rewarding effects of drinking and reduces cravings, helping to prevent relapse.
  • Acamprosate reduces withdrawal symptoms like restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia.
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse) interferes with alcohol metabolism, causing unpleasant sensations when alcohol is used, including flushing, nausea, and irregular heartbeat, helping reinforce the individual’s decision to remain sober.

What Incentives Do These Medications Provide?

These treatments provide significant advantages to individuals working to overcome their addiction and prevent relapsing. By taking advantage of the tools available to beat the physical side of drug dependence, they can focus on the other goals of recovery.

Some of the reasons patients choose medically focused treatment are:

  • Experiencing fewer of the intense cravings which can be powerful enough to cloud judgment and cause drug-seeking
  • Having medically trained experts on call to assist with sudden symptoms or changes of medication.
  • Providing an incentive to stay sober through the use of medications that block the pleasurable sensations or actively cause unpleasant reactions, breaking the brain’s pleasure/reward cycle.
  • Minimizing or eliminating the need for staying under 24/7 supervision, allowing responsible individuals who are motivated to succeed to stay home with children or continue working.
  • Easing the transition back to sobriety and allowing time for new healthy habits to be established.
  • Receiving simultaneous treatment for medical or mental health conditions that are occurring alongside the addiction and may be contributing to substance abuse.

two women communication and discussion

Other Medical Treatments and Therapies that Can Help

Other treatments that support addiction recovery include behavioral therapies and intensive outpatient programs. There are a number of evidence-based behavioral treatments available that work in conjunction with medication to help improve the chances of long-term sobriety.4

All of these strategies focus on helping patients to modify attitudes and behaviors related to their drug use while improving relationship and life skills:

  • Individual counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy, to learn how to recognize, avoid, and cope with situations associated with drug use or drinking.
  • Group counseling, which leverages the experiences of other recovering addicts and builds a strong supportive community around the individual.
  • Family therapy, which addresses the influences and cycles of drug use by building trust, changing enabling or codependent behaviors, and seeking to heal relationships.
  • Motivational supports, which empower individuals who are ready to change their direction and enrich their lives.
  • Contingency management, which promotes sobriety with positive reinforcement and helps patients manage emotional responses in a more productive way.

Personalized Outpatient Medical Care Is Right Around the Corner

With many addiction treatment centers in our area offering help, choosing the right approach and level of intensity for yourself or a loved one is made easy at RECO Intensive.  Our outpatient treatment programs begin at a high level of engagement, offering the right services at each phase of recovery.

Our medical staff can provide all of the most effective medications and therapies to make this life-changing step as comfortable and productive as possible. After detox is complete, a full suite of counseling and group meetings will make the most of this opportunity for change and healing. As less help is needed, patients attend fewer hours per week, without a sudden or drastic transition.

RECO Intensive, in partnership with RECO Institute’s sober living facilities, has the right solution for all types and levels of addiction. It is never too early or too late to find help, so contact us, chat online, or call to speak to a compassionate person who understands the challenges you face. We are waiting to empower your next step forward.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
  3. 4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction

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