The Pros and Cons of Current Opioid Dependence Treatments

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Opioid dependence is a severe and chronic illness. It’s one of the most challenging addictions for users to overcome. It often requires professional medical assistance for people with opioid dependence to detox and recover without relapsing successfully.

There are several treatment options available for people with a dependence on opioids. To learn more about the pros and cons of each treatment option, continue reading.

Treatments Using Therapy

Therapy, or psychotherapy, is a treatment method used for overcoming substance abuse and addictions, such as opioid dependency. Therapy treatment is also commonly referred to as counseling.

When someone receives therapy as a treatment for opioid dependence, a qualified professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, will assess their mental state. Assessment involves regular sessions where both the patient and the therapist will identify personal problems or social and environmental factors contributing to the addiction. They will then develop a therapy-based treatment plan based upon their needs.

Some common forms of therapy used for treating opioid dependence include:

  • 12-Step programs
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Contingency management
  • Family therapy
  • Group counseling and support groups (such as narcotics anonymous)
  • Motivational interviewing

The only con with therapy as a treatment for opioid dependence is that, in most cases, it cannot solely be the only form of treatment a patient receives. This is because therapy cannot help someone with opioid dependence deal with the severe physical withdrawal symptoms from detoxing.

However, when therapy treatment is used alongside other medical treatments for opioid dependency, the risk of relapsing can be significantly reduced.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

One of the leading causes for people with opioid dependence to relapse and continue use is the intense and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Once symptoms begin, they progressively get worse and more severe as the user detoxes.

The timeline for withdrawal varies between users. Symptoms are known to begin as quickly as a few hours after their last missed dose and can continue for days, even weeks. It’s also been recorded that some symptoms of opioid withdrawal have been felt months after detoxing.

Someone withdrawing from opioids may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness
  • Intense cravings for opioids
  • Increased heart rate
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Frequently switching between feeling hot and then cold
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Constipation

Medication-assisted treatments (MATs) are available to help people with opioid dependence deal with these awful symptoms.

Here are some of the MATs available, along with their pros and cons.

Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)

Pros:

  • Prevents withdrawals
  • Curbs cravings
  • Long-lasting

Cons:

  • It isn’t easily accessible. You need to travel to a special clinic every day with a prescription for your daily dose.
  • It can be hazardous and even cause death if not taken correctly or under supervision.

Buprenorphine  (Suboxone, Zubsolv, Buprenex, Sublocade, Belbuca, Butrans, Probuphine)

Pros:

  • It helps relieve withdrawal symptoms
  • Smaller risk of overdose
  • It comes in many forms (tablet, shot, mouth film, skin patch, under-the-skin implant)

Cons:

  • Often not strong enough for many users

Naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol)

Pros:

  • Blocks opiate receptors making users unable to get high
  • Works well for long-term treatment 

Cons:

  • It doesn’t relieve withdrawal symptoms
  • It doesn’t get rid of cravings

Conclusion

Each treatment for opioid dependence has its pros and cons. Treatment effectiveness varies between those in recovery, some working better than others. A combination of both therapy and MATs is the most effective approach to treating opioid dependence and reducing the risk of relapse.