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What Is Medication Assisted Treatment?

Good addiction treatment incorporates many different tools and strategies to help support an individual’s long-term recovery. Medication is one such tool, and the term “medication-assisted treatment” (MAT) is the combination of medications and behavioral therapy to treat substance use disorders.

Desert Hope offers MAT to assist you in your recovery from addiction.

Medications provided at Desert Hope may vary according to a patient’s medical history and unique needs. Medications given may change as the patient’s needs change.

 

Why MAT?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) calls the use of medications plus counseling a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.1

MAT is primarily used for treating those with an opioid use disorder but may also be used to treat alcohol use disorder. Medications can be used in every phase of treating these disorders, from detox and beyond to support a person throughout their long-term recovery.

What Are MAT Medications?

Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder:

There are three FDA-approved prescription medications that people may take to ease withdrawal symptoms and help overcome opioid dependency and addiction:1,2,3

  • Methadone – This drug is an opioid but does not produce a euphoric high when used correctly. It can help with the symptoms of withdrawal and may be used long-term to prevent relapse.
  • Buprenorphine – Buprenorphine also produces opioid effects to help with cravings and withdrawal; however, unlike methadone, it has a ceiling, which means that at a certain dose it will no longer produce effects. This decreases the abuse potential and makes it a preferred choice for many treatment providers. Suboxone, a popular MAT medication, combines buprenorphine with naloxone (the active ingredient in the opioid overdose medication naloxone) to prevent abuse.
  • Naltrexone – This medication is unlike methadone and buprenorphine in that instead of producing opioid effects, it blocks them. Should a person relapse on opioids, they will not get high if they’ve been taking naltrexone as directed.

These medications may be safely taken for weeks, months, or years. 1 Evidence shows that people who receive longer-term treatment with medication for OUD have better treatment outcomes. They are also less likely to die from overdose if they return to opioid use while on medication.6

Other benefits for using MAT to treat OUD include:1, 4

  • Reducing risk of relapse during during opioid withdrawal and helping patients stay in treatment.
  • Helping individuals get and stay employed.
  • Decreasing illicit drug use and other criminal activity.
  • Improving birth outcomes among pregnant women.

Medications to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder:

MAT medications used in the treatment of alcohol dependence and addiction include the following:1,5

  • Acamprosate—This drug does not help with withdrawal but can be used for this in recovery for alcoholism. Acamprosate helps counteract changes in the brain related to heavy drinking to curb cravings and urges to drink.
  • Disulfiram—This medication which can be found under the brand name Antabuse, discourages drinking by making it very unpleasant. Someone on disulfiram who drinks alcohol may experience side effects like headache, trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, and chest pains.
  • Naltrexone- This medication does double-duty as an opioid and alcohol dependency medication. It can also block the euphoric effects of alcohol in addition to those of opioids.

These medications cannot be initiated until after withdrawal is complete, but other medications such as benzodiazepines may be used to treat symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. 1

When Are Other Medications Used?

Medications may be used to address withdrawal from various other substances, which can also cause uncomfortable and even life-threatening symptoms, such as seizures and heart rhythm changes. The use of medications to lessen the immediate acute symptoms of withdrawal is referred to as medically assisted withdrawal management, also known as detoxification, or medical detox.

In some cases, over-the-counter medicines are enough to manage mild symptoms. For example, Pepto-Bismol can manage some of the digestive issues that arise, while pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with headache and body aches.6

However, for some of the more severe symptoms, many professionals rely on prescription medications to help the individual deal with symptoms and avoid some of the risks of the detox process. There are also prescription medications that can make detox easier by replacing the substance of abuse to enable a smooth taper off the drug, often avoiding some severe health risks that might occur otherwise.6

There Is No MAT without Therapy

Medication helps the addicted person to engage in therapy and continue their recovery efforts.

The word “assisted” in medication-assisted treatment highlights the fact that medication is not and should not be the primary treatment for addiction. Medication helps the addicted person to engage in therapy and continue their recovery efforts.

Faced with overwhelming withdrawal symptoms and/or cravings, the person may not be willing or able to fully engage in counseling and therapy sessions and may be more prone to relapsing. Medications help people feel stable enough to stay focused on their goals and on staying sober.

In fact, federal law says that patients receiving MAT for opioid addiction MUST receive counseling as part of their treatment.1 This counseling may involve various forms of therapy. Desert Hope offers a full range of behavioral therapies, in addiction to treatment medication, to help you or a loved one recover from addiction and find joy with drug or alcohol use.

 

References:

1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Medication and Counseling Treatment.
2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Buprenorphine.
3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Naltrexone.
4. National Academy of Sciences. (2019). Consensus Study Report Highlights.
5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2018). Acamprosate (Campral).
6. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2006.

About The Contributor
Ryan Kelley, NREMT
Medical Editor
Ryan Kelley is a nationally registered Emergency Medical Technician and the former managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS). During his time at JEMS, Ryan developed Mobile Integrated Healthcare in Action, a series... Read More