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What is Medicated Assisted Treatment?

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Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has become an increasingly important tool used to treat substance abuse disorders. While consistent use of medication-assisted treatment has become more widespread over recent years, many people remain in the dark about what exactly it is. If you are wondering, “what is medication assisted treatment?” you aren’t alone. Many people are curious if the medication-assisted treatment might be right for their situation, but lack the base knowledge necessary to decide whether it is the right choice. In this article, we’ll provide a top-to-bottom exploration of medication assisted treatment. We’ll examine what it is, what it’s used for, and what the advantages of it are. Medication-assisted treatment has seen increasing use in recent years as a treatment method geared towards opioid use disorder (OUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD).

What is it?

Medication-assisted treatment is a form of outpatient treatment that combines the use of medications along with behavioral therapy and counseling. The benefits behind medication assisted treatment is to increase the effectiveness for substance use disorders that have a high rate of relapse. Foremost among these have been OUD and AUD. OUD, in particular, has been a focus of medication-assisted treatment in recent years as the number of deaths associated with the abuse of opioid abuse has skyrocketed. Here are some key facts to keep in mind about MAT:  

  • Outpatient – Medication-assisted treatment is an outpatient treatment program. Outpatient treatment programs differ in many respects from residential treatment programs. We’ll weigh the advantages and disadvantages of outpatient programs in a subsequent section. Keep in mind that outpatient programs generally have less structure, but still have many requirements that individuals must adhere to. Among these are drug screenings and regular attendance at therapy and counseling sessions.
  • Length of time  – Medication-assisted treatment centers on the use of maintenance medications that forestall or eliminate withdrawal symptoms while reducing the need for, or effectiveness, of certain drugs. This means that medication-assisted treatment often occurs over an extended period of time while individuals learn the skills that will enable them to achieve long-lasting sobriety when they are tapered off of the replacement medication.
  • Use of medication – It should come as no surprise that a core component of medication-assisted treatment is the use of medications. But what exactly are these medications? We’ll dive into the common medications used to treat OUD and AUD in a below. In general, these medications reduce or eliminate the onset of withdrawal symptoms and are used as a replacement for opioids or alcohol.


Why Is Medication-Assisted Treatment Used?

One of the problems with traditional treatment modalities for opioid and alcohol dependence has been in effectively treating these disorders over extended periods of time. Though both are dangerous, deaths associated with opioid use have soared in recent years. Combatting this source of preventable death has challenged health professionals who have seen that traditional treatment modalities sometimes just haven’t worked for certain individuals. Medication-assisted treatment has seen increased use stemming from it’s demonstrated effectiveness in helping individuals transition off of the use of opioids, saving countless lives in the process.

Avoid Uncomfortable Detox Symptoms

One of the challenges that stand in the way of recovery for many people is withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms associated with numerous drugs can be challenging, but for opiates and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Many individuals who want to get clean are deterred by the prospect of withdrawal symptoms. Medication-assisted treatment allows individuals suffering from OUD or AUD to get treatment while avoiding withdrawal symptoms. This is an enormous advantage of medication-assisted treatment and is one of the reasons that this treatment modality has higher retention rates than some other treatment options.

Improved Patient Survival

One of the challenges that health professionals have tried to confront in recent years is how to increase the survival rate of patients seeking help for substance use disorder. The most dangerous period for individuals that are recovering addicts is the moment that they relapse. This is particularly true for opiates. When an individual goes through the detox process their body adjusts to the lack of opiates coming into their system. Their tolerance for the drug diminishes during this time. When they relapse, they may return to the same dose they were using prior to abstaining from the drug. This situation is a leading cause of overdose associated with opiate use. One of the strengths of medication-assisted treatment is that it reduces the likelihood that an individual will relapse, which consequently has a big impact on patient survival rates. A second way that MAT programs increase patient survival rates is by reducing instances of infection and contagious diseases. There are many negative physical and behavioral health outcomes associated with the use of illicit drugs over the long-term. Some of these stem from the harmful effects of the drug itself, while others are related to the lifestyle of the drug user. Needle sharing or risky sexual behavior are both key vectors of disease transmission among drug using populations. Medication-assisted treatment helps address this by stopping the use of illicit drugs through a treatment plan centered around medication and behavioral treatments.

Reduced Cravings

A significant challenge for many people in achieving long-lasting sobriety is cravings. Continued cravings for opiates and alcohol and persist for months after cessation. Intense cravings can present challenges long after an individual has left a residential treatment facility. Medication-assisted treatment addresses these powerful cravings through the use of medications that reduce the cravings an individual may be feeling. This has a couple of benefits. First, it reduces the likelihood that an individual will relapse during the treatment. Second, it allows the individual to actually focus on the treatment they are receiving, which includes counseling and therapy sessions.  

What Medications are Used for MAT?

If you are thinking about trying medication-assisted treatment, you’ll probably want to get a better understanding of what medications are used as part of the treatment. We’ll look at the medications that are currently used for both opiate use disorder and alcohol use disorder.

