Suggested links

Medication for Addiction Treatment

The use of medications to assist during the addiction treatment process is known as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Prescribing doctors at inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities may recommend one or more medications to assist patients during their recovery. There are several common medications that doctors can prescribe during drug addiction treatment.

Battling addiction and ready for treatment? Find Treatment Now

How Medications Help with Addiction Treatment

In many instances, substance abuse treatment programs will include prescription medication as part of the recovering addict’s treatment plan. The type of medication prescribed will depend on the type of drug abuse.

As of 2024, the primary substance use disorders (SUD) suitable for medication-assisted treatment are opioid and alcohol addiction. However, addiction medicine can also help prevent relapse, relieve cravings, and ease other withdrawal symptoms early into recovery.

Research shows that including treatment for patients’ behavioral health (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy) alongside prescription medication can significantly improve their chances of recovery.

Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies.

—National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

What Is a Medically Assisted Detox, and Why Do Medical Professionals Supervise?

Medical detox is typically the first step in getting help for a substance abuse issue. During detoxification, the body’s natural process is to eliminate chemicals (i.e., drugs) from its system. Patients often experience withdrawal symptoms during detox.

Some withdrawal side effects can be life-threatening—particularly for benzodiazepine and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Having medical supervision throughout the detox process dramatically increases patient safety.

In addition, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms may discourage recovering addicts, causing them to return to substance abuse. Certain prescription medications can lessen these cravings and withdrawal discomfort, increasing people’s chances of abstaining from drug use.

Depending on a patient’s needs, medical detox occurs at inpatient and outpatient levels.

Heavy drug users recovering from more dangerous substances may require access to 24-hour healthcare. In contrast, mild drug users may only require an outpatient treatment program and at-home prescription during their detox phase.

Types of Meds Used to Treat Substance Use Disorders

The following medications are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder. Presently, there are no other official FDA-approved medications for these or other substance use disorders (SUD).

That doesn’t mean doctors won’t prescribe other medications to assist with other problems during their addiction treatment.

For example, after someone quits crystal meth, doctors may prescribe antidepressants to help treat depression or sedatives to combat insomnia.

However, unlike the below medications, complementary medications are not being used to directly treat substance abuse concerns such as cravings and relapse prevention.

Medications Used to Treat Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid treatment programs will often include medication to help opioid addicts avoid relapse by reducing cravings or blocking their brain’s ability to feel the euphoric effects of an opioid.

Opioid addiction can occur due to using illicit opiates, such as heroin, or abusing prescription medications like fentanyl.

Research shows that it only takes about three weeks to develop opioid dependence. Someone appropriately using a legal prescription for hydrocodone or oxycodone could also develop an opioid addiction and need help quitting.


Methadone works by blocking any potential euphoric effects a person might feel from opioids. Methadone also reduces the discomfort of withdrawal, including symptoms like muscle cramps and nausea.

Methadone treatment is one of the more well-known treatments for opioid addiction but is becoming less common.

Methadone can only be provided at a licensed facility and is unavailable for most users to self-administer. Patients must also take methadone daily for the drug to be effective, which is not always ideal when a person has to travel to a clinic to receive their medication.

Buprenorphine (Suboxone®)

Buprenorphine is what’s known as a partial opioid agonist, which means it binds to the brain’s opioid receptors. If someone receiving buprenorphine treatment tries to take an opioid, the buprenorphine will block it from taking effect.

Buprenorphine also reduces cravings and other withdrawal discomforts. Additionally, licensed doctors can prescribe buprenorphine to a patient to self-administer via tablets, including an extended-release version.

Naltrexone (Vivitrol®)

Naltrexone also blocks any euphoric effects of opioids, making it easier for individuals to resist cravings and maintain abstinence as they work on their recovery.

Naltrexone does not provide much relief for withdrawal symptoms, so it is often used in conjunction with buprenorphine in the early stages or prescribed later as a relapse deterrent.

Naloxone (NARCAN®)

Naltrexone is not generally used to treat opioid use disorder except in instances of opioid overdose. Naloxone works by stopping the effects of an overdose, allowing enough time for the victim to receive life-saving medical attention before it’s too late.

