Drug and Alcohol Detox Medications November 14th, 2019 The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake
Blog & News Drug and Alcohol Detox Medications

Drug and Alcohol Detox Medications

During the detox process, the body rids itself of remaining traces of abused substances. This is also the time when withdrawal symptoms (both mild and severe) can occur— including cravings, pain, tremors, trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, and even life-threatening risks.

Medically managed detox uses medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and treat addiction to ensure a detox that is safe and more comfortable for the addict. Learn about the drugs used in detox and how they can assist in successful recovery below.

Alcohol Detox Medications

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is the term for the collected symptoms that present themselves during alcohol detox and subsequent treatment. These symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be particularly strong and in severe cases present life-threatening risks.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Shaky Hands.
  • Nausea or Vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Irritability or mood changes.
  • Seizures.
  • Hallucinations.

To mitigate these symptoms and risks, alcohol withdrawal medications are often included as a part of detox and the subsequent recovery.


The most common type of medication used during alcohol detoxification is benzodiazepines. This class of drugs can help manage several symptoms, and are sometimes effective in reducing instances of tremors or seizures. Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:

  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium).
  • Diazepam (Valium).
  • Oxazepam.
  • Lorazepam (Ativan).

The specific medication prescribed during detox will depend on the patient’s needs. Considerations include:

  • Duration of effects.
  • Effectiveness in seizure management.
  • Risk for liver damage.
  • Interaction with alcohol.

Benzodiazepines also carry their own risk for dependence so they must be carefully administered during the detox process. Typically, they are used for shorter courses of treatment to manage the most severe initial symptoms.


While benzodiazepines are often sufficient for addressing seizure-related symptoms, sometimes a specific anticonvulsant medication is required. Clonazepam, also known by the brand name Klonopin, is an example of a medication that may be used to treat seizures related to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Drug Detox Medications

The symptoms and risks of drug detox can vary significantly depending a number of factors:

  • Class of drug used.
  • Formulation of the drug.
  • Length and severity of use.
  • Combination with other drugs or alcohol.
  • Individual health and physiology.

While there are numerous medications used to treat the wide range of potential symptoms during drug detox, here are some of the more common examples:

Opiate Detox Medications

Opiates carry some of the highest risks for dependence and subsequent withdrawal. In addition to illicit opiates such as heroin, prescription opiate abuse has skyrocketed in recent decades. According to IMS Health, prescriptions for opioids (such as hydrocodone and oxycodone products) have increased from 76 million in 1991 to over 200 million in 2013.

Here are some common medications to treat symptoms during and after detox:


Methadone is used as part of opioid replacement therapy, in which more dangerous opioids are replaced with methadone. Methadone use is then gradually tapered off over time. As with any opioid, methadone carries its own risks for dependence.


Similar to methadone, buprenorphine is generally considered a safer alternative due to a lower risk for dependence and abuse.


As an opioid antagonist, Naltrexone drug blocks the effect of opioids in the brain. By effectively blocking the opioid “high” it can help break physical and behavioral abuse patterns.

Stimulant Detox Medication

Stimulants are the family of drugs that includes amphetamines, cocaine, and Adderall. Similar to other forms of detox, benzodiazepines are often used for the short-term management of withdrawal symptoms.

Additionally, depression is a common side effect of stimulant withdrawal during and following detox. As such, antidepressants are a common part of treatment. Antidepressants being used or studied as part of treatment include:

  • Desipramine.
  • Bupropion.
  • Paxil.
  • Modafinil.
  • Mirtazapine.

Benzodiazepine Detox Medications

Although they are commonly used in treating withdrawal symptoms, benzodiazepines carry their own risk for dependence. Stopping benzodiazepine-use cold turkey can cause severe and occasionally fatal, side effects. For this reason, detox from benzodiazepines involves a gradual weaning off of the drug over time.

However, research has shown a potential for effectiveness of the drug flumazenil in managing benzodiazepine withdrawal. While primarily used to treat benzodiazepines overdoses, it has shown some success in curbing withdrawal symptoms. It does so by partially recreating the effects of benzodiazepines on the brain while blocking the benzodiazepines from affecting the brain.

Other Uses

In addition to drugs used to manage specific withdrawal symptoms, medication may be prescribed to treat specific symptoms or secondary health risks. Side effect risks of detox that might require medical management include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety, depression or other mood disorders.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Confusion, racing thoughts or cognitive issues.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Heart attack.
  • Stroke.

There is evidence that other medications, such as beta-blockers, may be effective in reducing cravings during detox and subsequent recovery.

Can Detox Medication Help You?

Medically managed detox from alcohol and drugs can help ensure the safest and most comfortable possible beginning to recovery. If you are struggling with substance dependence or withdrawal, you don’t need to go it alone. Reach out today and see how our professional medical staff can help you or your loved one.


NIH. “What are the treatments for heroin addiction?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. November 2014. Accessed 20 July 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-treatments-heroin-addiction

NIH. “Drugs of Abuse: Alcohol” National Institute on Drug Abuse. November 2014. Accessed 20 July 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/alcohol

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.