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Trading One Addiction For Another: Do Drug Rehab Centers Put Patients On Prescription Drugs?

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

April 8, 2019

People who have fallen victim to substance dependency often turn to drug rehabilitation centers and replacement therapy as a way to beat their problem. However, drug replacement therapy is something of a controversial treatment with two basic sides: people who think it helps ease symptoms of withdrawal and people who think it just trades one addiction for another.

Drug Replacement Therapy

People undergoing drug replacement therapy are prescribed a medication which simulates the substance from which they suffer dependency. It is prescribed by a doctor and can be distributed in two ways: inpatient or outpatient procedures.

Inpatient drug replacement therapy requires staying at the facility while outpatient therapy lets the patient return home. Replacement medicines can be picked up at rehabilitation centers across the country.

These replacement medicines are at lower and cleaner doses than the drugs they are replacing. It’s important to remember that drug replacement therapy is not considered a “cure” for dependency. Instead, it is used as a “maintenance” therapy for long-term sufferers. It helps give them access to a safer and legal substance, one with a dose that can be gradually lowered to decrease and even eliminate dependency.

The use of drug replacement therapy to treat people suffering from dependency has been studied for over 40 years and has been approved by a variety of health-oriented groups, including the:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • World Health Organization
  • Institute of Medicine

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Medicines Used

When victims of substance dependency enter rehabilitation, they are prescribed a medicine most suitable for their substance. For example, those who are dependent on opiates (such as heroin, morphine, and painkillers) are often given medicines such as clonidine, buphrenophine, or methadone.

Alcohol dependency is usually treated with medicines like Valium, Ativan, Librium, or phenobarbitals while stimulant dependency (such as cocaine and methamphetamine) requires treatment with benzodiazepine, Norpramin, Diazepam, or certain antidepressants.

These medicines will be carefully monitored, distributed, and controlled by medical experts. The major advantage of these medicines is that victims of dependency won’t have access to an unlimited supply of them, especially if they stay right on the premises of the rehabilitation facility. This helps their rehabilitation expert or doctor monitor their dependency and help slowly detox and treat their patients.

The Addictiveness Of These Medicines

The unfortunate truth is that just about every substance (from methadone to benzodiazepine) used to treat dependency can create dependency. This is because they stimulate the same areas of the brain that cause dependency to form in the first place.

Critics of replacement therapy point out that keeping people dependent on a substance is counter-intuitive, especially in instances when used in an outpatient therapy. Outpatient treatment is harder to monitor and control, as patients can simply pick up their medicine and go home. Without a medical expert monitoring their intake, there’s no way to ensure their dependency will get properly treated.

Dangers Of Cold Turkey

Sometimes, a person dependent on a substance will choose to forgo replacement therapy and try to quit with no replacement medicines i.e. going “cold turkey”. While this may sometimes work, it is generally not a wise decision nor recommended. People with serious abuse problems often suffer from very severe withdrawal symptoms when they try quitting cold turkey.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Severe head pain
  • Anxiousness
  • Poor focus
  • Tremors
  • Sickness
  • Pounding heart
  • Vomiting

Other more severe symptoms include grand mal seizures, strokes, hallucinations, and heart attacks. These symptoms are actually more common with alcohol and tranquilizer withdrawal, though they can occur in conjunction with any drug withdrawal.

The Final Verdict

While it may seem scary to treat a substance reliance with another potential problematic substance, it is often the only way drug rehabilitation can help. Until the day an absolute dependency cure can be found, drug replacement therapy is still the best option to help people suffering from substance abuse issues from continuing with their problematic behaviors or suffering from dangerous and potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms.

If you or someone you love needs help recovering from substance reliance, contact us as soon as possible. We can help safely eliminate your dependency and get your life back on track.

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