The opioid epidemic in the United States has necessitated the development of evidence-based treatments that are effective for people struggling with addiction. One treatment option that has become more popular is medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. This form of treatment is in contrast to abstinence-based models, and it comes with both pros and cons. Understanding the difference between MAT vs. abstinence based treatment can be beneficial for those looking to start treatment, as well as those who are concerned about a loved one living with a substance use disorder.

What is the difference between MAT and abstinence-based treatment?

As its name might suggest, abstinence-based treatment involves abstaining from any substance use. For example, someone who is following an abstinence-based treatment approach for an alcohol addiction would refrain from drinking any alcohol, and would not merely cut back on alcohol use.

In the case of opioid addiction, abstinence-based treatment refers to an approach that does not utilize any replacement medications. Someone following an abstinence-based approach for opioid addiction would engage in behavioral therapies, such as individual and group counseling, but would not take any medications for opioid addiction.

On the other hand, MAT is a treatment approach that uses opioid replacement medications. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), medications commonly used to treat opioid addiction include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. These medications have beneficial effects, including the ability to reduce opioid cravings and block the high associated with opioid drugs. They are included as part of a comprehensive treatment approach that also involves behavioral services like counseling.

Benefits of MAT

MAT has emerged as a preferred treatment approach because of the numerous benefits associated with offering medications alongside counseling when treating opioid addiction. According to experts, MAT is associated with the following benefits:

  • Reduction in deaths from opioid addiction
  • Better retention in treatment
  • Decreases in criminal activity and illegal drug use among individuals living with addictions
  • Better employment outcomes among those in treatment
  • Improved outcomes for pregnant women with opioid addictions

In summary, MAT is a viable treatment option for opioid addiction, because it reduces drug use, keeps people engaged in treatment, and reduces negative consequences associated with addiction, such as death, crime, and harm to babies exposed to drugs prenatally.

Are there drawbacks associated with MAT?

There are certainly benefits associated with MAT, but some people worry if there are drawbacks linked to these drugs. One potential drawback of MAT is the abuse or diversion of these medications. Some people may sell these drugs on the street, use them to get high, or take drugs for which they do not have a prescription.

While this is a concern, research shows that most people who misuse buprenorphine do so in order to manage their own withdrawal symptoms or to help them stop using other opioid drugs. In general, using buprenorphine to get high is less common. The potential for abuse and diversion of drugs used in MAT is possible, but on the whole, the benefits of these drugs outweigh the negatives, especially among people who use them as prescribed and are under the care of a physician.

Another drawback associated with MAT is that not everyone who needs this form of treatment is able to receive it. There is an overall lack of MAT services available, and most states are not able to treat everyone who is in need. Given that many people who misuse buprenorphine do so to manage withdrawal and stop using other drugs, it may be that making MAT more accessible would reduce unintended consequences like misuse and diversion of medications used to treat opioid addiction.

Finally, some people may argue that a drawback of MAT is that drug users are simply replacing one addiction with another, but this is untrue. MAT is monitored by certified physicians, who prescribe doses that are intended to reduce withdrawal and cravings. These doses are not sufficient to create the same high seen with drugs like heroin. Instead of replacing one addiction with another, MAT provides a medication-based treatment that helps people to stop using illegal and potentially life-threatening drugs and provides them with a safe way to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

MAT at iRecoveryUSA

As mentioned, the overall lack of available MAT services is a barrier for those seeking treatment for opioid addiction, but iRecoveryUSA provides a solution. We offer comprehensive addiction treatment services via our telehealth platform, meaning you can participate in MAT from the comfort of home. This is especially beneficial if there are no MAT services in your area. Reach out to us today to learn how you can begin receiving MAT from home.