Treating Addiction with Medications

Words on a piece of paper that read Opioids

Just like insulin is used to treat diabetes, medications are available to treat addiction. Historically, misinformation about this treatment option has prevented people from getting the necessary care to overcome addiction. However, people are becoming increasingly aware of the facts about addiction and the benefits of medications used to treat addiction.


There are three medications approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). Although these medications are classified as opioids, they are uniquely formulated to fight opioid addiction.

  • Buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone or Sublocade, is a long-acting opioid medication that reduces withdrawal symptoms and lessens cravings without euphoric effects.
  • Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid medication that reduces withdrawal symptoms and lessens cravings.
  • Naltrexone, also known as Vivitrol, is an opioid blocker that lessens cravings. Naltrexone can also help treat alcohol use disorder and is being studied as a treatment option for methamphetamine use disorder.


Since buprenorphine and methadone are long-acting, they minimize the nausea and symptoms of withdrawal allowing people to focus on their lives instead of cravings. Evidence shows that using these medications helps patients decrease the potential damage to their physical or mental health and prevent certain infectious diseases.


Terminology can be confusing when contemplating whether to seek treatment. Take a minute to understand the different terms related to addiction and the body’s responses.

  • Tolerance: When the brain and body adapt to a certain amount or concentration of a substance, and the substance no longer has the same effect.
  • Physical dependence: When a person experiences withdrawal symptoms after suddenly stopping a substance. Examples of substances people can become dependent on are caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or opioids.
  • Addiction: When a person cannot stop taking a substance despite trying. They often feel a compulsive drive to use that substance even when there are harmful consequences. Learn more signs of addiction link here:

Know the Difference

  • A person with the disease of addiction may experience both tolerance and physical dependence. Methadone and buprenorphine cause physical dependence which is different than addiction.
  • A person experiencing tolerance and physical dependence may not always experience addiction. A person taking a medication exactly as prescribed may still experience both tolerance and physical dependence.


Although medications to treat OUDs have existed since the 1960s, some people preferred abstinence instead of medications as a treatment option. This was due in part to misinformation and stigmas related to medication as a treatment option. However, attitudes are changing as people learn the facts about medications and recognize OUD as a chronic medical disease that causes physical changes to the brain’s opioid receptors.

OUD is caused by several factors including how someone was raised, what genes they inherited, the environment they live in, what substances they have been exposed to and what underlying health problems may be causing vulnerabilities to addiction.

Working with a physician trained in addiction medicine is essential to successful treatment with medications. If attempted without professional guidance and proper prescriptions, individuals can suffer more serious withdrawal symptoms and even overdose which may result in death.

Additionally, opioids taken in combination with other sedating medications such as alcohol, Xanax or Klonopin may cause deadly reactions.

“Taking medications is a personal choice for someone experiencing opioid use disorder. Some people can quit opioids on their own. Others cannot and need help,” said Rachel Wirginis, D.O., addiction medicine fellow, NCWR’s Addiction Recovery Clinic.

While there are multiple treatment options including therapy, counseling, peer support or going to an in-patient treatment facility, medications may be a beneficial part of a customized care plan and should be discussed with a physician.

“The goal of medications for opioid use disorder is to save lives, prevent health complications and assist in the process of recovery from opioid addiction,” said Wirginis.

NCWR addiction medicine specialists provide customized, outpatient care for adults and adolescents suffering from addiction. Integrated treatment methods include medications for opioid and substance use disorders, counseling and behavioral therapy and support groups. Appointments are available in person or virtually at the Tulsa clinic, as well as virtually in rural health facilities throughout Oklahoma.

Contact the NCWR Addiction Recovery Clinic at OSU at 918-561-1890 to schedule an appointment. In case of a medical emergency, please call 911. For immediate and confidential emotional support, please call 988 to reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

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