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What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Addiction?

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Last Updated - 6/17/2022

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Addiction affects both the mind and body, and recovery must address both in order to be successful long-term. Addiction specialists utilize evidence-based behavioral therapies, counseling and medication-assisted treatments in Washington State and Oregon drug rehab facilities. Many cases of addiction require these and other forms of treatment to break the addiction cycle.

Medication-assisted treatment is a popular choice within certain addiction treatment programs, but it is just one part of a comprehensive strategy for true addiction recovery at many Washington State drug rehab facilities.

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Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for certain types of addiction, including opioids, alcohol and tobacco. A September 2017 statement by the FDA declares, “This type of treatment is an important tool that has the potential to help millions of Americans with an opioid use disorder regain control over their lives.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), MAT is effective at normalizing the brain’s chemistry while blocking some of the euphoric effects that may occur when using alcohol or opioids. It also helps reduce the craving for these drugs. The dispensary of these medications is highly regulated at the federal and state level.

How Effective Is MAT for Addiction?

Clinically, these therapies have been shown to be effective in assisting recovery. MAT helps patients through the detoxification process so they can move past cravings and withdrawal symptoms. SAMHSA states that when used in combination with other therapies, MAT:

  • Increases retention in treatment
  • Improves survival rate
  • Potentially reduces the likelihood of contracting HIV or hepatitis C
  • Improves birth outcomes for women who have a substance use disorder while pregnant
  • Improves the person’s ability to maintain employment

In 2019, a meta-analysis looked at several different randomized, controlled trials of prisoners who were being treated for opioid use disorders. The researchers included several studies of methadone, a medication used in MAT programming. Other MAT medications like buprenorphine and naltrexone haven’t been used in enough trials to analyze statistically.

The researchers found significant results:

  • When methadone was provided during treatment, there was an observed increase in community engagement.
  • Methadone treatment reduced illicit opioid use and injection drug use.

Medications Used in Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is not to be confused with withdrawal management. Withdrawal management utilizes medication to prevent symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting while the patient experiences withdrawal.

In contrast, MAT seeks to directly treat the damage caused by addiction. MAT is currently available in three different categories.

Opioid Dependency MAT

There are two different types of MAT for opioid dependence: drugs that slow down withdrawal and prevent euphoria and drugs that make it uncomfortable to start using opioids again. Examples include:

  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone
  • Probuphine
  • Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone)
  • Subutex (buprenorphine)

Opioid Overdose MAT

In the wake of the opioid epidemic, more people are becoming familiar with naloxone. It is a fast-acting medication that binds to opioid receptors and displaces other opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone. By doing so, it reverses the effects of opioids and can therefore reverse an overdose. The most popular form is the Narcan nasal spray.

Alcohol Use Disorder MAT

MAT for an alcohol use disorder works by making the consumption of alcohol uncomfortable or unrewarding. The three currently approved treatments include:

  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone

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MAT Misconceptions

The general stigma surrounding substance use disorders is heightened by the thought that MAT replaces one addiction with another. However, this is not the case. Drugs used for MAT do not produce euphoria, and merely help the brain return to its normal physiological state.

It is difficult to understand the complicated mental and physical disorders that lead to substance use. Therapeutic interventions with medication allow people in recovery to gradually and safely withdraw from their addiction in a controlled and more comfortable state.

Clinical studies regularly prove that these treatments can speed up recovery and decrease the risk of relapse among people living with a substance use disorder.

Washington and Oregon rehab centers continue to widely adopt a mix of therapeutic approaches to help patients recover from their addiction. Addiction is an individualized process — complex in nature and difficult to break. MAT remains an effective tool to break the cycle of addiction and help people on their journey toward recovery. To find out more about our residential treatment facility, please contact us.


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