It can be very difficult for a person to admit that he or she has a substance abuse problem, but it can be equally as stressful to accept the need for medication in recovery. There are many social stigmas surrounding medication, particularly when it comes to chronic conditions and mental illnesses. Treating these issues is an important part of addiction recovery. People struggling with addiction need to overcome the fear of accepting medication treatment for a better chance of recovery.
Medication Assisted Addiction Treatment
The standard of substance abuse treatment in the United States typically involves cognitive behavioral therapy or some form of psychotherapy and medication. Without medical assistance, the detox process is potentially fatal, and rehab will be much more difficult for a person suffering the physical effects of addiction, such as disease, malnourishment, and psychological trauma.
Some people may believe starting a medication simply means replacing one addiction for another. There is, however, a distinct difference between managing a legitimate medical issue with a safe medication and nursing an addiction with illicit drugs. Addiction treatment professionals avoid prescribing or administering habit-forming drugs, and when patients in recovery receive psychiatric drug prescriptions, their doctors prescribe knowing there is the potential of dependency.
Medical Assistance during Detox
Many types of addiction entail severe withdrawal symptoms when the drug craving isn’t satisfied or the willful detox takes place. For example, opioid addiction can lead to fatal seizures during withdrawal, and alcohol withdrawal can cause a life-threatening condition known as delirium tremens (also called “the DTs or “the shakes”). It’s essential to manage these symptoms, and medical assistance during the detox process generally entails nutritional support and medications to manage withdrawal.
Potential Health Effects of Addiction
People who endure severe drug use often report exposing themselves to risky situations, experiencing past incidents of abuse and traumatic violence, and contracting infectious diseases from unprotected sex while under the influence and sharing needles, for example. These incidents can lead to long-term or permanent health conditions that require medication to effectively treat and manage. A patient in substance abuse treatment would likely have a better recovery experience if he or she can support their care with safe medications.
Many people who fall deep into substance abuse will neglect basic needs such as food and water for days on end as they search for another fix. Malnourishment can lead to infections and organ failure, while vitamin deficiencies hinder the body’s natural ability to fight disease and withstand the elements. Nutritional support during detox may include dietary supplements and vitamin-replacement therapy to help recover from the effects of long-term drug abuse.
Overcoming the Stigma of Medication
Some people avoid medication because accepting a prescription means admitting to having a disorder. There is an unfortunate stigma surrounding mental illness and chronic medical conditions that causes some people to feel ashamed of these issues. Some people may want to overcome addiction without relying on foreign substances in the body, but may not realize that a co-occurring condition is a major part of the problem and it requires treatment.
Seeking addiction help should include an honest assessment of individual health. A person with a substance abuse problem in need of alcohol addiction help or other treatment may be willing to enter rehab but still have difficulty accepting medication, even for a severe issue. If a person has a medical issue that requires medication for effective treatment, foregoing that treatment will only work against his or her recovery efforts and increase the chances of relapse.
Medication for Chronic Illnesses and Co-Occurring Disorders
Effective addiction treatment demands addressing patients on an individual level. Addiction affects everyone differently so there is no blanket solution. Unique individual factors also play a significant role in addiction. Two people who both use heroin may have the same level of physical dependency on the drug, but their psychological attachments may be vastly different and require different approaches to treatment.
A “dual diagnosis” occurs when a person suffers from both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder. These cases require carefully planned treatment. Some people develop substance abuse problems by self-medicating with illicit drugs and alcohol. Others may start showing signs of mental health disorders from drug use and develop long-term psychological conditions. It can be dangerous when addiction and mental illness run in tandem, and effective treatment requires addressing both issues simultaneously.
Dangers of Dual Diagnosis Cases
People who self-medicate with alcohol or drugs for a mental health condition hinder their chances of learning healthier coping techniques. For example, a person suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may simply drink to be able to sleep at night. This may offer immediate and somewhat reliable relief from his or her symptoms, but it does nothing to address the underlying cause of those symptoms and ultimately only harms the person.
It’s impossible to treat a dual-diagnosis case without addressing the addiction and the mental health disorder at the same time. Substance-abuse treatment centers that specialize in dual-diagnosis treatment develop comprehensive, individualized treatment plans that take these complex factors into account to minimize the risk of replacing one addiction with another.
One distinct danger of dual-diagnosis treatment is a patient must stick to his or her medications as prescribed. When a person takes a psychiatric medication, he or she may stop experiencing negative symptoms and stop taking the medication because the need appears to have diminshed. This is a bad idea because most psychoactive prescription drugs for conditions such as anxiety and depression need to reach certain levels in the body and maintain those levels to prevent symptoms. When a person suddenly stops taking a prescribed medication, he or she may experience an intense return of symptoms, potentially triggering a relapse.
Dual-Diagnosis Treatment and Medical Assistance from Maryland Recovery
Dual-diagnosis rehab is a complex process that requires individualized care. Maryland Recovery offers a full spectrum of dual-diagnosis treatment services and medically assisted addiction treatment. Some patients may not want to acknowledge the need for a prescription during recovery, but our staff works closely with each of our clients to ensure we meet their individual treatment needs.
Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.