What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-assisted treatment is an evidence-based method for treating substance abuse. While it’s been around for a few years, it’s just now gaining traction and becoming available at more treatment centers across the country. MAT has garnered attention and sparked discussion, even controversy, since its creation. These opposing reactions have slowed its implementation, even as the opioid epidemic worsens. However, there is an expanding base of scientific evidence proving it works. It is quickly becoming the gold standard for drug abuse treatment. MAT incorporates FDA-approved medications into its approach. These medications are used with more traditional elements of treatment like therapy and peer support. Many have wondered: is it really necessary to use drugs to treat drug addiction? The answer lies in client outcomes. One study showed that MAT for opioid use disorders doubled the number of clients who were able to stay sober from opiates following treatment. The patients in this study had a physiological opioid dependence. With an opioid dependency, you feel an intense physical need for the drug. Medications involved in MAT provide relief from that need. They allow people to truly invest in their treatment and their lives afterward. MAT allows clients to return to work, home, and other responsibilities in the community with a much lower chance of relapse. Completing treatment for opioid or other drug abuse equips clients with skills needed to resist temptations to relapse, but if there is an extra safety net available, it’s worth consideration.

What Types of Drug Addictions Does It Treat?

Medication-assisted treatment is most often used to treat opioid addictions. Opioid drugs include:

  • Morphine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

MAT can treat alcohol abuse with the use of naltrexone. It can also treat tobacco use disorders through medications like Chantix and Bupropion.

How Does MAT Work?

There are three main medications used in medication-assisted treatment. Below are descriptions of how they work to control addiction:

  • Methadone: Methadone is a full agonist, like heroin or other opioids. It reduces opiate withdrawal symptoms and cravings by blocking opioid receptors. It also prevents heroin and other opiates from producing euphoria, so that if someone relapses, they won’t feel the same high. Although methadone is an opioid itself, taking it doesn’t result in euphoria or any of the other sought-after effects of drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. Like methadone, it prevents opioids from having their desired effects and reduces cravings. Naltrexone also treats alcohol abuse by reducing the desire to drink alcohol. It should not be used by those currently taking opiates, including methadone. Vivitrol is a brand of naltrexone.
  • Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It decreases the effects of opioid dependency, making it easier to recover from addiction. While it has some of the same effects as heroin or other opioids, like euphoria, these effects level off at moderate doses. This “ceiling effect” is what produces relief from physical dependency. Suboxone is a type of buprenorphine.

Your doctor will work with you to determine which medication is the best fit for you and your addiction. You may need to try more than one to find which works best for you.

What Does MAT Look Like?

Medications to treat drug abuse disorders should always be part of a comprehensive treatment program. Much of the research done on MAT shows its effectiveness as part of a program that also includes counseling and peer support. As for when to begin MAT, it can be started as soon as you begin a treatment program. You might need to begin taking medications while detoxing, since they can relieve symptoms of withdrawal. There is no maximum length of time a person can take drugs like methadone. Research shows that clients who stay in medication-assisted treatment for 1-2 years have the best long-term outcomes. It’s best to stay on medication throughout your time in treatment and beyond. This is especially true since they can be very effective in preventing relapses. It’s important to note that some drugs used in MAT are only available for use in a treatment facility. Others, like buprenorphine, can be prescribed by a doctor and taken at home. You will want to talk to your doctor while you’re still in treatment and have time to discuss more long-term treatment options.

Where Can I Find Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Addiction treatment centers that facilitate MAT are often called MAT clinics, Suboxone clinics, etc. As stated above, MAT is just starting to pick up steam and become more widely available. However, it is possible to receive detox, therapy, and other recovery services at a treatment center and receive MAT at another clinic at the same time. Washburn House fully supports medication-assisted treatment and encourages clients to access to these life-changing resources. Medical staff provide naltrexone shots for patients upon admission and schedule a follow-up appointment. We also coordinate care with nearby clinics who offer medications like methadone and Suboxone. To learn about our inpatient rehab, day program, or intensive outpatient program for the treatment of substance abuse, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to talk with you about how we can make MAT part of your treatment plan and set you up for long-term success.

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