For people struggling with an addiction to opioids, medication-assisted treatment or MAT therapy is an effective way to help achieve sobriety and maintain recovery.
As overdose deaths from opioid addiction skyrocket across the United States, MAT programs have become a critical treatment tool that provides a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of an abused opioid or alcohol.
When used during addiction treatment, MAT can decrease discomfort, prevent dangerous symptoms and help with cravings.
What Is MAT or Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of FDA-approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to treat opioid or alcohol abuse.
Importantly, MAT does NOT substitute one addiction for another. When someone is treated for an opioid addiction, the dosage of medication used does not get them high, it helps reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal.
In fact, MAT is an essential part of treating addictions to opioids and alcohol, and is fully endorsed by the FDA, World Health Organization, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, and the American Association of Family Physicians.
And, because MAT increases social functioning and retention in treatment, MAT patients are more likely to complete the full continuum of addiction treatment. MAT restores balance to the brain circuits affected by addiction, allowing the patient’s brain to heal while working toward recovery.
Finally, MAT improves addiction survival rates – put simply, MAT can save the lives of people addicted to opiates as well as alcohol. It is also safe after addiction treatment for people in recovery to take medications used in MAT for months, years, several years, or even a lifetime — with great potential to decrease opioid use and lower opioid-related overdose deaths.
What Are MAT Medications?
For patients addicted to opioids, MAT treatment can include medications that stimulate opioid receptors in the brain or medications that block those receptors. Drugs like heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and others act in the brain by stimulating opioid receptors. Over time, higher and higher doses of the opioid is needed to get the same effect. When these short-acting drugs wear off, the patient experiences withdrawal and cravings to use again.
Specifically, the medication used for opioid-dependent patients is naltrexone. This blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, making opioids ineffective. If a patient relapses on an opioid drug, no effect is felt.
And, there are two medications that stimulate receptors that are used to treat opioid addiction. The first is methadone, which must be administered in a qualified methadone clinic, usually on a daily basis. When dosed correctly, methadone does not cause euphoria or a “high” and suppresses the urge to use other opioids. The other medication is buprenorphine, which goes by several brand names including Suboxone and Zubsolv. It is considered a partial agonist, meaning it partially stimulates opioid receptors. Because of this, buprenorphine is thought to have a “ceiling effect” which means above a certain dose, it will have no greater effect. This is important as it makes it difficult for an opioid-dependent patient to experience euphoria or to overdose on buprenorphine. However, in combination with other medications that can cause sedation such as benzodiazepines, especially alprazolam (Xanax), overdose can occur.
For patients with alcohol addiction, there are a few MAT options. Two medications, acamprosate and naltrexone, can help suppress the urge to drink. Naltrexone has also been shown to decrease the euphoria that some people experience after drinking, reducing the number of drinks consumed if a patient in recovery relapses. Both of these medications can be administered in pill form, and naltrexone is also available in a once-monthly shot. Another pill available, known as Antabuse, does not affect the urge to drink but causes very unpleasant symptoms if a patient drinks alcohol. Those symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, skin flushing and sweats, chest discomfort, and anxiety.
Presently, there are medications to help treat patients with alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder. However, there are other medications that are helpful in the treatment of the anxiety, depression or physical withdrawal symptoms that can occur during detoxification from other substances.
The Truth about MAT and Addiction
When considering Medication-Assisted Treatment, the word “assisted” is important because medication helps, rather than replaces, other forms of addiction treatment.
For instance, a common misconception about MAT — even among health care workers and people in recovery — is that MAT replaces drugs with other drugs.
However, these medications normalize the brain chemistry of an opioid-dependent patient. Patients are not high and are not sedated. Rather, patients can feel like themselves again. It is important to take medication as prescribed and not miss a dose as withdrawal symptoms can occur.
And, that withdrawal from a medication does not mean the patient is addicted to the medication. If that were true, patients would also be considered addicted to their medication for other illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, or dozens of other chronic diseases that can become symptomatic when stopping prescribed medications.
How to Access MAT Treatment
In conclusion, more people on MAT stay clean and sober than those who do not engage in MAT. MAT enables more people to stay involved in treatment. The results include less overdoses and deaths, healthier relationships, secure employment, self-sufficiency, less criminal activity, and less exposure to dangerous illnesses such as Hepatitis and HIV.
At Valley Hope, medical staff works with patients to decide whether MAT is right for them, customizes an appropriate MAT plan, and provides medically-monitored detox to help ease withdrawal in a safe, supportive environment.
If you or someone you know may have a problem with opioids and MAT can help with treatment and recovery, the addiction experts at Valley Hope can provide a free level of care screening to determine if you require clinical treatment. Once you enter treatment, our medical team will determine if a medication-assisted treatment plan is needed.
Valley Hope provides a full continuum of substance abuse care including online addiction treatment through 19 programs across seven states including Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Our programs provide compassionate, evidenced-based therapies, medical detox services, residential treatment, outpatient treatment and virtual treatment programs.
For immediate help 24/7, call our Local Admissions Team at (800) 544-5101.