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Overcoming addiction involves making major lifestyle changes that are only possible if the person concerned decides to undergo this process. Current treatments mean that this process of personal change can be undertaken more safely and in a better way.
There are three main treatment goals:
to improve the physical, psychological, and social complications generated by the addiction;
to learn, or relearn, how to live a normal life without using the drug; and
to acquire useful strategies to prevent relapse.
To achieve these goals both pharmacological and psychological treatments are available.
Psychological treatments can be either individual or for families and groups. These treatments are aimed at empowering the patient through a motivational approach and are, generally, very useful for acquiring skills to avoid possible relapse, as well as learning how to deal with everyday circumstances without the use of psychoactive substances. They also allow the patient to progressively understand and accept the illness they have, helping them develop a better attitude towards the addiction. For this last aspect, group treatments are particularly important.
Pharmacological treatments are very diverse and also have varied objectives. Several families of drugs are used to treat addictions.
Agonist drugs are used to replace the consumed drugs. This method can be employed for a short period of time to facilitate so-called detoxification (for example, with tranquilisers for alcohol detoxification). They may also be used for a longer period of time, through what are known as maintenance programmes (the best known are methadone maintenance programmes).
Antagonist drugs. These, on the other hand, block the effects of the drugs and prevent their effects manifesting, as is the case of naltrexone, which blocks opioid action.
Anticraving and antipriming drugs. In the field of alcohol, drugs have been developed that reduce the desire to consume (the 'anticraving' effect), like acamprosate; and there are also molecules that reduce the tendency to consume a substance without control (the 'antipriming' effect), such as nalmefene.
Psychopharmaceuticals. It is important to note that drug use is very often associated with psychological disorders and, therefore, it is very common that the patient has to take psychopharmaceuticals during the recovery process, especially antidepressants.
In any case, it should be borne in mind that the treatment basis is psychological and that the drugs comprise an effective complement.