There are dozens of treatments available for substance abuse disorders. Most people respond well to a combination of therapies, rather than a singular solution. Recently, one form of treatment that has garnered widespread attention is Medication-Assisted Treatment, abbreviated as MAT. This type of therapy has been shown to have a number of benefits, but it can have some drawbacks as well.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
MAT is a therapy that uses a combination of medication, counseling, and behavioral therapies to treat people with addiction problems. It’s an approved evidence-based therapy, which means it has proven effective in multiple large-scale randomized controlled trials, and is recognized by the National Registry for Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).
This type of treatment is not meant for everyone. It’s mostly used to treat individuals who struggle with opioid addictions and alcoholism. Ultimately, the goal of MAT is to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings while a recovering addict is undergoing detox, and in the early stages of inpatient treatment.
With certain addictions, particularly opioid dependence, many recovering addicts struggle to get clean because the withdrawal process is so uncomfortable. When the drug is no longer in their system, their body reacts by producing side effects like vomiting, seizures, digestive issues, sweating, anxiety, high blood pressure, and more. The withdrawal symptoms are so severe that the person starts using again to feel better.
Medications that are used in MAT essentially mimic the effect that opioids or alcohol have on the body, so the withdrawal symptoms are less intense. However, the drugs used in treatment are given in very small doses, and the entire process is overseen by an addiction medicine doctor. Recovering addicts who go through MAT don’t experience the same “high” they get from drugs or alcohol.
Although MAT has been proven to be an effective treatment for substance abuse, it has been the topic of controversy in the recovery community. At its core, MAT works by giving addicts more substances. These people already have addictive tendencies, and some groups think that this approach is counterintuitive. It’s a common belief that an addict isn’t truly getting sober if they are being given addictive medications.
For instance, many recovering addicts are encouraged to attend 12-step meetings when they’re getting sober. But traditional 12-step organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous don’t necessarily agree with MAT. The idea behind 12-step programs is that people can learn to control their addictions with specific actions and attitude shifts, which medication doesn’t fit into. In programs like Narcotics Anonymous, which are newer, they have literature that’s more accepting of MAT.
Nevertheless, MAT can be a good way for people to build a solid foundation for their recovery. It’s not a long-term solution, and is used to help people get over the initial hurdle of withdrawing from drugs and alcohol. After that, people in recovery focus more on traditional treatments, like psychotherapy and group meetings.
Medications Used in MAT
Medications that are used as part of MAT are FDA approved for the treatment of substance abuse disorders. MAT programs are highly regulated by doctors, and there are only a handful of drugs that can be used to treat recovering addicts.
As mentioned, the only people who qualify for MAT are individuals who abuse opioids and alcohol. Addictive opioids include street drugs, like heroin and fentanyl, as well as prescription drugs, like oxycontin, Vicodin, and morphine.
For opioid addiction, doctors use synthetic opioids in MAT. Some of the prescriptions for opioid withdrawal include:
- Buprenorphine — Buprenorphine acts on opioid receptors in the brain similar to the way addictive opioids do, which alleviates withdrawal symptoms. However, it affects opioid receptors more slowly than regular opioids do, so the person doesn’t get that “high” feeling.
- Naltrexone — Naltrexone works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain. Theoretically, someone could continue using opioids without the euphoric feeling when they’re taking Naltrexone. This drug is mostly used to keep addicts from relapsing because it isn’t able to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
- Methadone — Methadone is used primarily to combat heroin use and narcotic painkiller addictions. Methadone is a type of painkiller, so it works by reducing painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal and also blocks the euphoric effects of opioids.
MAT for alcohol addiction uses different drugs. These medications work by blocking the breakdown of alcohol in the body, and blocking receptors in the brain’s reward system that get triggered when someone drinks alcohol.
- Acamprosate — Acamprosate is similar to buprenorphine in that it prevents alcoholics from feeling drunk when they consume alcohol. Ultimately, it prevents people from drinking because there is no pleasant or euphoric effect.
- Disulfiram — Disulfiram, which is prescribed under the drug Antabuse, is a pill that is taken everyday. If someone drinks alcohol after taking disulfiram, they will start to experience unpleasant side effects, like headaches and vomiting, within minutes.
MAT at Defining Wellness
At Defining Wellness, we offer MAT in conjunction with counseling to treat individuals with opioid and alcohol addiction. However, our approach to MAT is safe and conservative. We only recommend MAT for specific clients, and our clinical team weighs the pros and cons of various treatment methods before moving forward with a plan.
Our philosophy is that medication can be a tool to help recovering addicts get sober, but medication alone won’t keep someone from relapsing. Every client that we treat undergoes extensive therapy in the form of psychiatric counseling, group meetings, family therapy, and more.
We also utilize cutting-edge technologies in our Wellness Lab, such as Neurobiofeedback, PEMF, and infrared light therapy to improve brain health and regulate emotions. In addition, every client treatment program includes an exercise and nutrition component, 24/7 on-site medical care, drug-gene testing, and more.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, our team at Defining Wellness can help them take back control of their life. Call us at (855) 790-9303 to learn more about the rehab programs at our luxury treatment center in Brandon, MS.