Medications Used in Prescription Drug Detox

In many cases, individuals going through prescription drug detox may attempt to do so at home or without the help of medications and the assistance of healthcare professionals. However, this is not often a beneficial option, as it can result in unnecessary pain, discomfort, and a high chance of relapse. It is much safer to attend a professional detox program or go through withdrawal with the help of your personal physician and prescribed medications. Below is a breakdown of the different medications commonly used in prescription drug detox.

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Why are Medications Used in Prescription Drug Detox?

Prescription Drug Detox

Medications may be used to help you through detoxification.

Some individuals who need to go through detox do so because they are merely dependent on a prescription drug without having abused it, but many others who start their treatment off with detox have been abusing these substances and, therefore, need addiction treatment as well as detox. In either case, medications are an important part of the detox process.

The use of medications is often very important during this process, specifically because it minimizes any pain or discomfort experienced by the individual during withdrawal. It also helps treat other withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced during the process. Using medications reduces the chance of relapse because the individual going through the process will be dealing with fewer negative symptoms (or less intense symptoms). According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Detoxification seeks to minimize the physical harm caused by the abuse of substances,” and medication helps with this task. Otherwise, patients may struggle with a number of needlessly uncomfortable, painful, and damaging symptoms that could otherwise be prevented or reduced with the use of medication.

Are the Same Medications Used for Each Prescription Drug Detox Process?

Different prescription medications cause different withdrawal syndromes so one medication is not going to treat each and every syndrome effectively. Even among different individuals who have become dependent on the same type of drug, different medications may be used, as one treatment type is not effective for every person.

Below is a list of the different medications and the prescription drug detox syndromes they are used to treat.


Clonidine is most often used to treat withdrawal symptoms associated with prescription opioid detox. According to the National Library of Medicine, clonidine “primarily reduces anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, and cramping.” Clonidine is not an effective treatment for opioid cravings.


Methadone is also used to treat withdrawal symptoms associated with prescription opioid detox. When methadone is used in this process, it is usually most beneficial to individuals who require a long detox period or who need to be maintained on the drug in order to avoid abusing opioids.


Buprenorphine is also used to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. It can be used either as a maintenance drug or as a short-term medication. Often, buprenorphine is paired with naloxone to help minimize the possibility for abuse.

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Prescription Sedatives

For someone who has become dependent on prescription sedatives, it is important that these same drugs (or similar CNS depressants) are used during withdrawal and tapered off slowly as the individual’s dependence on the drug begins to lessen. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Withdrawal symptoms from these drugs can be problematic, and––in the case of certain CNS depressants––potentially life-threatening.” Because of this, patients must be slowly tapered off the drug in a dwindling dosage amount during their overall withdrawal process. Prescription sedatives that may be used this way include: benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Halicon) barbiturates (Nembutal, Luminal), and sleep medications (Lunesta, Sonata, Ambien).

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants are often used in much the same way that prescription sedatives are during detox. The NIDA states, “Depending on the patient’s situation, the first steps in treating prescription stimulant addiction may be to taper the drug dosage and attempt to ease withdrawal symptoms.” This is also done when a person is merely dependent on one or more prescription stimulant drugs. Drugs like Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin, and Benzedrine may be tapered this way during prescription drug detox. However, some individuals may need a number of other medications to help ensure their safety and that their withdrawal symptoms are minimized as much as possible, especially any dangerous symptoms.

Antipsychotic medications

Some people who become addicted to prescription stimulants experience a type of drug-induced psychosis, especially before and during their detox period, and may need to be treated with antipsychotic medications. Medications such as “chlorpromazine, haloperidol, and thioridazine, are effective for the treatment of amphetamine psychosis,” as stated by The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Anticraving agents

Sometimes, these medications are necessary during the detox process for prescription stimulant withdrawal. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states, “Anticraving agents with a fast onset of action may be helpful during the early withdrawal period,” but this is not always a necessity.

These are the main medication used in prescription drug detox. While some are particularly suited for different syndromes, there is no guarantee that any one medication will work for a certain individual. For this reason, it is important that there are a number of medications that all work differently in order to help many individuals through the process of prescription drug detox.

Sometimes, the medication that the person has become addicted to and/or dependent on itself is used during detox and tapered off slowly so the individual can get used to the feeling of being without the drug. This is a common practice, especially in syndromes like prescription stimulant detox and prescription sedative detox.

Can Medications Used in Prescription Drug Detox Be Dangerous?

In some instances, the medications used in these processes can be habit-forming or cause dependency issues of their own. However, they can help individuals slowly withdraw from their dependence on the prescription drug, making them very often necessary to a person’s overall recovery. For these reasons, it is important for you to consult with a doctor during your detox period, even if you have decided to taper off the drug itself. Once you have made a plan with your doctor, make sure to stick to it and, if you are addicted to the substance as well, make sure you seek addiction treatment after your detox process is over.

To find detox centers that offer these medications, call our helpline at 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) or search through our treatment directory


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2009). Appendix C- Excerpts From Quick Guide for Clinicians Based on Tip 45, Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). How Can Prescription Drug Addiction Be Treated?
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treating Addiction to Prescription Stimulants. 
  5. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (2001). Treatment for Amphetamine Psychosis.
  6. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Adapted or excerpted from: The Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, second edition. Editors: Marc Galanter, MD and Herbert D Kleber, MD. (n.d.). Treatment of Acute Intoxication and Withdrawal from Drugs of Abuse.
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