Medication-Assisted Treatment

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Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Medication-assisted treatment or MAT is especially helpful when treating patients who have developed a physical dependency on addictive substances. There are several medications available within medically assisted drug therapies, and they specifically reflect profound results for long term sobriety.

In fact, they are called upon for many types of chemical dependency. They can improve upon achieving recovery from alcoholbenzodiazepine, and notably opioid derived drugs.

The experience of detox and rehabilitation is different for everyone. Each individual will face a unique set of circumstances during rehab for substance abuse. Because of this, there are many factors that will contribute to the type of treatment administered. Medication-assisted treatment is a type of drug therapy that may be a valuable option to add to your treatment regimen.

The fears and expectations associated with feeling uncomfortable throughout the detox process hinder many from receiving life-saving treatment. Arguably, detox and withdrawal is typically not the most pleasant process to undergo.

However, there are new age methods available that relieve an array of symptoms that often occur during initial addiction treatment. Implementing therapeutic medication serves to reduce symptoms and even cravings in order to focus on the behavioral side of rehab.

MAT Used as Rehab Reinforcement

The objective of including MAT in substance abuse treatment is to discourage subsequent urges associated with the disease of addiction. Meaning, that once detox is complete, these medications can suppress those lingering cravings that often lead to relapse.

Relapse is the biggest ongoing threat to a person receiving drug and alcohol treatment, both during and after rehab.

Medication-assisted treatment is a particular asset for those who participate in outpatient rehabilitation programs. Although this option for treatment proves a superior degree of behavioral and psychological coping instruction, they also allow time unaccompanied. Unexpected exposure to triggers can inhibit progress.

Outpatient treatment allows for an addict to resume a certain degree of normal routine following detox, away from the facility. However, many people are still in a vulnerable stage of recovery at this time. Unavoidable triggers can provoke relapsing at any time, especially early into treatment. MAT adds to the overall success of outpatient rehab, even for the most severe types of addiction.

Drug Therapy Has Been Proven Effective

Combined with professional guidance and behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment yields promising results. This method of drug therapy adds to the goal of treating the physical hold of chemical dependency.

This approach enables the focus to be directed more toward the development of healthy and beneficial habits. In combination, MAT for substance abuse has notable success rates overall.

In order to ensure that using medication is beneficial for each individual, a thorough assessment is performed by a professional. This requires a full report of any type of drug abuse an addict may have been exposed to.

The MAT approach has been statistically proven to:

  • Increase the probability of survival specifically in regards to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms
  • Improve the capacity to develop a sober lifestyle
  • Lower the rates of addicts committing crimes related to obtaining illicit drugs
  • Reinforces prolonged sobriety in order to achieve and preserve employment
  • Increases the health maintenance of addicts who are pregnant, and therefore the resilience of an infant post-birth
  • Reduces the rates of relapse by discouraging the resurgence of substance abuse

The different types of drugs available with medication-assisted therapy are prescribed and administered on an individual basis. Addiction drug therapy uses FDA approved pharmaceuticals designed specifically to assist with substance abuse treatment. Enlisting in the beneficial features of MAT shows elevated success in recovery. This includes a decline in the likelihood of relapse, as opposed to without.

Advantages of Medication Assisted Treatment During Detox

There are different stages of rehab for addiction management. After being assessed and admitted, the first chapter on the road toward recovery will be detox. Medication-assisted treatment is often begun during the initial stages of detox.

Working through detox, with or without medication-assisted treatment, is not an overnight process. Detoxing using any method should be done under the care of a trained medical professional.

The entire experience usually takes a week at the least but could last longer. Withdrawal symptoms tend to worsen within that time. The intense period of unwellness involved without MAT can be problematic for many. Taking advantage of medication-assisted treatment during this time has resulted in the profound lessening of withdrawal-related illness.

How Long is MAT Necessary?

Depending on the progress achieved during behavioral therapy, dosage alteration may be necessary. Dedication and personal adjustment also play a large role. Treatment may also include switching between different medications altogether. The goal is to eventually have enough awareness and control over the addiction, regarding urges and triggers, to eliminate medication completely.

Once an addict has detoxed and completed a rehab program, they may eventually be able to wean off therapeutic drugs. This is still a delicate process, however, and should not be attempted unsupervised. Doing so could result in unwanted rebound withdrawal or even lead to returning to substance abuse.

On the contrary, many in recovery benefit from continued use in order to further deter relapse. The duration of medication-assisted therapy is very subjective to each individual and is determined by progress and overall improvement.

The Dangers of Detoxing Without MAT Drug Therapy

The notion of attempting to detoxify without MAT is best described as going “cold turkey.” If relying on this approach, discretion is strongly advised. This method is almost always extremely uncomfortable, vulnerable, and can even pose deadly health risks.

Once a dependency on certain substances has been developed, the brain and body will have adapted. Many psychological and physical functions have been altered on a fundamental level. Especially after extensive and prolonged substance abuse.

