Struggling with an Opioid Addiction is frightening and confusing for individuals and their families. You may understand it’s time to get help and that different types of treatment are available, but the options may not be clear to you. One of the treatment types you should learn about is called medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This form of treatment has been successful for decades, and the American Medical Association recently released a statement asserting that MAT is a crucial tool in fighting the opioid epidemic. Learn more about this effective form of Opioid Addiction treatment and how it can help you win your life back.
What is medication-assisted treatment? MAT is the use of certain medications alongside behavioral therapy or counseling to treat Addiction. MAT is most common in treating Opioid Addiction and Alcohol Addiction. Combining medication and psychological care is a “whole-patient” approach to healing.
MAT Medications for Opioid Addiction
MAT for Opioid Addiction gives patients one of three medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
You’ve likely heard of methadone, the most widespread and commonly used medication for Opioid Addiction treatment. Methadone has been federally regulated for use in MAT since the 1970s, thanks to its effectiveness in managing cravings. This medication is an opioid agonist, meaning it binds to the same receptors in the brain as drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers. However, its action is less intense, and when taken as prescribed by someone with an Opioid Addiction, it does not cause euphoria or other symptoms of a high.
Buprenorphine, which received FDA approval in 2002, is a partial opioid agonist. It binds only partially to opioid receptors, and has a “ceiling effect” that makes it difficult to abuse. Buprenorphine also comes in formulations that include naloxone, which will create immediate withdrawal symptoms if someone tries to dissolve and inject the medication.
Naltrexone is the least common and most expensive medication used in Opioid Addiction MAT. It prevents the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids, so if a person relapses, they won’t feel any of the effects they were looking for.
MAT Medications for Alcohol Addiction
MAT for Alcohol Addiction may also include the use of naltrexone. A treatment center may use several other medications, but the most common are disulfiram and acamprosate.
Disulfiram helps treat chronic Alcohol Addiction in people who have completed detoxification and are in the first stages of abstinence. Disulfiram does not reduce cravings for alcohol. It works by causing adverse reactions when someone consumes alcohol. The unpleasant symptoms act as a deterrent that discourages people from drinking.
Acamprosate does help reduce cravings for alcohol, and can also help alleviate some of the longer-lasting symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety or insomnia. Acamprosate doesn’t cause the same adverse reactions as disulfiram, so it will not interfere if someone decides to continue drinking.
Goals of MAT
Whether you need medication-assisted treatment for Alcohol or Opioid Addiction, the goals of these programs are the same: to discourage use of a substance and provide patients with the tools they need to build a solid foundation for Recovery.
There is one key difference to understand. The objective of MAT for Alcohol Addiction is helping people avoid relapse once they have already undergone detoxification. MAT for Opioid Addiction, on the other hand, can prevent people from going into withdrawal after they stop illicit use of a drug.
Medications provide enough stimulation of opioid receptors for the brain to continue functioning on a normal level, allowing patients to get on with their lives and participate fully in the therapy and counseling elements of treatment. Opioid Addiction medications may be part of detoxification, but if a patient opts for methadone or buprenorphine maintenance, longer treatment times link with better outcomes. The recommended time frame for methadone treatment is at least one year.
MAR vs. MAT
What is medication-assisted Recovery (MAR), and how does it relate to MAT? You may hear these two terms used interchangeably, but Addiction expert William L. White makes a critical distinction between them in his work, “Recovery-Oriented Methadone Maintenance.” According to White, MAT is the use of medication to:
- Facilitate detoxification
- Suppress withdrawal symptoms
- Reverse cravings
- Neutralize or create an aversion to particular substances
- Treat symptoms of a co-occurring disorder
In contrast, MAR is a term that refers to the use of medications to initiate and maintain Recovery. In other words, MAT is the professional intervention element, while MAR covers the experience and activities of patients who are using medication to support their recoveries. It helps to think of MAT as the process that makes the result of MAR possible.
While studies of people in medication-assisted Recovery are invaluable to enhancing knowledge of post-treatment support services, the focus has shifted toward MAT. Because MAT is the first, required step before a patient can enter medication-assisted Recovery, understanding and improving MAT methods is essential.
Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment and How It Can Help
As treatment types go, MAT is the program of choice for many people combating Opioid or Alcohol Addiction. There are many benefits of MAT, with the following representing just a few reasons people choose this form of treatment.
1. MAT Works
Addiction does not have a single metric by which you can judge the success of a treatment program, but outcomes for MAT are among the best. When considering other treatments, which are either behavioral-only or medication-only, MAT is more effective. MAT programs treat multiple aspects of each patient, rather than having a one-sided approach. Having support from the medication while simultaneously undergoing psychological treatment makes this method stronger.
2. MAT Is Affordable
MAT will help you get the best value for your money. It’s an unfortunate fact that Drug and Alcohol Addiction treatment can be costly, and some people think they can’t get any treatment at all due to expense. However, MAT is highly accessible in terms of cost.
The cost of MAT for Alcohol Addiction is more variable, depending on the type of medication used and where you live. When considering the immense cost of sustaining an Addiction, MAT is an extremely affordable alternative. Not only does obtaining more drugs of abuse cost more and more money as Addiction progresses, but the inevitable health problems that accompany Addiction will also result in mounting medical bills. MAT helps prevent these unpredictable costs with a reliable weekly rate.
