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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and Treating Opioid Addiction

a woman and a therapist discussing medication assisted treatment

Treating Opioid Addiction with Medication-Assisted Treatment

Does it ever feel like therapy just is not enough for recovery from an opioid or alcohol addiction? If so, substance abuse treatment centers have begun to use a treatment called Medication-Assisted Treatment. Along with behavioral therapies Medication–Assisted Treatment uses medications to help with recovery from substance abuse disorder. Studies have proven with monitoring physicians’ Medication-Assisted Treatment is one of the most effective approaches to treating opioid addiction, compared to other treatments alone.


The Story of Medication-Assisted Treatment 


It begins in 2000 when the Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA) was passed allowing narcotic prescriptions to be used in an outpatient setting to treat opioid addiction. In 2016, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) was passed by President Obama, this allowed physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe medication. More than 47,000 people in the United States perished to opioid overdose including prescription opioids, heroin, and illegally produced drugs in 2017. In reaction to the crisis demands increased for treatment and prevention inside treatment centers and medical clinics. The year 2018 was promising the Substance Use Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid and Treatment for Patients and Communities (SUPPORT Act) was passed allowing doctors and other medical professionals to use Medication-Assisted Treatment as a form of treatment. Then, the American Medical Association suggested Medication-Assisted Treatment as a top approach to treating those with opioid addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) released that almost every state in the United States provides Medication-Assisted Treatment for opioid addiction therapy. Since Medication-Assisted Treatment overdose deaths have decreased significantly, especially heroin.  

graph showing how mat reduces heroin deaths

What Is Medication Assisted Treatment?


Medication-Assisted Treatment is a proven-based modality combined with psychotherapy and medication for those struggling with substance use disorders and alcohol abuse. When getting treated using Medication-Assisted treatment certain medications are used to stabilize brain chemistry and block dopamine receptors. This means that if someone partakes in drinking or taking pills, they will not feel the same euphoric feeling they usually get from drinking or pills. The medications used can also help manage withdrawal symptoms and physical cravings to ensure relapse rate decreases. Medication-Assisted Treatment can be used as long as needed. There is no set standard for when someone should be off it. This treatment is customized to help meet the needs of an individual person’s substance abuse disorder and the severity of withdrawals. Treatment should only continue if the person is in therapy and under the supervision of a physician.


Studies Show Medication-Assisted Treatment Can Help With:


What Treatment Medications Are Used For Opioid Addiction?


There are a couple medications used to treat opioid addiction:


  • Buprenorphine– is used to help stop opioid dependency. It produces the same effects as opioids but creates a lower risk of misuse and dependency. Buprenorphine is used for inpatient or outpatient and must be prescribed from a Physician’s office.
  • Naltrexone – blocks the receptors in the brain. Is commonly used after complete opioid detox. It can be taken orally or injected. The injection is long-acting and blocks opioid receptors for one month. Naltrexone stops the euphoric effects that opioids provide. Due to Naltrexone decreasing the tolerance of opioids effects relapsing can be very dangerous and lead to overdose. 

What Medications Are Used To Treat Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a well-known disease that has taken over millions. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism released that nearly 16 million adults and adolescents become dependent on alcohol. Alcohol detox or individualized treatment plans that help with the root cause of the addiction and maladaptive symptoms and behaviors that have formed is the best way to reach complete recovery. There is a variety of medications that are used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States such as disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate. Other medications may be prescribed for alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as benzodiazepines or anti-epileptic medications that will relax delirium tremens from severe withdrawal symptoms. Detoxing from alcohol can be very dangerous and even fatal. Detoxing under medical supervision is advised. The medications are:


  • Disulfiram- or known as Antabuse is the first medication that was approved by the FDA to treat alcohol use disorder. The dopamine receptors are blocked and obstruct the metabolic process of alcohol in the body by disulfiram. There can be severe or mild side effects if taking disulfiram and drinking alcohol. 
  • Acamprosate – or known as Campral is a tablet that is administered two to three times a day after a person has completed alcohol detox. This medication is designed to restore the functioning of the brain that could have been damaged during the addiction and it reduces alcohol cravings. Acamprosate is mainly taken for a year but can be administered for a shorter time depending on the individual. 

How To Know If Medication-Assisted Treatment Is Right For You?

Please note that Medication- Assisted Treatment is used as a recovery method and not a cure for substance use disorder. Evidence has shown with behavioral therapy and Medication-Assisted Treatment relapse rates decrease. If individuals have been struggling for a long time with recovery and relapse, then Medication-Assisted Treatment is something to consider. If deciding to use Medication- Assisted Treatment, then you may want to consider the following:




For more information call any substance abuse facility in your area to see if they use Medication – Assisted Treatment programs. 

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