Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is highly effective at treating addictions to certain substances of abuse. It is most commonly used to treat addiction to opioids and alcohol.
While the primary focus is on medication, MAT is a comprehensive addiction treatment program. It also involves therapy and other lifestyle changes.
Who Might Consider MAT?
People struggling with alcohol or opioid addiction may benefit most from MAT.
The medications used do reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms; in many cases, they eliminate withdrawal symptoms altogether.
They also significantly lessen the intensity of cravings, helping people to effectively manage the detox process and focus on therapy. Since cravings are controlled, MAT reduces the risk of drug-seeking behavior, alleviating the likelihood of experiencing a relapse.
People can take advantage of several medication choices when they use MAT. Because of this, treatment professionals will tailor the client’s medication regimen to meet their unique needs.
Why Choose Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment takes a whole-person approach to treating addiction. People undergoing MAT receive a combination of behavioral therapy, counseling, and medications to aid them in working toward recovery.
This treatment works to essentially bridge the behavioral and biological elements of addiction. The research shows that combining behavioral therapies and medications can help to sustain recovery and successfully treat substance use disorders.
This treatment is one that people can use for the long term. Undergoing MAT for one to two years appears to have the best success rate.
It contributes to a higher level of functioning, a better quality of life, and an improved ability to manage stress. MAT can also reduce mortality rates in those new to recovery, particularly since it reduces the likelihood of overdose.
When someone relapses after detox, their tolerance is generally lower. If they take the same dose they took before detox, their risk of overdose is higher. This can result in a fatal overdose. Since MAT lowers the risk of relapse, it also decreases the risk of experiencing a fatal overdose.
Like all treatments, MAT will not be equally effective for everyone. The evidence shows that MAT is a viable option for many people with an addiction to opioids and alcohol.
Does MAT Trade One Drug for Another?
It is a common misconception that MAT trades one drug for another. The medication is used to manage withdrawal and recovery, and people don’t experience a high from it.
For example, if someone is using MAT for opioid addiction, they may receive an opioid like methadone to help them recover from their addiction to heroin. In these cases, doctors view methadone as a way to help the person to live normally again as they focus on therapy.
Over time, the dose of methadone will ideally be reduced until they are no longer taking any medication. At this point, they will have a firm footing in recovery and better tools to manage triggers to use.
Does MAT Have a High Level of Success?
Yes, MAT has been shown to be very effective in managing opioid and alcohol addiction.
Medication is not enough on its own. MAT involves the use of a comprehensive treatment program that involves therapy — the core of addiction treatment.
Use of MAT has been shown to:
- Increase participation in treatment
- Increase one’s ability to get a job and maintain it
- Improve survival rates
- Reduce the use of illicit opioids and other criminal activity
- Improve birth outcomes among women who are pregnant and have an addiction
One review looked at several studies that used methadone as maintenance therapy for those who were dependent on heroin. The authors of the review concluded that the people who received methadone had a better outcome compared to those who did not receive any replacement medication.
Some research shows that this type of treatment reduces illicit opioid use and makes a person more likely to stay in treatment compared to treatment methods that do not use medications. It may also help to reduce infectious disease transmission among intravenous drug users since these medications may decrease risky behaviors.
MAT’s value is acknowledged by some of the biggest public health organizations, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.
Researchers examined deaths due to heroin overdose from 1995 to 2009 in Baltimore. They found a correlation between MAT being increasingly available and about a 50 percent reduction in death due to heroin overdose.
What Medications Are Used?
MAT may be used for alcohol use disorder or opioid use disorder. The drugs used for each of these disorders help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms once someone no longer uses the substance of abuse.
For alcohol use disorder, people may take acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.
- Acamprosate is used to help people in recovery avoid drinking alcohol. This drug does not work to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. It essentially helps the brain to function normally again without alcohol.
- Disulfiram is used to treat people with chronic alcoholism. If someone drinks alcohol when they take this medication, they will experience unpleasant side effects, such as a headache, chest pains, nausea, vomiting, and trouble breathing. Even a very small amount of alcohol can cause these effects to occur. This acts as a deterrent to drinking.
- Naltrexone is also used to treat alcohol use disorder. It blocks the euphoria people experience when they consume alcohol. This may help people to reduce their risk of relapse, stay in treatment, and take all necessary medications.
There are three primary medications that people use when they are in recovery from opioid use disorder: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
- Methadone is one of the most common options to treat opioid use disorder. It essentially tricks the brain into thinking the person is still using the drug of abuse so that they don’t go into withdrawal. This helps to lessen withdrawal effects. Methadone is most commonly used to treat heroin addiction.
- Buprenorphine is another drug that is used for opioid use disorder. This medication helps to reduce cravings for opioids and lessen withdrawal symptoms. It is available in a combination medication with naloxone to reduce the possibility of abuse, and it offers more flexibility in prescribing practices than methadone.
- Naltrexone blocks the sedative and euphoric effects that people aim for with opioid abuse. When someone is not getting the feelings of euphoria they want, they are less likely to relapse.
If you are interested in using medication-assisted treatment, consult with a facility that has this capability. Not all treatment programs offer MAT.
At an intake interview, you’ll discuss your situation with a treatment professional who can help you determine if MAT is right for your situation.