Medications Used in Detox

Detox is an important first step on the journey toward sobriety; however, it is not always an easy step. Many people going through medical detox will need medication to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and help make the transition to recovery easier.

This article will go over withdrawal symptoms, the medications used in medical detox, and how to get help if you or someone you love is struggling with addiction.

What Is Medical Detox?

Medical detox is the process of safely and systematically withdrawing a person from addicting drugs (or substances), typically under the supervision of a physician or medical professional. Because addictive substances have the ability to cause physical dependency if taken for a long period of time, users can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug or lower their dosage. The detox process is intended to treat the immediate physical effects of ending substance use, helping individuals make it safely through the detox process so they can proceed to the bulk of addiction treatment.

The detox process allows the body to purge itself of all toxins in the body while also managing the symptoms the individual may be experiencing due to withdrawal. In some cases, managed medication is administered to assist in the detox process and lessen the effects of withdrawal. The type of medication administered depends on the type of substance the user is detoxing from. Certain substances of abuse have medications that are approved for use in addiction treatment; in other instances, medications may be used to address specific withdrawal symptoms.

Types of Detox Medications

According to Ceida, there are three main classifications of drugs: depressants, including alcohol; stimulants; and hallucinogens, with each category causing different physical effects. Medications typically used during detox are detailed below according to each drug classification.

Medications for Opioid Use Disorder

There are several medications approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder. For the treatment of opioid addiction, buprenorphine, Naloxone, methadone, and Suboxone may be used


According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, buprenorphine is used assist in detox from opioids, such as heroin and prescription painkillers. This medication can be administered in qualified and approved settings, including doctors’ offices, correctional facilities, and community hospitals. Buprenorphine is only a part of a treatment plan and should be taken in association with counseling and other treatment types.

Buprenorphine is designed to reduce consumption of opioids, lessen the physical need for opioids, and reduce withdrawal side effects and cravings. The medication gives the user a similar feeling of wellbeing as heroin and prescription painkillers do, but the feeling is significantly less intense.


Naloxone is commonly used to reverse opioid overdose. It is also often used in conjunction with buprenorphine or with other medications after detox in order to prevent relapse. The medication essentially blocks opioid receptors sites, so if a person takes heroin or another opioid, the drug will have no effect.

If a person is experiencing overdose, naloxone essentially bumps the opioid in question off receptor sites, essentially reversing the overdose. Naloxone’s half-life is shorter than the half-lives of heroin and prescription painkillers, however, so overdose can occur again if additional medical treatment is not sought.

Buprenorphine and naloxone are combined in the brand name medication Suboxone, and the presence of naloxone discourages users from attempting to abuse Suboxone since such abuse will bring no pleasurable effects.


Methadone has a long history in treating addictions to substances like heroin and narcotic painkillers. It is considered effective and safe if taken as prescribed. For most effective results, it is recommended to partner methadone use with a comprehensive medication-assisted treatment program that includes social support and therapy.

Methadone makes pain-related symptoms more bearable while also blocking the euphoric effects normally associated with opioids. It can be administered in liquid, wafer, or pill form, and it is generally taken once or twice per day. Many states require that patients visit methadone clinics on a daily basis in order to get their doses since the drug does have abuse potential.

Since methadone has the potential to be addictive, it is vital to use it only as prescribed. It also should not be taken with alcohol, or when driving or operating machinery.

Medications Used for Alcohol Use Disorder

There are several medications used during the treatment of alcohol use disorder. Some of these help manage withdrawal symptoms and others help to manage cravings.


According to an article in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal, Lorazepam is used in alcohol detox to lessen some of the associated withdrawal symptoms. As a result of alcohol detox, people can experience various medical issues, including seizures. Lorazepam helps reduce the risk of continual seizures, thereby increasing the likelihood that people remain safe throughout alcohol detox.


According to Mayo Clinic, naltrexone is used in alcohol detox, and it can also help those in recovery from narcotic addictions. The main function of naltrexone is to block the effects produced by narcotics or alcohol, especially stopping the “high” feeling associated with use.

A side effect of naltrexone is it will cause withdrawal symptoms in those who suffer from physical dependency on narcotics and should be used once a user is no longer dependent on the substance of abuse. A user must cease narcotic usage for at least 7-10 days prior to using naltrexone.

