There are many pathways to addiction recovery. One pathway can be Medication-Assisted Recovery—the use of medication, as prescribed and overseen by a physician knowledgeable about addiction care, to support recovery from a substance use disorder.
About Medication-Assisted Recovery
Understanding that prolonged use of alcohol and other drugs can change the structure and function of the brain helps explain why pharmacological treatment can have an important role in the treatment of addiction. Unless restorative, rebalancing treatment is provided, these functional brain disorders can result in worsening or sabotage of recovery attempts.
The phrase “Medication-Assisted Recovery” is a practical, accurate, and non-stigmatizing way to describe a pathway to recovery made possible by physician-prescribed and monitored medications, along with other recovery supports, e.g., counseling and peer support. Although no medications cure dependence on drugs or alcohol, some can play a significant and lifesaving role in helping people begin and sustain recovery. However, some medications may interfere with the recovery process. Therefore, when considering use of medications, we suggest you always consult a prescriber who is knowledgeable about and successfully experienced in treating substance use disorders. Since these medications can, if misused, be dangerous, always obtain them with a legitimate prescription.
Many treatment programs and physicians use medications as an important tool in the treatment of addiction, for purposes such as:
- to detoxify a person/prevent withdrawal
- to reduce the frequency and intensity of cravings
- to dampen or block the experience of feeling “high” or intoxicated
- to provide a shield against impulsive use
- to treat or control symptoms of a medical or mental disorder, that if left untreated could lead to relapse.
Many people with substance use disorders also have problems with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or attention deficit disorder. Treating co-occurring (substance use and mental health) disorders together increases the chances of long-term recovery. Mental health care often and appropriately includes the use of medications, such as antidepressants, bipolar medications and anti-anxiety drugs. It is vital for the safety of individuals with co-occurring disorders to inform all their treating professionals about each medication they are taking.
For more information about Medication-Assisted Recovery, including tobacco/nicotine addiction, alcohol dependence, and opioid dependence, see the pamphlet, NCADD’s Consumer Guide to Medication-Assisted Recovery.
For more information about naltrexone, a medication to treat people with opioid dependence, see the SAMHSA Advisory