Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an addiction treatment method that’s been steadily gaining ground in recent years. However, MAT has divided the medical community and public, some of whom see it as a crutch rather than a vital part of a holistic treatment plan; media conversations around MAT have signaled that addiction is not yet completely accepted as a life-threatening medical condition.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment is the use of pharmaceutical drugs as part of a holistic treatment plan for addiction. MAT takes into account the complicated nature of substance use and addiction treatment, and is used in combination with behavioral therapy and other methods. MAT takes into account that addiction has both psychological and physiological elements, and by law, MAT must be used in conjunction with counseling and other forms of therapy.
Stigma and Misinformation About Medication-Assisted Treatment
There is no shortage of misinformation about MAT, which may deter patients struggling with addiction from asking for it to be included in their treatment plans. This is a shame: studies have shown that medically assisted treatment can decrease addiction-related deaths by half or more. Yet only half of private opioid treatment centers offer MAT, and in the centers that do offer it, only a third of patients are treated using MAT.
The medical community has come a long way in embracing MAT. The World Health Organization supports MAT as a valid treatment option for opioid addiction, affirming that “diverse treatment options are needed, including psycho-social approaches and pharmacological treatment,” and the US Government in partnership with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has prioritized providing guidance and support to the development of MAT solutions.
Part of the initial reluctance to embrace MAT as a viable treatment option came from stigma: addicts are often expected to use willpower to overcome addiction, and viewed as weak when they need more than faith-based 12-Step programs to do so. These programs are a wonderful option that work for many, but every patient is different, and, as one doctor points out, “A lot of people on board with the 12-steps think that if you use MAT, you’re just substituting one drug for another.” Doctors are increasingly concerned about the lack of science-based addiction treatment options, and see the proven success of MAT as an important advancement in this area.
How Does MAT Work?
MAT works by using FDA-approved drugs to help patients end their dependence on illicit opioids. After the dangerous detox and withdrawal period has ended, patients are prescribed maintenance medications that mimic the effects on the brain of the drug of choice, but do not cause physical or mental impairment. Patients can also be prescribed drugs like naltrexone that block the pleasurable effects of drugs like alcohol or opioids, resulting in less need for these substances.
The medications used in MAT work by helping to regulate brain chemistry and physiological functions to help recovering addicts feel more in control of their bodies and minds. The duration of treatment depends on the patient: some will take medication for a few weeks, while others will continue for life. MAT must be extensively personalized to fit the patients’ needs and take into account factors like how long they’ve been using, any co-occurring mental or physical conditions, drug of choice and the extent of physical and emotional dependency.
Which Substance Use Disorders Can MAT Treat?
MAT is gaining visibility as an evidence-based option for the treatment of opioid use disorders, but it can also be used for alcohol use disorder and nicotine addiction.
MAT for Opioid Use Disorder
MAT can help treat addictions to street opioids like heroin, as well as other common opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine. There are three medications commonly used to treat opioid use disorder:
- Methadone: Methadone helps with withdrawal and cravings by making the brain think that it’s still getting the drug of choice. There’s no high with methadone, and also no withdrawal, so the patient feels normal throughout.
- Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine works similarly to methadone, and it’s available for prescription or in physicians’ offices, which makes it more accessible.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and some other substances, ensuring that if a patient relapses, they won’t get the same effect from their drug of choice that they used to.
MAT for Alcohol Use Disorder
MAT can be used for treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD), though it’s especially important that these drugs be part of a comprehensive treatment plan, as they do not cure alcoholism.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone treats alcohol use disorder the same way it treats opioid use disorder: to block the euphoric effects of alcohol.
- Disulfiram: Disulfiram causes intense physical discomfort if alcohol is consumed.
- Acamprosate: Acamprosate can help recovering addicts by reducing the need to drink.
MAT for Nicotine Addiction
MAT can also be used to treat those with nicotine use disorders. The most commonly prescribed drugs are bupropion and varenicline, both of which help to reduce nicotine cravings.
Is MAT Right for You?
A good candidate for MAT is committed to recovery and willing to comply with all prescription instructions. MAT is not right for everyone, and an open and honest discussion with your doctor is mandatory to
determine which course of treatment best fits your needs. If you’ve been addicted for less than a year, if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, if you have a co-occurring addiction or if you have a serious physical or mental health condition, you may not be a candidate for MAT.
Broadway Treatment Center Can Help
If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, you deserve to get help. Broadway Treatment Center provides a holistic approach to addiction treatment, treating both the physical symptoms and also going deeper in therapy to address underlying causes.
We strongly believe that there is more than one way to provide addiction recovery services, and we work with our patients to create a personalized treatment plan that complements their strengths and weaknesses. If you’re ready to get help, please contact us today to find out how we can put you on the road to recovery.