Nearly 50,000 people in the United States died of an opioid overdose in 2019, and even more lost their lives to an opioid-related overdose in 2020. While the standard approach to treating opioid addiction that involves behavioral therapy and peer support can be effective, it is still extremely difficult to stop taking opioids. Between the agonizing flu-like withdrawal symptoms patients may experience as well as the intense cravings for drugs that can last for months or years, getting sober isn’t easy. Fortunately, there is another approach to treating opioid addiction that can improve patient outcomes called medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combines behavioral therapy, counseling, and peer support with FDA-approved medications. MAT can not only be used to treat opioid addiction but alcohol use disorder, as well.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and How Does it Work?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.” All of the services used in MAT are clinically driven and uniquely tailored to meet each person’s needs.
MAT is primarily used to treat those struggling with opioid use disorder, but people who are struggling with alcohol addiction may qualify for this treatment, as well. The FDA-approved medications used help normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, alleviate drug and alcohol cravings, and normalize body functions without producing a negative or euphoric effect.
Patients who participate in a medication-assisted treatment program will go through the same treatment process as they would at any other rehab facility. It will begin with detox to flush the system of substances and treat symptoms of withdrawal followed by intensive therapy to treat the root causes of substance abuse. However, medications are used throughout detox and rehab to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal as well as cravings.
When patients complete treatment, they may continue using medication management as a form of aftercare. Some medications will require the individual to check in with the rehab center every morning to receive their medication while other medications can be given on a monthly basis.
FDA-Approved Medications to Treat Substance Use Disorder
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several different medications to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders. Unfortunately, there are currently no approved medications for stimulant or benzodiazepine use disorders.
Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)
There are three medications approved to treat opioid addiction. These are:
- Buprenorphine – A partial opioid agonist that is used to reduce opioid cravings and treat symptoms of withdrawal. Buprenorphine is available in the form of a tablet (Subutex), a combination medication containing naloxone and buprenorphine (Suboxone), and an extended-release monthly injection (Sublocade).
- Naltrexone – A medication that blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and reduces opioid cravings. While it doesn’t treat opioid withdrawal, it can help patients maintain sobriety. Naltrexone is available in the form of a daily pill (ReVia) or an extended-release monthly injection (Vivitrol).
- Methadone – An opioid medication that treats symptoms of withdrawal and reduces opioid cravings. Since methadone has abuse potential, buprenorphine products are used more often.
In order for these medications to be effective, they should be used in combination with counseling, behavioral therapy, and peer support.
Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
The medications used to treat alcoholism are introduced into a patient’s treatment plan after they complete detox and are no longer in withdrawal. These medications are used to normalize brain chemistry, reduce alcohol cravings, and block the effects of alcohol.
- Acamprosate (Campral) – A medication that helps restore normal brain chemistry and reduce alcohol cravings.
- Disulfiram (Antabuse) – A medication that is meant to reduce drinking habits by creating an aversion to alcohol. Drinking while taking this medication can make the individual sick with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol) – While naltrexone treats opioid addiction, it can also reduce cravings in people struggling with alcoholism.
These medications should also be used in combination with a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program.
Key Advantages of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
MAT is an evidence-based and clinically-proven approach that can help individuals successfully overcome addictions to alcohol or opioids. While the goal of MAT is to enable patients to live an independent, self-directed life, it can offer many benefits, including:
- Improved patient survival
- Increased retention in treatment
- Decreased illicit opiate use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders
- Increased patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment
- Improved birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant
- Reduced risk of contracting or transmitting HIV or Hepatitis C
- Reduced risk for drug and alcohol relapse
Speak to an admissions specialist today to see if medication-assisted treatment in New Jersey is right for you.
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