“There is never a time our biology is without our environment or our environment without our biology. They affect each other” – Dr. Hayden
The last twenty years has expanded our understanding of the biology of addiction. We are now able to identify neurotransmitters (brain chemical messengers) affecting mood, attention, pain, impulsivity, and our body’s reward system. This information has greatly increased the ability to use medication as an effective tool for addiction recovery.
We once wondered if addiction was founded in biology and heredity or environment and learned behavior and now we recognize it comes from a reciprocal effect of both. Much of the group work, therapy, and recovery experience addresses the environmental aspects, but medication, exercise, sleep and nutrition are important, as well, in resetting a healthy biology. At Genesis Recovery, a highly skilled psychiatrist works with other clinical professionals to assess and develop individualized medication management to give each person the best chance at recovery.
Sometimes a person comes in with withdrawal symptoms that feel overwhelming and may be considered unbearable to most. Some people experience severe depression or anxiety and others struggle to get to sleep or wake up refreshed. All these are merely symptoms of the body readjusting to the brain chemicals impacted through drug and alcohol use.
Medication often allows a person to think clearer and participate in treatment more fully. Many times, proper medication management allows a person to successfully navigate the first couple weeks, the most risky time frame for leaving treatment and relapsing. The number of medications available to help those in recovery has increased and the medications have become more specialized with fewer side effects. Numerous times we find that one of the reasons people seek drug use in the first place was for “self-medicating” chemical imbalances that medication could have helped previously.
Antidepressant medication: SSRIs and SNRIs are common antidepressant medications that regulate serotonin and norepinephrine in our bodies. These neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) help regulate mood, energy, motivation, sleep, libido, appetite, and more. When people have too much or too little of these chemicals, they will sleep too much or not sleep at all, eat too much or lose their appetite, have a high sex drive or a very low sex drive.
If a person demonstrates the effects of these chemical imbalances, we often call them depressed or manic. A person can experience these symptoms due to their own biology, such as heredity or past trauma, or the body can mimic these symptoms as a result of drugs coming out of their system. Once a person is stable on medication for a time with drugs and alcohol out of their system, there may be a time to slowly go off the medication and see if the imbalance was temporary or if they will need medication long-term. Much of this is also personalized according to what the person or family wants.
Sleep medication: As you may have guessed, sleep is important to recovery. The body will naturally start going to work to repair damage caused by drug and alcohol use and proper sleep will speed this process along. As noted before, sleep is often one the main areas affected by drugs and alcohol so getting back into a normal, healthy sleep cycle can be very difficult.
Beta blockers: Anxiety is a common emotion experienced by people coming off heavy or consistent alcohol or drug use. They experience physical sensations, such as jumping out of their skin, shortness of breath, or a tight chest. They also experience racing thoughts, increased energy, talking fast and difficulty concentrating. All these experiences are often overwhelming and can increase when people are craving drugs or alcohol. There are a set of medications known as “anti-anxiety” medication, or benzodiazepines, and yet these medications are addictive and therefore not often recommended for those already struggling with addiction. Antidepressant medication often works well to help with anxiety and if a person is still struggling, there is another category of medications that may help called “beta blockers.”
Beta blockers are medications that reduce your blood pressure by blocking the effects of the hormone adrenaline, causing your heart to beat more slowly. This results in less anxiety. People with high levels of anxiety have found a significant positive change with this medication. Of course, the decision to use this or any medication is carefully considered by the client and their psychiatrist.
Suboxone and Sublocate: Suboxone is a synthetic (man-made) version of opium that can strategically help a heroin addict slowly titrate off opiate-based drugs. Without any medication, many heroin addicts relapse almost immediately due to strong withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are the physical feelings that the body experiences when it cannot have what it is used to. Withdrawal symptoms for heroin can be severe, making recovery very difficult. If a person moves from heroin to suboxone and eventually Sublocate (a time-released version of suboxone), they often have a better chance of staying in treatment long enough to be completely free of drugs.
These are just a few of the medications that may benefit a person seeking treatment for addiction. Medication is used in collaboration with therapy, group sessions, the 12 steps, a person’s social system, spirituality and other factors improving long-term recovery. Many people have seen success with medication alongside other forms of interventions than interventions alone. At Genesis, we want all effective options to be available as we individualize a treatment plan.