When an active addict stops using substances abruptly, their organs and nervous system will be pushed into overdrive. Biologically, in order to survive, the nervous system will do its best to keep up with the rapid changes. However, in doing so, there are serious cardiovascular risks associated, as well as susceptibility to severe dehydration, and psychosis.

Unfortunately, in these cases, most are required to be administered medications anyway, in order to keep the person alive.

Variety of Drugs Used in Medication-Assisted Treatment

The different selections available for medication-assisted drug therapy ultimately produce similar results. However, there are differences regarding which is best prescribed for certain types of addiction treatment. Discussing these options with your rehab specialist, along with past and present substance abuse, will determine eligibility.

Although the substance abused has direct influence over MAT, there are other characteristics to consider. Some of these include:

  • Overall health and physical capability
  • Underlying mental illness or symptoms of dual diagnosis
  • The use of other medications that when mixed have dangerous side effects
  • Age-related treatment options and requirements
  • Ability to tolerate certain medications
  • Willingness to follow a strict regimen responsibly
  • Previous history with prescription medication abuse or misuse
  • Whether a person is pregnant or plans to become pregnant in the near future

All of these conditions are important to consider when discussing rehab options, especially medication-assisted treatment. Responsible clinicians and extensively trained staff members can offer more information and make reliable suggestions for care.

Underlying Illnesses and MAT Recommendations

Suspecting an untreated dual diagnosis may affect your ability to utilize this targeted treatment. This is discussed when there may be a need to treat secondary illness simultaneously, along with addiction. After doing so, or at any time during addiction care, eligibility could change.

However, a different approach encourages MAT upon a co-occuring diagnosis. It’s suggested that it may be able to reduce the psychological burden undergone during these life changes. Individualized treatment plans are designed separately for each person in order to promote excellent rehab care and overall health.

Specific Drugs Used in MAT for Opioid Dependency

By design, each drug used in medication-assisted therapy serves to address different needs. Some are prescribed together, and some should never be mixed. To determine which type of drug therapy will contribute to a person’s recovery goals, a closer examination of each is necessary.

The most common FDA approved medications used in rehab therapy for opioid derived substance abuse include the following.


This drug works against cravings by blocking opioid receptors. It is also useful for those who experience higher levels of pain during detox. This is due to its pain-relieving effects. Yet, it is able to do so without having the ability to produce enjoyable feelings of euphoria.

Its effectiveness, inhibiting brain receptors, paired with the inability to cause impairment, lowers its potential for abuse, respectively. Buprenorphine is most often recommended for those with an addiction to painkiller medications. Ironically, because of its similar function on neurological receptors.


This medication also has some pain-relieving properties but is considered a complete opioid antagonist. Out of all MAT drugs, methadone is the most highly regulated by the FDA.

The upside to this therapeutic drug is that it comes in several different administrative forms, such as via tablet or fluid. However, administering a safe and effective dosage requires supervised precision.

While it may be a popular option for those that struggle with addiction to heroin, prolonged usage is usually recommended. It may take up to a full year or more to be fully effective. Additionally, methadone does come with a warning of some withdrawal after discontinuation.


Naltrexone is also an opioid antagonist that is used for long-term drug therapy. It is especially helpful for those that have difficulty behaviorally remaining sober, or just beginning rehab treatment.

If an addict is on this medication, and relapses, the high expected from the opioid substance will not be achieved. Another reason for its popularity during rehab is its ability to be injected monthly, or as a daily tablet if preferred. This monthly option often suits many treatment programs best due to consistency, and the safety requirements of assistance to obtain.

Though the probability of relapse is considered much lower with MAT, it is not without a downside. Naltrexone alone does very little to curb the symptoms of withdrawal during detox.

It is important to consider how each individual will benefit from medication-assisted therapy. It is equally important to determine the method, tolerance levels, time frame, relapse risk before beginning drug therapy. Depending on the duration and severity of active addiction, more than one medication may be necessary.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance globally, and also has some of the most dangerous symptoms during withdrawal. Addiction to alcohol is seen throughout every demographic and enormously contributes to the overall death rate involving intoxication.

Treatment for the disease of alcoholism is often necessary within all genders and age groups. From youth addiction treatment programs, to mature aged adult rehabs, facing alcohol detox must be handled carefully.

In order to lessen the threats involved with alcohol addiction and detox, drug therapies have been developed specifically.

Medication-assisted treatment drugs used to aid those suffering from alcohol addiction include:

  • Acamprosate: which is able to inhibit the reward center of the brain from properly communicating. Therefore, it prevents euphoria or feeling drunk.
  • Disulfiram: also known as Antabuse. This works to yield uncomfortable side effects upon consuming alcohol during therapy. This MAT produces a reaction in as little as 10 minutes and brings upon nausea, vomiting, and headache.
  • Naltrexone: Also used during treatment for opioid dependency, as described above. Similarly, by preventing intoxication from alcohol consumption, it serves as a deterrent and reduces the likelihood of relapse.

