What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Addiction?
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For many years, treatment for addiction was supported by the belief that a person should abstain from all medications or substances, even prescription medications, which led to a lot of unnecessary suffering for people with other mental or physical health conditions. Then came an even more revolutionary idea: Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for addiction. This idea still seems counterintuitive to many but can help save lives from extremely addictive substances. What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for addiction?

Why Use Medication to Treat Addiction?

For certain types of addictions, including opioid and severe alcohol addiction, there are medications that can help to relieve the most intense withdrawal symptoms and reduce psychological cravings by normalizing the brain chemistry. These medications help to normalize body functions without the negative side effects of substances and help to prevent relapses. For opioids, there are also medications that can be used to prevent overdoses, which saves lives.

Medications are used as part of a whole person treatment that includes counseling and behavioral therapies. They are not merely trading one substance for another; MAT is an evidence-based practice. When this treatment is used as a complete therapy, lives can be saved, retention in treatment programs can be increased, and relapse can be prevented. 

Using medication brings success in recovery to those who previously struggled with extreme physiological symptoms or risked severe consequences such as overdose. The goal of MAT is to support recovery and allow patients to live self-directed lives.

What Types of Medication Are Used?

All medications used in MAT are FDA approved and used with strict medical supervision and monitoring. For severe alcohol use disorder, sometimes MAT is used. The medications most commonly used are:

  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone

For opioid addictions, including heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, the following medications are used:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone

There is also a medication that is available to prevent opioid overdose that is given as an injection in emergency situations. This medication is called naloxone. Due to the opioid crisis and the extreme loss of life, naloxone has been made available to first responders in an effort to save lives. In many areas, naloxone is also available without a prescription, also to be able to save lives.

When Is MAT Used for Addiction Treatment?

Medication can be used to help stop the use of substances during detox, maintain abstinence during treatment, or even during long-term recovery. During detox, medications are used to lessen the more severe withdrawal symptoms, particularly of opioid addiction.

During treatment, MAT can help retain patients in treatment programs by helping to normalize the chemistry in the brain and the body functions and allow patients to function better. MAT can also be used long-term in recovery to reduce cravings, lower withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse.

How MAT Can Be Used as Necessary

For patients who have severe opioid or alcohol addictions, have other health risks, or have relapsed multiple times using other treatment methods, MAT can be a lifesaver. Using medications to bring physiological symptoms down to manageable levels helps them to more fully access the other therapeutic components of treatment.

MAT does not take away every craving or make recovery easy, but it does help reduce some of the most severe and life-threatening side effects. For addictions such as opioid addictions, which have stronger and more enduring withdrawal symptoms than most other substances, MAT simply makes these symptoms slightly more manageable.

Are MAT Medications Addictive?

The medications used in MAT are not addictive like opioids or alcohol is addictive. However, they are medical treatments and must be used as directed. Stopping suddenly or using inappropriately could have negative health consequences. This is why constant medical monitoring and supervision are crucial to MAT treatment. When a patient wishes to stop MAT, it is important to taper off the medications with medical supervision, much like many other medications taken for other medical conditions. 

While MAT medications themselves are not addictive, they are treating addictions, so they must be used carefully with appropriate medical supervision. Part of the reason for this is that the condition that they are treating, addiction, can be exacerbated by suddenly stopping the MAT medications. This is particularly dangerous with opioid addictions, where the risk of overdose actually increases when using an opioid even once after a period of abstinence.

Although the concept of MAT may seem counterintuitive, for many people, medications have allowed them to recover when nothing else would. For others, MAT has saved their lives. When used correctly with counseling and behavior therapy, MAT has the potential to be life-changing.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for addiction? When used in conjunction with counseling and behavior therapy, MAT is a form of treatment that can help significantly reduce cravings and withdrawals and allow you to heal from opioids and severe alcohol addiction. While MAT medications require strict medical supervision, they can be life-saving and life-changing. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women is a detox and residential treatment center for women with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. We offer many treatment options to help you heal, including MAT, as needed. We offer evidence-based and holistic therapies to give you options and create a truly individualized treatment plan. Our Costa Mesa, California facility is a peaceful refuge for healing located between soothing mountains and sunny beaches. Our staff offers trauma-informed care in a compassionate, non-judgmental environment. Contact us at (714) 581-3974 to begin your healing process.