Medications Used to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol abuse is one of the most dangerous detoxification processes. Due to how alcohol sedates the brain, the sudden lack of alcohol use causes the brain to become overactive and can result in seizures, coma, brain damage, and more.

The FDA has approved the following medications to treat alcohol use disorder. These medications help alcoholics avoid returning to drinking and alleviate some of the withdrawal discomforts.

Naltrexone (Vivitrol®)

Similar to how it helps opiate addicts, Naltrexone treats alcohol use disorder because it helps users combat cravings when they have stopped drinking alcohol.

Naltrexone will also block any effects of intoxication that the user might feel if they relapse, which can help them remain sober in the long term. It is also a popular choice in assisting patients in avoiding returning to heavy drinking.

Naltrexone can be self-administered by pill or given as a monthly shot by a doctor or other licensed addiction specialist.

Acamprosate (Campral®)

Acamprosate was approved in 2004 to treat alcohol use disorder, making it one of the newest FDA-approved medications for alcohol treatment. Acamprosate is beneficial when taken if the user is already sober and helps users avoid cravings for alcohol.

Acamprosate is not known to be habit-forming nor cause any significant side effects. Acamprosate is taken twice daily by mouth.

Disulfiram (Antabuse®)

Disulfiram changes how the body metabolizes alcohol, which results in an unpleasant reaction if the user tries drinking while taking this medication. A typical treatment with disulfiram happens early on in recovery from alcohol abuse.

Patients are also encouraged through behavioral therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy) alongside taking disulfiram to help them build mental strength against relapse.

Medication Treatment for Other Substance Use Disorders

Sometimes, physicians may prescribe medication alongside addiction treatment to alleviate other adverse effects and improve patient well-being.

For instance, individuals recovering from benzodiazepine abuse will often receive a tapering plan from their doctor or healthcare provider.

Other individuals may need an antidepressant medication to help stabilize them while their brain recovers and heal from the excessive chemicals to which it was exposed—especially if they already have a mental health condition.

In some cases, such as stimulant addiction, there are no current medications used to assist with the withdrawal and early sobriety process—but according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), research on appropriate MAT for other substances is still underway.

Find Addiction Treatment
  • Specialized Treatment
  • Comprehensive Support
  • Personalized Care

Find Treatment Now

Paid advertising from Centric Behavioral Health

Are Addiction Medications Dangerous?

Overall, medication prescribed to assist with addiction treatment is not dangerous when used as prescribed by your treatment provider. Some of these medications, such as methadone, pose a risk of becoming habit-forming themselves.

However, recovering addicts should not fear using these medications when taken according to the prescription details.

These prescription drugs can help you or your loved one avoid relapse, and they can also provide you with relief during the challenging withdrawal phase. Never skip doses (if you forget to take a dose, do not double up), and take the medication as prescribed.

With the help of medication-assisted treatment, you or your family member have a better chance of beating substance use disorder (SUD).

Discover Your Addiction Medication Treatment Options

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a free online treatment locator that will allow you to see what kind of addiction treatment centers are near you. You can also call them for free, confidential information at 1-800-662-4357.

Ready for Treatment?

Centric Behavioral Health, our paid treatment center sponsor, is available 24/7:
Learn More About Centric or For Immediate Treatment Help, Call (888) 694-1249.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. (DCD), D. C. D. (2023, May 30). Prevention Programs & Tools.
  2. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (2023, May 23). Information About Medication-Assisted Treatment. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  3. Douaihy, A. B., Kelly, T. M., & Sullivan, C. (2013). Medications for Substance Use Disorders. Social Work in Public Health.
  4. Medications for Substance Use Disorders. SAMHSA. (2024, February 1).
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Medication for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder: A Brief Guide. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4907. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, September 25). Drug Overdose Death Rates. National Institutes of Health.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Our free email newsletter offers guidance from top addiction specialists, inspiring sobriety stories, and practical recovery tips to help you or a loved one keep coming back and staying sober.

By signing up, you’ll be able to:

  • Stay Focused on Recovery
  • Find Ways To Give Back
  • Connect with Others Like You
Sign Up For Our Newsletter
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Find Treatment Now