One of the benefits of research-based, professional drug treatment is the availability of medical support for the detox process. As many people who have tried to quit an addictive substance know, the withdrawal symptoms that occur during detox can be daunting, making it difficult to avoid relapse to drug use. Medical support can minimize these issues through applying techniques that can reduce or even eliminate some of the more troublesome symptoms and cravings.
Often, people will try to apply some medical techniques themselves, without guidance from experienced addiction treatment professionals. One of these touted “home remedies” involves the use of antidepressant medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. While antidepressants are sometimes used in professional treatment, people who are struggling with substance abuse should be cautious about trying these techniques on their own.
Antidepressants and Detox
Antidepressants can help individuals who are going through detox manage specific withdrawal symptoms. In particular, as described in an article from the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, these medications are seen as being particularly helpful for dealing with detox from nicotine (tobacco smoking) or from benzodiazepines (prescription anti-anxiety medications). However, there has been a great deal of interest in also using these medicines to help with stimulant withdrawal because their action would seem to be helpful in avoiding the depression that occurs upon stopping stimulant use.
Antidepressants work to counter some withdrawal symptoms because of the way addictive drugs affect the brain to begin with. Based on the definition from the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a brain disorder thought to result from a complex series of actions on various neurochemical processes, such as the dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine pathways.
Antidepressants also affect these chemical pathways in the brain, helping to ease some of the difficulties that result when the drug of abuse is removed and these mental processes have to return to proper function. The theory behind using antidepressants to treat withdrawal symptoms appears sound, based on the above concepts. Nevertheless, research is needed to confirm whether the idea bears out. So far, this research has had mixed results.
On the one hand, there are antidepressants that appear to work, such as bupropion, which is an antidepressant used to help people withdraw from nicotine addiction. The International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease discusses multiple studies showing that approximately one in five people who use bupropion to help diminish cravings and withdrawal symptoms is able to stay abstinent from smoking for at least one year.
Bupropion has also demonstrated some success in helping to alleviate depression associated with detox from cocaine and amphetamines, according to an article in Current Psychiatry. However, more research needs to be done in this area.
On the other hand, a recent study from the Irish Journal of Medical Science shows that there was no difference in rates of hospital readmission for alcohol withdrawal syndrome among individuals without depression, those with depression who were using antidepressants, and those with depression who were not using antidepressants. This indicates that antidepressants may not have any effect on the withdrawal syndrome for alcohol abuse. Whether or not research proves antidepressants to be helpful in managing detox and withdrawal, there are some risks to using them that should be considered.
Risks of Detox with Antidepressants
There are a number of reasons to take care in using antidepressants to ease the discomforts of detox from drugs. One major reason is that antidepressants have some degree of addiction potential. This could result in simply exchanging one addiction for another, particularly if dosages are too high, or the medicines are taken for too long after detox is over. For this reason, it is helpful to have the plan for detox developed and supervised by a treatment professional.
In addition, antidepressants can have unpleasant side effects or other risks that may derail the withdrawal process, leading to relapse into drug use. For example, the Current Psychiatry article demonstrates that, while bupropion might help with cocaine withdrawal, initiating its use too early or too late in the treatment process can actually increase the chances that the individual will be triggered to relapse to cocaine use.
Help for Getting Through Detox
To decrease the potential for either continued drug abuse or a shift of addiction to the antidepressant, it is most helpful to undertake treatment through a program with professionals who are experienced in providing medical detox. This can significantly decrease the chances that the individual will experience adverse symptoms or relapse to drug abuse.
Professional treatment programs that are based on the most up-to-date research have the resources to minimize the discomforts of detox and help the individual stick to treatment, gain the tools needed to maintain recovery, and move into the future with confidence in their ability to stay abstinent from the drug of abuse.