Again, alcohol detox and withdrawal come with life-threatening side effects. Especially in severe cases, this should not be attempted alone or without professional observation. This life-saving care is what rehab staff is trained for.

Suboxone: When Some Addictions Warrant Multiple Drugs for Therapy

In many cases of addiction treatment, more than one medication may be beneficial for withdrawal management and relapse prevention. The success rates of MAT have led to the creation of combination drugs to serve this purpose. Suboxone is a compound medication often recommended for use throughout rehab.

Valuable to those that suffer from opioid dependency, suboxone, is made up of both buprenorphine and naloxone. It is designed to inhibit opioid receptors, reducing distress during withdrawal. Meanwhile, the naloxone prevents intoxication in the event of relapse, or even to discourage it. Affecting the brain in much of the same way opioid-based substances do, adjusting is often more comfortable initially.

Risks of Medication-Assisted Treatment

It is important to consider that any misuse and abuse of these therapeutic medications is substance abuse in itself. Some MAT drugs come with a risk of dependency, which should be considered by those facing the disease of addiction.

Additionally, mixing any of these medications without proper instruction of a professional can have deadly outcomes. The same is true regarding alcohol and antidepressants, as well as anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines.

Medication-Assisted Treatment is Often Misunderstood

For those that are just learning about drug therapy to aid in addiction treatment, it can be a confusing concept. Often, those that are new to addiction rehab methods may find it difficult to understand.

How do you expect to treat drug addiction with more drugs? Simply put, MAT only uses drugs that hinder an addict’s ability to achieve the desired effect of their substance abuse. These medications are specifically engineered for their purpose. Only once the ability to get high or be intoxicated is removed as an option, optimal rehabilitation is possible.

Some addicts are able to come forward on their own, acknowledge their disease, and remain dedicated to treatment. Others become altered by the effects of substance abuse that they cannot yet comprehend living sober.

Sadly, there are even some that don’t want help. These drugs are designed to shrink the amount of discomfort experienced during detox and intensify psychological and behavioral treatment therapies.

The Myths of MAT

Despite all of the evidence showing that medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapy work well together, many stigmas remain. Below is an assessment of the most frequent concerns.

1. Drug therapy is simply trading one drug for another.

As previously discussed, when used properly and as directed, euphoria is the opposite effect. All are administered carefully and in a controlled environment. Especially while participating in a residential treatment program, as there is constant supervision.

While enrolled in inpatient rehab, medical attention is available 24/7, and behavioral therapy is easily accessible. Additionally, because of the duration of time spent away from addiction reinforcing environments, stronger bonds to sobriety can be formed. This in itself decreases the need for prolonged medication-assisted treatment, and tapering off drug therapy can begin inhouse.

2. Medication-assisted treatment is the only necessary type of treatment.

Unfortunately, as effective as MAT is when it comes to substance abuse, addiction has different effects on different people. While it would be wonderful to have a one-size-fits-all drug to cure the devastating disease, addiction is chronic. Weaving itself into many different physical, mental, and emotional areas of a person’s life, coping skills are crucial for recovery.

Triggers and urges, though partially subdued by MAT, cannot undo the psychological damage that has occurred. Cognitive behavioral therapy works together with drug therapy to reinforce a healthy lifestyle and promotes overall well-being.

3. Going to alcohol and drug therapy for addiction should be enough without MAT.

Truth be told, for some dedicated few, therapy is enough. Unfortunately for others, the development of a new routine and sober way of life is crippled by triggers and unforeseen personal struggles. Many addicts in recovery become easily exhausted by constantly having to battle with the temptation of relapse. Unable to suppress negative emotions that are essential to feeding addiction, the disease is likely to resurface.

Establishing a sober life takes forgiveness and patience. Time and again, it is best accomplished without the treatable and unnecessary cravings that serve as a distraction. Achieving sobriety through rehab proves that combination therapy is most effective, and those in recovery live as proof.

4. If it works so well, then why doesn’t every addict use addiction therapy drugs?

This is a very fair question. However, the answer is not so simple. Many who seek treatment for addiction are not offered the program, to begin with. This is due to many rehabs not having medication-assisted therapy to offer.

MAT is a contemporary approach, despite irrefutable successful testimonies. Subsequently, it requires a superior level of training for its staff. While it is safe to assume at some point MAT will be standard in addiction treatment, it isn’t universal yet. That’s not to suggest that numerous studies and tireless research has been neglected. It is repetitively concluded that medication-assisted treatment reflects proficiency and is legitimate.

It just may take a bit more time for the rest to capacitate. If this is something you are interested in, be sure to discuss options and availability during your initial assessment.

MAT: The Main Takeaway

If you have been struggling to get sober, but withdrawal symptoms hold you back, look into a medication-assisted treatment option. The availability of drug therapy in a rehab program can make a difference in the outcome of your future.

Living with addiction does not mean that all hope is lost. Reach out to a reputable rehab treatment center and discuss if MAT is right for you. Set yourself a goal to achieve sobriety, then enjoy the possibilities that grow from there.