Treating Addiction with Medication

December 21, 2017
Anna Jankowska, LCPC

By Anna Jankowska, MA, CEAP, SAP, LCPC

Anna Jankowska is a mental health, addiction, and substance abuse counselor with over 17 years of experience and has specialized training and skill in working with individuals, groups and communities to improve mental health outcomes. NPI number: 1598843526

By CCI Team

The process of treating addiction is not easy, and while psychotherapy is an important part of the process in order to explore the roots of the issue, medication is also often involved. Science Daily recently posted a release regarding the Washington State University study on the effects of marijuana use on treatment of opioid addiction.

The study’s primary purpose was to see whether the use of cannabis use affects the relationship between pain, depression and anxiety.  The findings showed that frequent marijuana use actually appeared to strengthen the relationship between pain and depression and anxiety rather than ease it.  The study, conducted by the College of Nursing consisted of 150 patients being treated at the opioid clinic, 67% of whom had indicated they had used marijuana in the past month.  While some were recreational users, others used it for self-medicating purposes in order to assist with pain sleep and mood. The study noted that opioid overdose rates have more than tripled in the past two decades and are now the second-leading cause of accidental death in the United States.  Meanwhile patients believe that using marijuana can help them with their symptoms.  Ultimately, the results have been mixed, and additional research is necessary (Washington State University, 2017).

This is an interesting piece because when considering substance abuse treatment, medication is sometimes part of the treatment process.  The National Institute notes the following amongst the Principles of Effective Treatment regarding use of medication, based on research since the mid-1970’s:

  • Medications are often an important part of treatment, especially when combined with behavioral therapies.
  • Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of treatment.
  • Treatment doesn't need to be voluntary to be effective.
  • Drug use during treatment must be monitored continuously.

Medication can be useful when used in treating withdrawal symptoms, preventing relapse and treating co-occurring conditions.  (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2016).

Something that may not be of utmost consideration when medication becomes involved in the treatment process is the topic of cross addiction. According to American Addiction Centers, cross addition is a situation in which if someone has developed a severe substance use disorder, that they are at a higher risk to develop a substance use disorder to another substance.  It appears that information on the subject is largely based on case studies, which are helpful in understanding the situation, but is lacking for empirical evidence purposes.  For purposes of treatment, it is still something of which individuals should be made aware (American Addiction Centers, 2017).

Not all treatment using medications will result in cross addiction, and cross addiction may not only be to another substance.  A substance may also be replaced by a behavior.  Ultimately, it is important to consider: what constitutes as effective treatment will vary from person to person.  It is also worth noting that whenever there is medication involved to consider the potential side effects as well as whether the treatment is right for you.  Most important, if addiction is something you are struggling with it is important to know that help is available, and you do not need to struggle through it alone.  Please consider reaching out to your physician for further assistance.


American Addiction Centers. (2017).  Exploring cross-addiction. Retrieved from:

National Institute of Drug Abuse. (2016, July). Treatment approaches for drug addiction. Retrieved from:

Washington State University. (2017, December 4). Marijuana use may not aid patients in opioid addiction treatment: Symptoms harder to manage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from

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