Prescription and Illicit Drug Abuse

Frequently Asked Questions

26. How are medications used in treatment?

Different types of medications may be useful at different stages of treatment to help a person stop abusing a substance, stay in treatment, focus on learning new behavioral skills, and avoid relapse. Currently, medications are available to treat addiction to opiates, nicotine, and alcohol, but none are yet approved for treating addiction to stimulants, marijuana, or depressants.

Medications for substance abuse treatment help the brain adjust to the absence of the abused substance. These medications act slowly to stave off drug cravings and prevent relapse.

For example, buprenorphine, marketed as Subutex or Suboxone, is prescribed by approved physicians to treat people who are addicted to opiate drugs, such as painkillers or heroin. Buprenorphine is useful in the short-term detoxification process by helping ease withdrawal symptoms and in the long-term by staving off cravings and helping prevent relapse.

For more on treating opioid addiction, see“Treating Addiction to Prescription Opioids."

For information on treating addiction to depressants, see "Treating Addiction to CNS Depressants."

For information on treating addiction to stimulants, see “Treating Addiction to Prescription Stimulants."