When people think of addiction treatment, they probably imagine programs in which a person aims to become completely abstinent from all substances. While some people do go through recovery with an abstinence-based approach, others may take medications to help them with recovery. Taking medications alongside behavioral interventions like counseling is referred to as medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. The difference with MAT vs. abstinence-based approaches is that there is not an expectation in MAT that a person will refrain from any and all substance use.

The Ins and Outs of MAT

Put simply, MAT is any addiction treatment approach that uses medication alongside counseling and other interventions.

Some opponents of MAT argue that this treatment approach is dangerous, because it allows individuals with addictions to replace one addiction with another. In reality, this is not the case, as medications used in MAT are prescribed and monitored by doctors, and the intention is not for users to become high. Instead of replacing one addiction with another, MAT allows those in recovery to remain abstinent from dangerous, illegal drugs and take FDA-approved medications that are safe when given by a doctor.

Just as a person might take medications over the long term to manage health conditions like heart disease or diabetes, those with addictions can take medications to cope with cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and chemical imbalances in the brain.

What medications are used in MAT?

Perhaps the most common and well-known form of MAT is the use of opioid replacement medications for individuals recovering from addictions to opioid drugs like heroin and prescription pain pills. For those using MAT for opioid addiction, there are three FDA-approved medications:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone

These medications are beneficial for those in treatment for opioid addiction, as they can reduce drug cravings, block the high that comes from drugs, and help to stabilize brain chemistry that has been altered by drug use.

While medications used to treat opioid addiction are probably the most common form of MAT, there are also medications used in treatment of alcohol addiction. These include the following:

Naltrexone: This medication is not just used in the treatment of opioid addiction, as it is also effective for blocking the euphoric effects of alcohol.
Acamprosate: Because it reduces the long-term effects associated with alcohol withdrawal, acamprosate can help people to stop drinking and avoid relapse.
Disulfiram: By causing a person to become very ill if they consume alcohol, disulfiram serves as a deterrent to drinking and can aid people in remaining sober.

Does MAT work?

Given the increasing popularity of MAT, people often have questions about the effectiveness of this treatment method. Fortunately, findings from research with the medications used in this form of treatment have been positive. For instance, MAT used in opioid addiction has been found to reduce the risk of death from drug use, help people remain in treatment, and decrease the use of illegal opioids. People who participate in MAT for opioid addiction are less likely to engage in criminal activity, and they are more likely to find jobs and remain employed.

Studies Suggest MAT is Effective

Studies also suggest that MAT is effective for clients with alcohol addictions. Research indicates that disulfiram is useful when patients know they will be exposed to a trigger, such as a family party where alcohol is present. In addition, naltrexone has been found to be beneficial for people who are highly motivated to recover but experience strong alcohol cravings. Finally, acamprosate has been shown in studies to be moderately effective for preventing relapse and increasing the number of days that patients remain abstinent from alcohol.

The Bottom Line on MAT

There are a variety of MAT options available, for both opioid and alcohol addiction. While not everyone prefers this treatment approach, MAT is safe, approved, and effective for clients who are candidates for this type of treatment. What is important to keep in mind about MAT is that while it does not involve true abstinence, it is also much safer than continuing to abuse drugs and alcohol. MAT is conducted under the guidance of a doctor and requires people to participate in counseling and other forms of treatment to address addiction.

While MAT is effective, one drawback to this form of treatment is that it is not always readily available. Clients who live in rural areas or who have limited resources may struggle to access this type of treatment.

Fortunately, iRecoveryUSA provides a solution. We offer comprehensive addiction treatment services, including MAT, in an entirely remote format via our telehealth app. We employ licensed and credentialed staff, including board-certified doctors, who can provide MAT services. Contact us today to learn more.