There are a number of different medications that naltrexone should not be mixed with, including methadone, opium, oxycodone, codeine, and buprenorphine. It can also negatively affect those suffering from other medical conditions, such as depression, kidney disease, liver disease, or mental illness. Any co-occurring medical or mental health issues should be assessed by a medical professional prior to prescribing this medication.


According to the National Institutes of Health, acamprosate is a medication used to assist in alcohol detox. It is to be used along with counseling and social support as part of a comprehensive treatment program since it does not constitute addiction treatment on its own.

Acamprosate helps the brains of people who have longtime addiction issues related to alcohol return to how they were prior to alcohol abuse. Even though the medication can help in the detox process, it does not prevent any withdrawal symptoms that are associated with discontinuing alcohol use.

The medication is available in a delayed-release tablet form and should be taken three times a day with or without food. It is recommended to take at mealtimes to make it more convenient for the patient.


Disulfiram is a medication used to treat alcoholism, and its use should be partnered with psychotherapy and other support services. It is designed to interfere with how the body breaks down alcohol, and it will produce negative and unpleasant effects if combined with alcohol, thereby lessening the individual’s desire to drink.

Treating Stimulant Use Disorder

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, no medication has yet been approved to assist in detoxification from stimulants. Behavioral therapies are recommended for users to assist in the detox process. It is also recommended to taper drug dosages to potentially lessen withdrawal symptoms. In medical detox, medications may be prescribed to treat specific withdrawal symptoms, such as antidepressants or sleep aids.

Treating Addiction to Hallucinogens

There currently are no government-approved medications to treat hallucinogen addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, the most effective pharmacological treatments for hallucinogen detox are antidepressants and antipsychotics, as both can help to stabilize patients as the drugs process out of the body.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

According to American Family Physician, the following are some of the most common withdrawal symptoms associated with different types of drugs or substances:

  • Alcohol: panic, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, illusions, hyperarousal, restlessness, elevated blood pressure, dilated pupils, disorientation, clouded consciousness, agitation, and tremors.
  • Stimulants: depression, suicidal thoughts or behavior, paranoia, anhedonia, social withdrawal, hypersomnia, psychomotor retardation, and increased appetite.
  • Opioidsmuscle cramping, anxiety, digestive problems, strong urges for drugs, elevated pulse and blood pressure, dilated pupils, excessive mucus and runny nose, insomnia, excessive tear secretion, and piloerection.

Some of these withdrawal symptoms can be treated with other medications to make the process more comfortable.

Medications Used in Conjunction with Detox

There are several medications that may be used during these detox process to help manage co-occurring disorders, like anxiety or depression.

Antidepressant medications and anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed. Some of the medications include:

  • Clonazepam — a medication used to treat anxiety disorders in general, and it can also be used during detox. It is used to calm individuals suffering from panic attacks and other anxiety-related symptoms.
  • Diazepam —  a medication that can also be used to cope with anxiety-related withdrawal symptoms caused by alcohol abuse or addiction. It can be habit-forming so it should not be taken in any dose larger than prescribed. Diazepam can also help with muscle spasms and seizures related to alcohol withdrawal.
  • Anti-nausea medications can be taken to assist with digestive problems associated with withdrawal. Over-the-counter medication like meclizine or loperamide, may help with any digestive-related issues due to opiate withdrawal and make people more comfortable during detox.

Treatment After Detox

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox should not be a singular treatment method; it should be followed with more robust treatment that could include behavioral-based therapy and, if appropriate, other medications to assist in the recovery process. Detox alone will not effectively address addiction issues. Because withdrawal can cause long-lasting effects, such as dysphoria or depression, it is vital that people seek support and additional forms of treatment after detox. It is also important to understand that treating withdrawal is not the same as treating addiction or abuse.

It is important for users who are following a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plan to work with a medical professional throughout the entire process. MAT is designed to take a “whole person” approach to treating substance addiction or abuse. A balance of medication, therapy, and other forms of support can help a person in recovery remain sober for the long-term.

Addiction Treatment Near Tampa

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, there is effective help that can get you on the road to recovery. At our inpatient rehab in Riverview, FL our team of specialists use evidence-based addiction-focused healthcare to help people through medical detox and beyond.

Contact our admissions navigators 24/7 at to learn more about our different levels of care. They can also help you find out about using your insurance for addiction treatment and can discuss other ways to pay for treatment, and guide you through starting rehab admissions.

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