Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for addiction has grown in popularity in recent years, especially in the wake of the opioid epidemic. As more and more people seek treatment for addiction, MAT has come to the forefront as an effective option. Not only does MAT work; it also literally saves lives. If you or a loved one is living with an addiction, it is important to learn about MAT, and you would be wise to consider a treatment provider that offers this option.

What is MAT?

As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a term used to describe an addiction treatment approach that uses a combination of medication and counseling. MAT is most often associated with the treatment of opioid addiction, and the medications used in this form of treatment can reduce drug withdrawal symptoms, alleviate drug cravings, and correct brain imbalances that occur with addiction, so that patients can focus on recovery.

Medications used to treat opioid addiction include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. While treatment of opioid dependence is probably the most common use of MAT, some people may receive MAT for alcohol use disorders. Medications commonly used to treat alcohol addiction include acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone. Keep in mind that while medications are effective for treating addictions, it is also important for patients to participate in therapy to address underlying issues that lead to addiction and to learn healthy ways of coping with stress and avoiding relapse.

Research on the Effectiveness of MAT

According to SAMHSA, MAT is effective, because it has been found to have numerous benefits. For instance, it helps people to stay in treatment, so they can be more successful on their recovery journeys. MAT also helps people to reduce illegal opioid use, avoid criminal activity, and maintain employment. Finally, it improves survival rates for people in treatment for opioid addiction, meaning that MAT is literally life-saving treatment.

Given the link between MAT and increased survival, researchers have taken an interest in the life-saving effects of this form of treatment. A 2019 report in Molecular Psychiatry reviewed the results of 21 studies involving over 370,000 people and found that those receiving MAT treatment were significantly less likely to die from any cause, including drug overdose.

Researchers have also extensively reviewed the general effectiveness of MAT. A recent report in Psychiatric Services analyzed the results of 16 different studies and found that buprenorphine, a common MAT medication, reduced illegal opioid use and kept people in treatment. Reviewed research also suggested that buprenorphine and methadone were about equally effective for reducing drug use, but buprenorphine seemed to have fewer side effects.

What can be concluded from the research on MAT is that medications like buprenorphine can make a positive difference in the lives of those with opioid addictions. Also keep in mind that MAT can be useful for individuals recovering from alcohol addictions, and a 2013 report found that the medication acamprosate is effective for promoting abstinence among those in recovery, whereas naltrexone reduces alcohol cravings and heavy drinking.

But doesn’t MAT just replace one addiction with another?

Experts know that MAT works, but there is still a stigma associated with this treatment option among the public. Some people may argue that MAT isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, because it replaces one addiction with another. This is quite frankly inaccurate. Participating in MAT requires a patient to be monitored by a physician while taking medication and also participating in therapy. MAT also provides FDA-approved medications that have been carefully tested to ensure safety and effectiveness.

On the other hand, someone who is actively in opioid addiction is likely to be purchasing drugs illegally off of the streets, with no way of knowing what is truly inside the packages of drugs they are purchasing. This increases the risk of serious side effects, including overdose. Keep in mind that MAT reduces illegal drug use and decreases the risk of overdose death. Instead of “replacing one addiction with another,” MAT provides a safe way for remaining abstinent from dangerous drugs. MAT also helps people to stay actively engaged in the recovery process, as it eliminates drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, so they can focus on healing.

While some people may use medications over the long-term, others eventually taper off as they move further along in their recovery journeys. There is sometimes a negative stigma associated with taking MAT medications long-term, but even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has indicated that since addiction is a chronic condition, some people may need to take these medications indefinitely. Just as some patients may require daily medication for chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes, individuals in recovery may benefit from using MAT over the long-term to help them maintain their sobriety and reduce the consequences that come with illegal drug use.

Barriers to Receiving MAT

MAT is an effective treatment for addictions, especially opioid use disorders and alcohol use disorders, but there are numerous barriers that may stand in the way of patients receiving this life-saving treatment. For example, research has shown that the stigma associated with MAT may prevent some people from seeking MAT. In addition, some individuals in recovery simply may not be able to access MAT services, because there is no treatment available in their areas, and transportation is a barrier. Furthermore, some states may lack MAT services in general, and even when services are available, patients may struggle to take time away from work or family obligations in order to get the care they need.

MAT with iRecoveryUSA

Recognizing the need to make MAT accessible to more people, iRecoveryUSA offers a solution to many of the barriers that patients encounter when trying to access this service. With our online telehealth portal, patients can access MAT from the comfort of home at times that suit their schedules. We offer both individual and group counseling with licensed and credentialed providers, and patients can complete all MAT requirements without leaving home. If you are unable to take time off from work for treatment, or there are no MAT providers near you, iRecovery may be the best choice for you. Learn more at our website.