Is Drugging a Person Who has a Drug Problem the Right Solution?

woman holding a pill in her hand

You’re probably familiar with the legend of the “silver bullet.” In some stories, a silver bullet can kill werewolves but in popular culture, it’s a magical and instantaneous solution for a complicated problem. Addiction is definitely a complicated problem. Will a silver bullet ever be found for addiction?

One thing is for sure: Enough money has been spent on studies to try to find one. These silver bullets have taken the form of other drugs to be used in the treatment of addiction. The list of these possible silver bullets is pretty long. Here some that have been tried out over the last 150 years or so.

LSD for alcoholism:

Someone brings up the idea every few years of giving volunteers LSD and then seeing if they reduce or quit drinking. In one large Norwegian study, any improvements in alcohol consumption wore off before a year was up. The National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the effects of LSD “drug-induced psychosis” which definitely casts doubt on the safety of this drug as a treatment for any health condition.

MDMA (Ecstasy) for addiction:

An article published in a scientific journal in 2013 recommended trials for MDMA in addiction recovery but noted that no studies had been done yet.

Ibogaine for addiction:

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies announced a study of the use of ibogaine for addiction treatment to be run in Mexico and New Zealand. They also noted that the death rate from use of ibogaine is about one in 300.

Ayahuasca for addiction:

Some people fly to South America for a ceremony that includes the use of this drug. It made headlines in 2015 when two friends attacked each other with a knife while they were high on the drug. One of them died from stab wounds.

Cannabis for opioid addiction:

In Massachusetts, two doctors have been testing the use of marijuana as they tapered people off opioids they were addicted to. One doctor involved in the study noted the drawback of this approach: “If you don’t have a way of monitoring this patient who is saying ‘give me marijuana and I will stop taking narcotics,’ they may do both.”

Opium for alcoholism:

In the late 1800s, opium mixtures were promoted as a cure for alcoholism. Certainly, some people who switch their addiction to opium would lose interest in alcohol. Because addictive drugs were not yet controlled in the U.S. at this time, this cure could be sold right from the back of the wagon that rolled into town.

Topiramate for cannabis addiction:

Topiramate is a medication used to control seizures. It has some unpleasant and significant side effects, like severe back or abdominal pain, bloody urine and suicidal thoughts. Fewer than half the subjects in one trial completed the course of treatment and abstinence rates were not improved.

Antabuse for alcoholism:

This treatment has been around for a long time. This drug, also known as disulfiram, makes a person feel very sick if he drinks. Unfortunately, these effects can also kick in when a person uses perfume, mouthwash, aftershave and hair coloring products, among others. It has been known to cause liver failure and death. And a person who wants to drink only needs to skip his pills for a while until he no longer gets sick during alcohol consumption.

Opioids for opioid addiction:

There’s actually been a long history of opioids being used to treat addiction to other opioids. Heroin was once promoted as a “safe, non-addictive” remedy for the widespread morphine addiction suffered by Civil War soldiers after the war ended. (Cocaine was also recommended as a remedy for morphine addiction, most famously by Sigmund Freud.)

Methadone began to be given to heroin addicts in New York City after tests in 1964 showed that they lost their cravings for heroin when given methadone. But methadone is simply another opioid, is itself addictive and takes far longer to leave the body than other opioids. A person may suffer withdrawal symptoms for a week if they are addicted to heroin, but that withdrawal may go on for a month or more when a person has been using methadone. This long-lasting characteristic also makes it easy for a person to overdose if doses are too close together.

graph of methadone overdoses

As more people began to be given methadone for pain as well as addiction treatment, overdoses began to climb. In 2009, a higher number of people died from the use of methadone than any opioid, when deaths were compared to the volume of drug distributed.

Methadone as an addiction treatment solution was followed by buprenorphine in the new millennium. Buprenorphine is another opioid painkiller that is addictive, abused by some addicts and sold on the black market. It is often mixed with naloxone, a drug that blocks the euphoric effects of the opioid. This means that a person does not get as high as they would if they used morphine, heroin or methadone. The buprenorphine-naloxone solution is brand-named Suboxone.

About this new treatment method, the New York Times stated: “Buprenorphine has become both medication and dope: a treatment with considerable successes and also failures, as well as a street and prison drug bedeviling local authorities. It has attracted unscrupulous doctors and caused more health complications and deaths than its advocates acknowledge.” A patient may be put on Suboxone in a health clinic that has no other business and he may never receive any other care or treatment that could help him eventually phase off Suboxone and achieve full sobriety. Some doctors plan to keep patients on Suboxone indefinitely – omitting completely any idea of helping the individual develop a sober mindset or construct new patterns of living and thinking that do not involve or require drugs.

Now you can see that repeatedly through history, addictive substances have been recommended as solutions to addiction to some other addictive substances. Helping a person recover full freedom from drugs has never been easy, but it has been the job of Narconon drug rehab centers for fifty years. Here at Narconon Ojai the entire focus is on developing an individual’s ability to create and enjoy a sober life, completely free from the need for alcohol, methadone, buprenorphine or any other addictive substance.

There is no “silver bullet” for recovery from addiction. No pill, shot or vaccine will cure addiction overnight. It takes plenty of caring, one-on-one work with each person who needs to recover his sobriety, and a program that can develop strong, new life skills in that individual.

We believe that it is possible to enjoy a 100% sober, productive life once again. Call us today if someone you care about needs help.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.