Resources & Education

June 14th, 2015

The Steps in Treating Opiate Addiction

Student girl with a backpack climbing stairsWith 2.1 million opiate abusers in the United States alone, significant research has been conducted to determine the most effective treatments for opiate addiction. While the most important aspect of recovery is support and vigilance from family and loved ones, these highly addictive substances often require multi-step process for treating the addict and breaking the addiction habit for good.

  1. Detoxification – The most effective first step in opiate addition treatment and recovery is detoxification – a process conducted in a controlled and medically supervised location. Withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly uncomfortable, including agitation, anxiety, tremors, muscle aches, hot and cold flashes, and even nausea and vomiting, however the side effects are not life threatening. Most importantly, the detoxification process rids the body of any existing opiates in an environment where the addict cannot obtain more drugs.
  2. Methadone Maintenance – Many opiate addicts are simply not capable of abstaining from opiate use, due to the drug’s highly addictive nature. One treatment option post-detoxification is to transition the addict to a methadone maintenance treatment program administered in a specialized clinic. Under a methadone maintenance plan, the recovering addict is given a liquid form of the opiate substance methadone on a scheduled basis.

    Research has shown that addicts who transition from illicit opiates to a methadone maintenance plan avoid many of the medical and personal risks involved with illegal drug use. In addition, they are less depressed, more likely to be able to maintain employment, less likely to conduct illegal behavior, and their family life is less negatively impacted. Methadone maintenance may be continued indefinitely, or more ideally, the recovering addict would be treated with gradually reduced levels of methadone in preparation for complete withdrawal.

  3. Buprenorphine and Suboxone – A similar approach to maintenance treatment includes the use of a partial opioid agonist called buprenorphine. Recovering addicts are prescribed buprenorphine to be taken three times per week. It works be occupying opiate nerve receptors while producing a mild opiate-like effect. Since there is a risk of abuse if the tablet is dissolved and injected, buprenorphine is often prescribed in tandem with naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of opiate overdose. The combination of buprenorphine and naloxone is often referred to as “Suboxone.”
  4. Twelve Step Recovery Programs – Many recovering opiate addicts often see great success in overcoming their addiction when they have the support of a twelve-strep recovery program. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is an international organization whose community-based programing focuses on a 12-step program with a defined process for overcoming narcotic addition. Since NA advocates for abstinence, it does not encourage the use of maintenance therapies, therefore, some individuals find greater success in a Methadone Anonymous 12-step program that acknowledges the role that methadone or Suboxone can play in opiate addiction recovery. To support an abstinence recovery methodology, recovering addicts should receive support from family and loved ones that includes the necessary changes to the environment to avoid the temptations of relapse.
  5. Behavior Therapy and Counseling – Behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling may also be effective steps in the opiate addiction treatment process. Therapy may occur in an outpatient or residential facility setting and may include forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, or family and couples therapy. A 30-day residential outpatient treatment program for example, offers a safe, drug-free environment that provides a regimented schedule of counseling and support sessions designed to provide coping strategies for cravings. If longer-term treatment is needed, residential programs such as halfway houses, offer structure and counseling programs for up to a six-month period.

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