What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Substance Abuse?

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Substance Abuse?

According to the CDC, in 2017 there were over 72,000 fatal drug overdose and 88,000 alcohol related deaths in America. And in 2018 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), reported that 2 million people experienced an opioid use disorder. With these heartbreaking and shocking statistics the American Medical Association announced its support and encouragement for providers to utilize medicated-assisted treatment (MAT) plans for those suffering from substance abuse disorders. So, what is medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse?

MAT is sometimes seen as a controversial treatment plan as there are many misconceptions regarding its effectiveness for supporting individuals in their journey to sobriety. It can often be interpreted as a substitute drug and not a method of support during recovery. However, this method has proved to be sustainable for long term recovery and reintegration. 

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Substance Abuse?

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, has long been seen as the gold standard of opioid and alcohol addiction treatment by many in the rehabilitation community. This treatment modality utilizes prescribed, FDA-approved medications to support those facing substance abuse disorder in their recovery process by weaning the mind and body off opioid dependence. MAT is often used in partnership with behavioral and holistic therapies to support long term recovery.

Medications used in MAT are not simply replacements for opioids or alcohol, as many who question the effectiveness of MAT might believe. Medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms so that patients can move towards recovery with greater support. These medications used in MAT do not give the same pleasurable effects as opioids or alcohol, but simply reduce cravings and mitigate the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, greatly reducing relapse risk. When used as prescribed, these medications hold no side effects to a person’s mental or physical capabilities. 

MAT is a step in the substance abuse recovery process that typically occurs in the early stages of detox. While everyone’s addiction and recovery are unique, MAT programs are often geared toward those who have extremely intense withdrawal symptoms that make recovery seem impossible. MAT makes these withdrawal symptoms more manageable by using controlled and minor amounts of opioids in medications. The medications are not intended to be used long term, but to support individuals as they detox and their bodies learn to re-acclimate without the strong presence of opioids. Many treatment facilities have plans for MAT to be utilized for several weeks or months, of course depending on the individual’s unique needs. Factors that influence the duration of MAT include: severity of disorder, relapse history, the individual’s mental state and their physical health and wellbeing.

What Medications are Typically Used in MAT?

For opioid substance abuse, methadone and buprenorphine are the most commonly used in MAT. These medications interact with the opioid receptors in the brain to partially or fully block the effects of opioids. This makes the brain think that opioids have flooded the body, when in reality, there is only a minuscule amount present. With the opioid receptors blocked, even partially, the symptoms of withdrawal are subdued.

Other medications are used for alcohol related withdrawal treatment. Symptoms of alcohol related withdrawal include: shakes, tremors, nausea and vomiting and in some severe cases, seizures. Acamprosate and disulfiram are used in MAT for those with alcohol use disorder. Unlike medications used in the opioid treatment plan, these FDA approved drugs simply help reduce the desire for alcohol and do not introduce any to the body. Acamprosate helps a person experience less cravings while disulfiram will make a person physically very ill if mixed with alcohol. 

In rehab facilities with MAT programs, a dedicated team of doctors and experienced staff will work with you to find the most effective and helpful medications based on the severity of your symptoms and personal history.

Who is MAT For?

Addiction recovery is a unique and highly individualized path, there is no “one size fits all” treatment plan. Those who experience extremely painful and relapse provoking withdrawal symptoms may benefit from MAT as it can lessen the severity of symptoms. This treatment is also helpful for those who may have already gone through a rehab program and have experienced relapse. With prolonged use of opioids, one’s brain chemistry can be altered by their powerful effects. MAT can help restore the balance needed for successful and long lasting treatment.

What are the Benefits of MAT?

Individuals who experience debilitating withdrawal symptoms and are finding themselves unable to participate in their daily lives would benefit from a MAT program. Because of the nature of the medications used, cravings and symptoms are significantly lessened and the risk of relapse is reduced, allowing people to assimilate with normal life more quickly. Balancing addiction and the stress of day to day life is an enormous task that can become more manageable when participating in a medication assisted treatment.

MAT can also protect against post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, which can manifest well after a three month program (even up to two years into recovery). Often appearing in those with a long-term addiction, PAWS can negatively impact the senses and emotions, making a sustainable recovery even harder to achieve. With medication-assisted treatment, individuals can reduce the effects of PAWS and continue towards sobriety.

Drug Rehab in Colorado

Everyone’s journey to recovery is unique and paved with many challenges and hardships. A medication-assisted treatment protocol can benefit those who suffer from debilitating withdrawal from either opioid or alcohol use.

At Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado, we understand how difficult getting sober can be. If you are still wondering what is medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse, contact us right now. We can get you started on a brighter tomorrow.