3. MAT Allows Greater Freedom
There doesn’t have to be a separation between residential treatment and MAT. Many high-quality residential treatment programs use MAT during the detoxification process and throughout treatment. MAT can also be beneficial in the period immediately following a residential stay, when you may experience the lingering symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
When you continue MAT outside of or after residential treatment, you only need to visit the treatment facility a maximum of once a day to receive your medication if you’re on methadone. Buprenorphine treatment requires twice-weekly visits, and medications for Alcohol Addiction usually require infrequent visits. MAT allows you to get back into the flow of daily life, while still receiving medical and psychological support to make your transition and Recovery go more smoothly.
4. MAT Can Be Part of a Greater Framework
Clinical settings typically offer MAT as a standalone program. In an average program, patients receive their medications and get a choice between individual or group counseling, as well as some referrals to local resources. These tools can be enough to help someone enter and sustain Recovery, but MAT has much more substantial potential.
In more robust and patient-centered programs, any number of holistic therapies can support MAT and further unlock its potential. It is particularly powerful for Opioid Addiction, as the elimination of withdrawal symptoms allows patients to engage with the full range of holistic therapies available.
5. MAT Can Bridge the Gap
One of the challenges in completing treatment is transitioning back into your regular life at home. When physical and emotional symptoms linger, it can be challenging to focus on sobriety and what you need to do to maintain it. Continuing MAT after initial treatment can keep you feeling stable and strong enough to handle the challenge of continuing your Recovery with less assistance.
MAT at 7 Summit Pathways
At 7 Summit Pathways, we use elements of both MAT and MAR. We have built our approach on the foundational knowledge that Addiction consists of learned behaviors outside the patient’s control. It results in extreme changes to brain chemistry and the way the brain functions, and the effects depend on the type of substance used. Generally, however, Addiction results in long-lasting brain changes.
Most people are aware of withdrawal, which comprises all the painful symptoms that come with cutting off the brain’s supply of alcohol or drugs. Typical symptoms of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol include:
- Shaking or tremors
- Aches and pains
- Sleepiness or exhaustion
- Confusion and agitation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
The combined strength of the symptoms is almost always enough to cause immediate relapse if the person attempts to withdraw on their own. In some cases, particularly with alcohol, withdrawal can be life-threatening. That is why medically supervised detoxification is vital.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is a secondary wave of symptoms that appear as the brain is attempting to heal itself. The PAWS period can last for weeks to months after detoxification, saddling patients with symptoms that make Recovery harder. Its characteristics include:
- Depression or anxiety
- Mood swings
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Appetite changes
- Impaired cognition
At 7 Summit Pathways, our Medical Director, Dr. Lawrence Wilson, is well-versed in the challenges posed by PAWS. With an in-depth evaluation of each patient, Dr. Wilson builds a completely personalized treatment plan designed around your goals and desires. When appropriate, your treatment team will encourage you to continue your specific medication protocol anywhere from six to 12 months after the completion of your initial treatment. The first year after treatment completion is crucial in establishing healthy patterns in Recovery.
The door is always open. After you complete treatment at 7 Summit Pathways, you are welcome to return to us anytime to address your continued medication-assisted Recovery and develop a “medication exit strategy” as you continue to grow stronger in Recovery.
The 7 Summit Pathways Methodology
7 Summit Pathways is not your typical MAT and MAR program. Rather than being satisfied with the minimum offerings federal law requires, we strive for multi-dimensional treatment that addresses who you are as a person and seeks your input in your healing. We have centered our programming on the 7 Dimensions of Wellness:
- Social Wellness
- Emotional Wellness
- Spiritual Wellness
- Environmental Wellness
- Occupational Wellness
- Intellectual Wellness
- Physical Wellness
Every one of these wellness aspects is present in daily life and has had an impact on your Addiction, so any treatment that doesn’t address all seven is incomplete. Most treatment programs provide only medical and psychiatric care, addressing only two or three of these elements and hoping you’ll figure the rest out yourself. At 7 Summit Pathways, you have an immense range of Holistic Therapy options to choose from. Our techniques include:
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming
- Guided Meditation
- Massage Therapy
- Chiropractic Treatments
- Expressive Arts
- Nutritional Education
By exploring these options during treatment, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the 7 Dimensions of Wellness and how your relationship to them will play a role in your Recovery.
One of the essential aspects of our methodology is highly individualized treatment. Everyone experiences Addiction and Recovery differently, and a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t cover everyone’s individual needs. At 7 Summit Pathways, we maintain a 5-to-1 patient-to-specialist ratio. You can rest assured your care team knows you and has your best interests at heart, rather than treating you as just another face in a sea of patients.
Reach Recovery With 7 Summit Pathways
Wrestling with a Drug or Alcohol Addiction can be terrifying and overwhelming. Sometimes, that fear can cause people to think they don’t have the power to change their lives and reach for Recovery. If you have already attempted detoxification on your own, you may be afraid to attempt it again, even with appropriate medical supervision.
Medication-assisted treatment is safe and effective. When accompanied by other forms of treatment, it can transform how you approach and cope with the ups and downs of life — without turning back to Substance Abuse. If you or someone you care about is fighting the cycle of Drug or Alcohol Addiction, 7 Summit Pathways is here to remind you that you don’t need to start on the path to Recovery alone.
We encourage you to get in touch with us by calling 800-719-8115 or filling out our contact form. We’ll answer all your questions about Addiction and share the next steps to taking your life back.