How Does Medication Assisted Treatment Work?
Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, has long been utilized and viewed as the gold standard of care for treating opioid and alcohol addiction. Those who are addicted to alcohol and opioids like heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and so forth often have difficulty ending their use without experiencing painful, relapse-provoking withdrawal symptoms. This is because the body becomes dependent on alcohol or opioids, or reliant on their presence. So, when alcohol or opioids go from being abused regularly to not being abused at all, the body and the mind have difficulty functioning. This is where medication assisted treatment comes in.
Medication assisted treatment is a treatment modality that combines the use of FDA-approved prescription medications and evidence-based therapies. The medications that are used in this form of treatment are designed specifically to help lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms (such as nausea, sweats and chills, fever, headaches, and abdominal cramping) as well as help reduce the onslaught of cravings for opioid users. These effects are made possible by the presence of opioids within these medications. Of course, it can sound completely backwards to use opioids to stop an opioid addiction, but the level of opioids within these medications are minor enough that they do not produce any mind-altering effects, rather help to wean the body and mind off of higher doses of opioids. These opioid-based medications are not used to help treat alcohol withdrawal, as other medications are better equipped to do that so that alcohol-related withdrawal symptoms (like shakes, tremors, vomiting, nausea, and risk of seizures) can be mitigated.
The implementation of medications into a patient’s treatment plan often comes in the beginning stages of the detox process. When medications are started at this time, they dramatically reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, making the entire process of detox much more manageable. The length of time that a person remains on medication will depend on several factors, such as the severity of their alcohol or opioid use disorder, their history of relapse, their mental state, and their physical health and wellbeing. In general, however, these medications are not advised to be used for a lifetime. Instead, many people incorporate these medications into their treatment for weeks or months, again depending on their own unique needs.
What Medications are Used in Medication Assisted Treatment?
Methadone and buprenorphine are the leading medications used in the treatment of opioid use disorder. Both of these medications interact with the opioid receptors in the brain, either partially or completely blocking the effects of opioids depending on which medication is being used. This action “tricks” the body into thinking that opioids are present, allowing for withdrawal symptoms and cravings to settle. Buprenorphine and naloxone combination medications can be found under the brand names Suboxone or Zubsev, while methadone goes by its generic name. Subutex is the brand name for the medication containing only buprenorphine as its active ingredient.
For alcohol use disorder, the most common medications used include Acamprosate and Disulfiram, both of which are designed to help reduce the desire to drink. Acamprosate works to curb alcohol cravings while Disulfiram will make a person ill if they mix it with alcohol.
Benefits of Medication Assisted Treatment
Alcoholism and opioid addiction are often treated with MAT as well as behavioral and holistic therapies. For clients addicted to opioids, the Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado can prescribe Vivitrol, Naltrexone, or Buprenorphine. These medications assist during drug detox and treatment to block the pleasurable effects of opioids, thereby reducing cravings and lowering the risk for relapse throughout recovery.
MAT is also used to treat alcohol addiction. Clients who receive treatment for alcohol use disorder here could be prescribed disulfiram, acamprosate, or naltrexone to remove the cravings for and desirable effects of alcohol.