Medications Used in Drug and Alcohol Detox

Last Updated: September 25, 2023

Medications for drug and alcohol detox can sometimes help reduce the uncomfortable side effects associated with withdrawal.

When you undergo drug and alcohol detox alone, you can sometimes face overwhelming withdrawal symptoms as your body struggles to adjust to life without the substance. Fortunately, treatment is available. Many medications exist to ease withdrawal, reducing or eliminating symptoms as your body heals from substance use.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

When you become physically dependent on a substance, your brain and body adapt to its presence. If you suddenly stop taking the substance, your body needs to cope with the unexpected absence of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms can differ widely based on the substance you have taken. Some common drugs that cause withdrawal and associated symptoms include:

  • Alcohol
    • Tremor 
    • Hallucinations
    • Seizures
    • Fast breathing 
    • Rapid heart rate
    • High blood pressure
    • Body temperature changes
    • Sweating
  • Benzodiazepines and barbiturates
    • Similar symptoms to alcohol withdrawal, but often milder
    • Psychosis
    • Seizures 
    • Rhabdomyolysis (a serious, sometimes fatal medical condition where damaged muscle releases a harmful protein into the blood)
  • Opioids
    • Yawning
    • Sneezing
    • Runny nose
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Enlarged pupils
  • Stimulants
    • Depression
    • Excessive sleep
    • Hunger
    • Mood changes
    • Slowed mental and physical activity

How Medications Can Help With Drug and Alcohol Detox

Medications can help with drug and alcohol detox in a few different ways. Depending on the underlying addiction and the drug used to treat it, medications can help ease withdrawal and detox. Specifically, when prescribed as medically appropriate, medications can:

  • Ease withdrawal symptoms during detox
  • Make it easier to focus on your recovery
  • Prevent relapse and overdose
  • Keep you enrolled in treatment programs
  • Decrease illegal drug use and behavior
  • Increase your ability to hold down a job
  • In the case of pregnant women, improve safety for the baby

Common Medications Used for Drug and Alcohol Detox

Many medications are prescribed to treat drug and alcohol detox as part of a comprehensive recovery plan. The choice of medication depends on the substance you struggle with and your medical history. Your addiction team can help select the best medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for you.


Acamprosate (Campral) is a medication to treat alcohol addiction. The drug alters some of the changes in your brain that may otherwise make you start drinking again. Acamprosate is prescribed when a person has completed detox and needs help staying sober. A person is around 14% less likely to drink if they take acamprosate. 


Depression is common among people who struggle with substances, with around 44% of those struggling with drugs and alcohol also reporting a history of depression. In addition, depression can occur as a side effect during detox, especially during withdrawal from stimulants.

In some cases, your medical team may decide to prescribe an antidepressant to treat your low mood. Many different types and classes of antidepressants exist, and doctors will sometimes choose antidepressants to harness some of their helpful side effects. For example, some antidepressants, like fluoxetine (Prozac), can help you wake up; others, like mirtazapine (Remeron), can help you sleep. Depending on your particular needs, your doctor can help to choose an antidepressant that best suits your situation.


Anticonvulsants are occasionally used to treat seizures in those undergoing withdrawal who experience or are at high risk for seizures. Substances that can cause seizures during the withdrawal include alcohol, benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

Although benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium) are generally a first-line treatment for seizures from alcohol withdrawal, anticonvulsants like phenobarbital, gabapentin or carbamazepine can be used if needed. These medications can be used alongside benzodiazepines or in place of them if needed.


Benzodiazepines are widely considered first-line therapy for people experiencing alcohol withdrawal who have or are at high risk of seizures. Most frequently, diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and chlordiazepoxide (previously sold under the name Librium) are prescribed.

Benzodiazepines are also sometimes prescribed for those in withdrawal experiencing other symptoms. When used in these situations, the World Health Organization recommends temazepam (Restoril) for insomnia and diazepam (Valium) for anxiety, agitation and restlessness. 


Buprenorphine, alone or combined with naloxone, is a first-line treatment for opioid use disorder. The medication works by partially activating opioid receptors in your brain, blocking the effects of opioids and reducing your risk of withdrawal symptoms, cravings and overdose. Although the medication is available on its own, it’s most often prescribed combined with naloxone to prevent abuse. Buprenorphine comes as a short-acting oral drug and a long-acting injectable.


Naltrexone (Vivitrol) is prescribed for opioid and alcohol use disorders. The drug is a long-acting opioid blocker and can trigger opioid withdrawal symptoms in anyone who has recently taken opioids. For this reason, you can only take naltrexone if you haven’t had opioids or alcohol for at least 7–10 days. Naltrexone comes in short-acting oral and long-acting injectable forms. When prescribed for opioid use disorder, naltrexone helps prevent relapse. When prescribed for alcohol use disorder, naltrexone helps prevent relapse, reduces total drinking days and blocks cravings.


Methadone is a first-line treatment for opioid use disorder. As a full opioid agonist, it works by fully activating your brain’s opioid receptors and blocking other opioids from having an effect. Methadone can decrease your risk of withdrawal symptoms, cravings and overdose. It is an oral medication that must be taken every day.

How Effective Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combines psychosocial interventions and rehab and has been most extensively studied in opioid use disorder. When used for OUD, MAT is more effective at helping overcome addiction than either medication or rehab alone. Studies show that MAT decreases relapse and overdose risk, improves physical and mental health and reduces symptoms. 

Detox at Orlando Recovery Center

At Orlando Recovery Center, we have helped more than 45,000 patients on their journey to recovery. Our medical detox program offers 14 detox beds and medication-assisted treatment options as medically appropriate. During the typical six to nine days of medical detox, you will slowly be weaned from substances as your body adjusts. We offer a full continuum of care, with our detox program dovetailing into inpatient and outpatient rehab options to help you continue your recovery. Don’t wait: contact a Recovery Advocate today to learn more.

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When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

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