Medications Used for Drug and Alcohol Detox and Treatment

For some people, going through detoxication (or “detox”) from alcohol or drugs may result in withdrawal symptoms, which can occur when a substance is reduced or eliminated from the body.1 For people going through alcohol or drug detox, medications can be helpful.

Continue reading to learn more about what detox is, common withdrawal symptoms, what drugs are used to help detox, and the effectiveness of detox medications.

What Is Detox?

people wishing to quit abusing Xarelto should seek medical help versus quitting cold turkey

Detox is the process of removing toxins, such as alcohol or other drugs, from the body.1 The goal of detox is to reduce physical consequences related to substance use and minimize medical complications.1 When a person is in detox, medical professionals may use certain interventions to help manage symptoms associated with acute intoxication and/or withdrawal.1

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Different substances can produce varied withdrawal symptoms; however, some withdrawal symptoms are common across different types of drugs and alcohol withdrawal. Some common withdrawal symptoms include:1

  • Increased or decreased appetite.
  • Changes in mood such as increased anxiety, irritability, or depression.
  • Physical discomfort.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Sleep difficulties.
  • Restlessness.

The duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms are often associated with the amount and length of time a person misused the substance or substances.2 Although the symptoms in the above list are common withdrawal symptoms, not every person going through detox will have them.

Common Medications Used in Drug and Alcohol Detox

There are several prescription medications that medical professionals may administer to help eliminate a patient’s discomfort during detox. Generally, a person taking medications that can be habit-forming (such as benzodiazepines or buprenorphine) is closely monitored by a medical professional. There are a variety of detox medications available both narcotic and nonnarcotic.

There are benefits to including the appropriate medication in a patient’s overall treatment plan. For example, medical supervision and administration of certain medications can help reduce life-threatening medical complications that could arise and could be fatal if the person was left untreated.1


Acamprosate is a medication that is often used after a person has initiated detox to assist patients in maintaining abstinence from alcohol.3 Patients generally begin taking acamprosate around 5 days after their last use of alcohol.Since some individuals may not be fully completed with detox within a 5-day timespan, they may begin acamprosate while still in detox based on their provider’s recommendation.

Acamprosate appears to be more effective after a person has completed detox and is abstinent from alcohol before beginning treatment.3


Anticonvulsant drugs are prescribed to help prevent seizures. They can be a helpful component of alcohol detox by reducing alcohol withdrawal seizures.4 Anticonvulsant drugs can also help reduce cravings for alcohol.4

Some commonly prescribed anticonvulsants used in alcohol detox include:4

  • Carbamazepine.
  • Valproic acid.
  • Gabapentin.
  • Vigabatrin.


Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed by medical professionals to help manage a person’s anxiety symptoms. They also may be used to help manage the severity of alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.4 Benzodiazepines can help reduce alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal symptom severity, as well as the occurrence of seizures and delirium tremens, when administered promptly when a person is in or at risk of alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal.3,1

Some commonly used benzodiazepines for the treatment of alcohol or benzodiazepine detoxification include:4

  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide).
  • Valium (diazepam).
  • Ativan (lorazepam).
  • Oxazepam.


Methadone is often used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan in medically supervised withdrawal from opioids. It is approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder and can be used for a long duration, not just the withdrawal phase.5  Methadone works by decreasing cravings for opioids and lessens opioid withdrawal symptoms.5 It can also prevent people who are addicted to prescription pioids from using  illicit opioids such as heroin.5


Suboxone is a combination of an opioid agonist (meaning it activates opioid brain receptors) combined with an opioid antagonist (meaning it blocks or reverses the effects of opioids).5,6 Specifically, suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.5 This differs from Subutex in that it includes naloxone, a medication that is used to quickly reverse an opioid overdose.6  Suboxone is used in the treatment of opioid use disorder.5


Subutex, consisting of only buprenorphine, works by reducing symptoms of opioid withdrawal and cravings.5 Subutex can help block the euphoric effects people often experience when taking illicit opioids.5 Other benefits of Subutex include increased safety in opioid overdoses and decrease the risk for opioid misuse.7

How Effective Are Detox Medications?

Sick young woman wrapped in a blanket and sitting on her couch.

Detox medications are effective as a pharmacological intervention for drug and alcohol detox and may also help with withdrawal. For example, acamprosate can significantly reduce the likelihood of drinking and is associated with an increased duration of abstinence from alcohol.8 Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are effective in reducing symptoms related to opioid addiction and are associated with an increased likelihood of staying in substance use disorder treatment.9 Detox medication can be most effective when prescribed and administered by a medical professional.

Although detox medications can be helpful when someone discontinues alcohol or drugs, this is just the beginning. These medications work best as one component in a comprehensive treatment plan that also includes various types of evidence-based therapies.

Detox from Drug and Alcohol at Oxford Treatment Center

If you or a loved one has an addiction to drugs or alcohol and/or are interested in learning more about medications for drug detox, our team at Oxford Treatment Center is ready to help. Reach out to our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab center in Mississippi right now to learn more about addiction treatment admissions, payment options for addiction treatment, and insurance coverage for rehab.

You can take the first steps towards your recovery by verifying your insurance and filling out our secure

We've helped 1,000s Start Recovery
Oxford is located in Etta, Mississippi, which is easily accessible from Memphis. Nestled in the countryside, Oxford provides the support you need in a calm and beautiful setting. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near New Albany or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.