Medications for Opiate Use Disorder

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone

Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder

  • Disulfiram
  • Acamprosate
  • Naltrexone

Each of these drugs has different advantages and disadvantages for treatment. You may notice that the drug naltrexone is used for both OUD and AUD. This is because naltrexone acts as a deterrent to using. For opiates, naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects of opiates. Individuals who take naltrexone with opiates won’t get the “high” that they would normally receive from the drugs. Individuals who drink while taking naltrexone will also lack the euphoric effects that alcohol causes, while also experiencing physical symptoms of discomfort within a short period of time. Ultimately, the medical professional supervising your medication-assisted treatment will guide you towards the best medication for your specific needs. It is important to remember that medication-assisted treatment is not the same as drug replacement therapy. The goal of medication-assisted treatment is to help individuals achieve full long-term recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, not simply keep them on a maintenance dose of alternative medication. One advantage that the use of medications in treatment brings is that it allows individuals to more readily begin the treatment process. This is because they are no longer under the effects of drugs or alcohol, while also not having cravings. The lack of cognitive impairment and cravings is an enormous advantage of this treatment process. Individuals in medication-assisted treatment are able to achieve a healthier lifestyle while progressing through their treatment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Outpatient Treatment Programs

Medication-assisted treatment is one type of outpatient treatment program. There are other outpatient treatment options and programs as well, such as an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or partial hospitalization program. Outpatient treatment programs are different from residential treatment programs in that they don’t require the individual in recovery to maintain a constant presence at the treatment facility. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Outpatient treatment programs like medication-assisted treatment have the advantage of being more flexible than residential treatment programs. Although there are still requirements that patients must adhere to, they don’t have to reside in the treatment facility for an extended period of time. This means that individuals in a MAT program can meet employment or caretaking responsibilities while going through treatment. An added advantage of the approach adopted through outpatient treatment programs is that they allow individuals to incorporate the skills and knowledge they learn in treatment into their daily lives immediately. The transition out of a residential program into the outside world can be daunting and represents a much more major shift than the one encountered by individuals in an outpatient treatment program. A disadvantage of outpatient programs is that they offer less structure and security than residential programs. Residential programs entail residing in a treatment facility for an extended duration, typically lasting up to 3 months. During this time, a person’s exposure to their substance of abuse is eliminated entirely. In contrast, individuals in an outpatient treatment program return to their normal lives after each treatment session. What this means is that there is a great deal more temptation involved in outpatient treatment. A MAT program addresses this by reducing cravings through the administration of medication. Lastly, outpatient programs tend to be less intensive than a residential program. During the course of a residential treatment program, individuals in recovery are spending the majority of their day exploring the issues that gave rise to their addiction, building a set of skills to maintain sobriety after treatment, and establishing a support network for themselves and their transition out of the facility. In contrast, individuals in an outpatient program spend substantially less time in therapy and counseling sessions throughout the week. However, outpatient programs tend to last a longer period of time. So, while you may spend less time per week in counseling or therapy, you’ll spend the same or more time in treatment overall.

Things to Keep in Mind about MAT Programs

Here are a couple of things you should keep in mind if you are considering a MAT program:  

  • Drug Screening – Most MAT programs require regular drug screening to ensure that the individual in the MAT program isn’t simultaneously using illicit drugs alongside the drugs they have been prescribed.
  • Regular Sessions – MAT programs aren’t just about receiving medication to address withdrawal symptoms and cravings. While this is one aspect of the treatment, MAT programs also address addiction through behavioral treatments. Individuals in a MAT program will be expected to attend counseling and therapy sessions regularly for the duration of the treatment until full recovery is achieved.
  • Hard Work – A misconception about MAT programs is that they are easier than a traditional residential program. The truth is, recovery from drug or alcohol abuse is always a challenging process. While medication can help alleviate some of the most difficult withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings to continue using drugs and alcohol, individuals in recovery will still have to put in work to address the underlying issues that gave rise to their addiction in the first place.


Final Thoughts

A medication-assisted treatment program can be an excellent option for individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder or opiate use disorder. Through the use of specific medications, withdrawal symptoms can be avoided and cravings alleviated so that individuals in recovery can focus on their treatment. Just like other treatment options, medication-assisted treatment isn’t easy. It will require work and dedication. The goal of a MAT program isn’t to maintain an individual on a replacement drug. Rather, the goal of MAT is to achieve full recovery. Towards this end, individuals in a MAT program will attend regular therapy and counseling sessions that will help identify and address underlying issues that gave rise to their addiction. During these sessions, individuals in recovery will learn the skills and techniques that will allow that to achieve long-lasting sobriety. Importantly, MAT programs enable individuals to build a support network of professionals and others in recovery that can assist them through difficult times. If you would like to learn more about how medication-assisted treatment can help you or your loved one, please contact Apex Recovery today.



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