Medications Used to Treat Withdrawal

Making the initial choice to get clean from drug abuse is a difficult first step. However, dealing with withdrawal symptoms can sometimes make an individual feel powerless against addiction. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs can vary in intensity, but most people will experience some form of withdrawal. Anxiety, irritability, shaking, vomiting and insomnia are some common reactions to the body’s deprivation of a substance.

The signs of withdrawal may vary from person to person, depending on the length of drug use and the severity of the addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms often cause the person who has been using to use again to make the unpleasant symptoms stop. This cycle can be difficult to end, especially when the withdrawal process is severe. Luckily, there are some medications available—depending on the drug of addiction—to help ease the symptoms while an individual is seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medications

illustration of whiskey bottle and tumblerThose going through a withdrawal from alcohol may experience restlessness, insomnia or anxiety. Psychology Today reports that while most alcoholics do not need to undergo hospitalization for alcohol withdrawal, some medications can prove extremely helpful in managing withdrawal symptoms, including the following:1

  • Benzodiazepines are medications that have been commonly used since the 1960s to assist in withdrawal and are among the safest to use. Examples of benzodiazepines—also called benzos—include diazepam (Valium) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium). Medications like thesehave been shown to decrease the restless feelings that some individuals experience during withdrawal. Benzos slow the central nervous system (CNS) and allow the body to reach an equilibrium without many of the negative effects of withdrawal.
  • Other medications in this class include lorazepam (Ativan), clorazepate (Tranxeme) and phenobarbitals.

Medications for Stimulant and Opiate Withdrawal

Currently, there are no FDA approved medications for stimulant withdrawal. However, some studies have shown a few different types of drugs to be effective for some people. Disulfiram, which is used to treat alcoholism; modanifil, which is used for narcolepsy; and lorcaserin, which is used to treat obesity, are all drugs that are used in studies to help with addiction to cocaine, a prominent stimulant drug of addiction.2 Other drugs that have been used in studies include balclofen, a muscle relaxer, as well as topiramate, an anticonvulsant.3

Because opiates carry such a high potential for addiction, they are considered one of the most dangerous classes of drugs.

Opiates, like heroin and OxyContin, can cause devastating side effects during use and withdrawal. In 2014, 4.3 million Americans used opiates, or narcotic pain medications, for non-medical reasons. While many people take opiates for legitimate reasons under the care of a physician, others use them recreationally.4

Two Most Commonly Used Medications

  • Clonidine is typically used for those fighting opioid withdrawal and can be used in outpatient settings, too. It helps reduce anxiety, agitation, and the cramping that accompanies opiate abstinence.
  • Methadone, perhaps the most well-known of opioid withdrawal medications, is often used to control withdrawal symptoms and can be continued for much longer to help the patient stay clean.4

Using medications can be an effective step in the recovery process, and they can often help patients begin to feel like their true selves again. Successful use of medications depends on the specific person and their desire to stay abstinent from drugs or alcohol. Some prescriptions require ongoing treatment at first to help prevent relapse. Especially in situations that require detox, medications should be administered under professional care to ensure that no adverse side effects occur. It is always best to detox in a medically-supervised environment.

Olivia thought withdrawal could be the end of her. However, after continuing to detox and pursue ongoing treatment for addiction, she now says, “Being able to deal with life and my emotions without drugs is such a blessing.”

You can have the same success too! If you have any questions about how medication is used to treat withdrawal symptoms, or addiction care in general, please call us at The Oaks at La Paloma at our 24-hour toll-free helpline, 901-350-4575. We want to help you begin your new life apart from drugs and alcohol.


1 Jaffe, Adi, “Treating Alcohol Withdrawal With Benzodiazepines—Safe if Mindful.” Psychology Today. 27 May 2012. Accessed 6 November 2017.

2What is cocaine?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 2016. Accessed 6 November 2017.

3Overcoming cocaine or stimulant addiction.” Harvard Medical School. March 2009. Accessed 6 November 2017.

4Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” Medline Plus. Accessed 6 November 2017.