Quick Guide to Understanding Medication-Assisted Treatments

medication-assisted treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an addiction treatment that combines the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapy. MAT is available only for the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders and can be used long-term to help people in recovery stay abstinent from alcohol, heroin, synthetic opioids, and prescription painkillers.

There are medication-assisted treatment pros and cons just like any other medical intervention, though its pros often far outweigh its cons due to this treatment’s ability to help people achieve long-term sobriety.

Here’s a closer look at how MAT works and where you can go to find this proven and highly effective addiction treatment.

What Are the Major Components Of Medication-Assisted Treatment?

There are three major components of MAT: medications, counseling, and behavioral therapy. According to SAMHSA, MAT may also include medical, vocational, educational, and other assessment and treatment services.

There are three groups of medications used in MAT: those that treat alcohol use disorder, those that treat opioid dependency, and one that prevents opioid overdose. These medications do not cure dependency or addiction but can be used to complement your drug or alcohol rehab treatment and help you stay sober.

Counseling and behavioral therapy include a wide range of different therapies aimed at helping you identify the root causes of your addiction, manage common triggers such as stress, and change harmful drug-using behaviors. Treatment plans are often tailored to each patient based on their unique situations and recovery needs.

Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?

Several studies show that MAT can be highly effective at helping people achieve long-term recovery from alcohol and opioid use disorders.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that MAT decreases opioid use, opioid-related overdose deaths, criminal activity, and the transmission of infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Results from a study on the effectiveness of MAT among people in Baltimore with opioid addiction showed that heroin overdose deaths in the city decreased by 37% during the study period. MAT is also shown to increase social functioning and retention in treatment, as those who receive MAT are more likely to stay in therapy compared with those who do not receive MAT.

At present, MAT is not widely available despite its known efficacy and success at treating opioid use disorder. Less than 50% of privately funded addiction treatment programs offer MAT, and only one-third of patients who suffer from opioid dependence receive this treatment. Many states lack the needed treatment capacity to provide MAT to all patients who need help fighting opioid use disorder.

What Are the Benefits Of Medication-Assisted Treatment?

MAT offers a countless number of benefits to those who are diagnosed with alcohol or opioid use disorder. MAT is an ideal option for those who have tried other addiction treatments without success, as the medications used are effective at curbing drug and alcohol cravings.

SAMHSA reports that MAT increases retention in treatment and improves patient survival. In 2019, opioids alone contributed to 49,860 overdose deaths in the United States, says the NIDA. Many of these deaths could have been prevented with MAT.

MAT is shown to decrease illicit opiate use due to the way its medications can reduce withdrawal symptoms and block the effects of opioids and alcohol. Receiving MAT can reduce your risk for contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C given how it can keep you away from injection drug use. MAT also increases your ability to gain and maintain employment and improves birth outcomes among women who are pregnant and suffering from drug or alcohol addiction.

How Do the Medications Work In MAT?

Each medication used in MAT produces different effects to help patients stay sober.

There are three drugs used in medication-assisted treatment for alcohol: acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone. Acamprosate reduces your desire to drink and begins working within five to eight days of starting the medication. Disulfiram motivates you to stay sober and deters drinking due to the way it produces unpleasant side effects when combined with alcohol. Vomiting, difficulty breathing, and chest pains are some of the many side effects produced by disulfiram when used with alcohol.

Naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects of alcohol—meaning if you drink while using this medication, you will not experience any of the desired effects of alcohol, including intoxication. Naltrexone is also used in MAT for opioid use disorder and works the same way in that it blocks the euphoric effects of opioids. This medication is usually started in patients following opioid detox, as it will cause withdrawal symptoms in those who are physically dependent on opioids.

In addition to naltrexone, there are three other drugs used for medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction: methadone, buprenorphine, and naloxone. Methadone and buprenorphine reduce opioid cravings and other opioid withdrawal symptoms, while methadone also blunts the effects of other opioids should you use any while taking methadone. Naloxone is used to prevent opioid overdose by reversing the toxic effects of the overdose and is now available for purchase without a prescription at many drugstores and pharmacies across the country.

What Types Of Behavioral Therapy Are Included In MAT?

MAT includes a number of behavioral therapies—though some treatment centers may only offer a few. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, patients in MAT will generally have the option to receive the following behavioral therapies:

  • Individual and group addiction counseling: sessions focus on lifestyle changes and relapse prevention training, and provide education on addiction, recovery, and infectious diseases.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: techniques emphasize the recognition of cravings and relapse triggers, and work with you to modify harmful behaviors and thoughts related to addiction.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy: techniques encourage you to work toward your goals and promote internally motivated behavior change.
  • Community reinforcement approach: this therapy aims to create a positive environment reinforced by your community, family, friends, and coworkers.
  • Contingency management: this therapy offers positive rewards or incentives when you practice positive behaviors such as adhering to treatment.
  • Medication management: this helps you adhere to your medication regimen and involves adjusting doses when necessary.
  • Peer services: peer services connect you with services related to childcare, health insurance, disability benefits, housing, and transportation.
  • Self-help: therapy often includes participation in 12-step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous that empower you to stay sober.
  • Family therapy: this engages your partner, parents, and children with treatment to promote positive behavior change.
  • Computer- or phone-based interventions: offers distance treatment to those who live in rural areas or who are busy managing careers, school, and families.

Who Are Ideal Candidates For Medication-Assisted Treatment?

MAT is just one of many treatments available at drug and alcohol rehab centers, and may not be ideal for everyone. The best way to determine whether you’re an ideal candidate for MAT is to speak with a medication-assisted treatment counselor or doctor who can evaluate your overall health and medical history—including your addiction history—and make a professional recommendation.

In general, those who are ideal candidates for MAT have been officially diagnosed with alcohol or opioid use disorder and have no medical conditions that could be worsened with medication. Candidates must not have a history of prescription medication misuse and must be willing to closely follow the instructions on the prescription label. Candidates must also be highly motivated to stay sober and attend regular counseling and therapy sessions.

Where To Find MAT

MAT is available at many drug and alcohol rehab centers around the United States. At Summer House, we offer opioid detox and alcohol detox to help people safely recover from opioid and alcohol dependence. Call us today at 800-719-1090 to learn more about our many available addiction treatment programs.