Now that we have put one-fifth of the twenty-first century behind us, what does the future have in store for addiction treatment?
While there have been many advances in the past 20-30 years in modern medical addiction treatment, many individuals and institutions are stuck nearly 100 years in the past. We have seen major pharmaceutical breakthroughs, including the approval of naltrexone in the 90s, sublingual buprenorphine in the early 2000s, and even long-acting subcutaneous buprenorphine treatment.
Alcohol addiction and opioid addiction have benefited the most from these modern pharmaceutical advances. We have yet to see similar breakthroughs for the treatment of stimulant addiction, including addiction to cocaine and methamphetamine.
However, just recently, there is news that naltrexone, an opioid receptor blocker, may help to break these addictions as well. Naltrexone has already been proven to be useful in treating alcohol addiction, opioid addiction, and even food addiction.
One issue that we are confronted with is that we have a collection of effective tools, yet they are not being implemented in the best way to provide relief to the people who need it most. The problem is that there is still too much resistance, distrust, and lack of public support for medication-assisted treatments that have been around now for decades and are proven effective and relatively safe.
The solution to improving addiction treatment is to use more of what we already have.
Suboxone, or to put in generic terms, buprenorphine/naloxone, is a miraculous response to the opioid epidemic. It works incredibly well when it is made available to people who are addicted to opioids. It is least effective when it is not available, or it is provided for too short a time in medical detox facilities.
Suboxone is also not effective when patients are pressured by society, friends, family, and even medical professionals, to stop taking it or not to start in the first place. The mixed messages put out that confuse the issue of medication-assisted treatment are life-threatening.
Even well-meaning doctors start to doubt if they are doing the right thing. However, a doctor who sees the response in many patients over time when they are provided Suboxone therapy will come to the conclusion that they are, without a doubt, helping their patients to achieve success in recovery.
In addition to MAT, including naltrexone for alcoholism and naltrexone or buprenorphine for opioid addiction, there are many other ways to help and save lives. Harm reduction is another revolutionary concept that is pushing away the old and dangerous idea of “tough love.”
Life-saving Narcan, or naloxone, is being made more and more available to the people who need it most, to ensure that more opioid overdoses can be reversed. In some parts of the world, monitored drug use is acceptable to provide a safe environment for people who are not ready yet to quit. Harm reduction is proven to prevent disease, injury, and death.
Are there future advances in addiction therapy that are not yet available?
Interestingly, there are new and promising new therapeutic options for addiction treatment on the horizon. There are pharmaceuticals being developed that range from genetically targeted therapies to advanced psychedelic treatments.
Already available in many states, medical cannabis is proving to be helpful in some situations. While medical marijuana is not safe or effective for treating many conditions, it is helpful in some circumstances. Further study and clinical experience is needed to evaluate the usefulness of cannabis in helping to treat certain types of addiction.
For example, medical marijuana may be useful for some patients in the tapering process of discontinuing an opioid or opioid treatment, such as Suboxone. It may also help with chronic pain for patients who choose to discontinue opioids as part of their pain management regimen.
Ketamine is an anesthetic drug that is legal and is already being used to treat chronic pain, depression, and it may be useful in treating certain types of addiction. While ketamine does have some abuse potential, with proper medical supervision, it is a useful pharmaceutical that may be beneficial.
What about psychedelics?
Psilocybin is a drug that has a long history in American and world culture. It is derived from a naturally occurring mushroom. Psilocybin is a psychedelic drug that causes hallucinations and provides a different perspective for a person to evaluate their life.
This hallucinogenic drug is not currently legal, but it has been decriminalized in some regions of the US. It is also being intensely studied for its use in treating multiple psychiatric conditions, including addiction.
Many experts are hopeful that this novel treatment for addiction may prove to be highly successful in difficult cases. It may reduce the need for treatments such as Suboxone, or it may be useful in the tapering process for patients who are completing a Suboxone regimen.
What about technological innovations?
A current trend in treating addictions, from food addiction to drug addictions is to provide therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, wrapped in a phone app or online service. There are even apps that have been authorized for medical use by the FDA.
Widespread effectiveness of these technological innovations has yet to be seen. However, the use of smart phones and connected wearables, such as smart watches, in treating addiction may have huge untapped potential.
There is also the use of sound and light devices and electrical stimulation treatments for psychiatric conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and addiction, and other conditions, including attention deficit disorder and ADHD.
Binaural beats therapy, using simple stereo audio to induce relaxed and synchronized brain states, has been around since the 19th century. Only recently have scientific studies been performed to establish the effectiveness of this safe and affordable treatment that can be provided with a smart phone, earbuds, and an internet connection.
Biofeedback therapy, using computer-aided feedback to brainwave states to assist patients in altering their state of mind, has been studied for decades and is also effective. With improved brainwave monitoring devices, biofeedback may become widely available to the public via smart devices and wearables.
How can a patient today benefit from addiction treatments of the future?
As stated earlier, the best bet for improving addiction treatment in the near future involves making what we already have more widely available. If you are currently struggling with alcohol or opioid addiction, the best next step is to see your doctor.
There are already effective treatments available for these conditions. The main limitations that we have to prevent more people from gaining access is the unfortunate social stigma associated with addiction and modern treatments for addiction.
Be assured that seeing a doctor for FDA approved medical therapy for addiction is the best way to go about starting off your plans for overcoming your addiction. By understanding that currently approved medication-assisted therapies are effective and available now will help you to make the best use of modern, 21st century advances in addiction treatment.