Tailor Drug Treatment to Phase of Addiction, Researchers Say

Doctor Explaining Report To Patient In Hospital

As researchers continue to uncover the secrets of addiction, we are beginning to learn more about how to treat this terrible disease. One of the biggest advancements in addiction research and treatment in recent years is the use of medications. Addiction has too long been treated without being informed by research. Today we know that it is a medical condition and should be treated as such. While medications have helped thousands of addicts, the most recent research has found that the way in which these medicines are administered, and when, is crucial to successful recovery. How effective the medications are depends on many factors, including the severity of a patient’s addiction.

Medical Treatment for Addiction

Using drugs to treat drug addiction has been a controversial idea for many years, but it is finally becoming more acceptable because it works. As we begin to recognize addiction as the medical condition that it is, evidence-based treatments—including the use of appropriate drugs—have become more prevalent.

One of the earliest types of medicated care is the use of methadone as a replacement for heroin. Today, there are also medications that can reduce withdrawal symptoms and those that can help change brain chemistry back to normal function after addiction. Most medications available now are for alcohol or opioids, but drugs are being developed to help treat cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana addiction as well.

Medical Treatment and Phase of Addiction

Not all addicts are the same, although this is how they have long been treated. Consistent research has told us that the most effective way to treat an addict is to create an individualized program of care. Up to this point, however, medication-based treatment for addiction has been one-size-fits-all. There are distinct phases of addiction and treatment affects an addict differently depending on the phase. Addiction begins with strategic drug-seeking behaviors. This means that the user is seeking out drugs to get a high, but is not yet hooked.

The next phase of addiction is when the addict engages in habitual drug-seeking behaviors. This means the person seeks out drugs less for the high than to reduce the negative symptoms of withdrawal and to satisfy cravings. When an addict transitions from the first to the second phase, certain changes take place in the brain. These changes shift the behavior of using drugs from a pleasant reward/high to a habit/addiction.

A recent study found that when medications for addictions are used during different phases, they vary in effectiveness. The changes that occur in the brain of an addict involve receptors for a chemical called dopamine. Researchers gave addicted rats a drug that would block these receptors. Some rats were given the drug during the early phase of addiction, and others during the later phase. They found that the drug was not effective for the early phase rats, but was for those in the later stages of addiction.

This research is yet another important finding in the best and most effective ways to treat addiction. It illustrates that there are noticeable differences in the brains of addicts at different phases of the disease. Having more evidence-based treatment techniques, like those outlined in this latest study, is crucial to helping more addicts kick the habit and saving lives. If addicts can be given medications that are specific to the phase of their addiction, more people will be helped.

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