Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs (MAT)

Addiction affects people’s lives in numerous ways—from withdrawal symptoms, such as severe cravings, to health risks to loss of jobs or rifts in relationships.

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Severe addictions to certain substances can keep people caught in a cycle of abuse that ensures they cannot remain substance-free or enter fully into recovery. Our medication-assisted treatment programs offer individuals who struggle with addiction an opportunity for both healing and growth in recovery, providing a greatly reduced risk of relapse.

What Are Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs?

Medication-assisted treatment programs exist to help individuals remain substance-free when entering and throughout recovery. For severe addictions, detoxification is often the first stage of recovery. During a medically supervised detox program, individuals rid their body of substances and prepare for inpatient treatment. This process may involve the use of medications to ease symptoms or help taper off the use of substances.

After detoxification, a person may continue to experience cravings and other uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms which make it difficult to focus on healing and make relapse much more probable. Medication-assisted treatment programs decrease the likelihood of relapse and foster a strong start to recovery.

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Our programs combine medications, therapy and other treatment components to ensure an individual is afforded the best possible chance for lasting recovery results. Use of medications in the programs helps keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. Some addictions require a tapering method, meaning a person takes medication in gradually decreasing amounts until such a time when they can stop the use of medication.

Therapy is always combined with medication in our medication-assisted treatment programs to ensure a person is not only treating the physical symptoms of addiction, such as withdrawal, but is learning the skills and tools necessary to live a life of sobriety. Behavioral therapies, for example, teach individuals how to omit negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with healthy ones.

Medication-assisted treatment programs are best administered in an inpatient setting, such as our residential treatment programs. In these programs, individuals attend treatment and remain at our facility for the duration of their treatment, which typically includes detoxification, medication-assisted treatment and aftercare planning.

Medications Used In Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medications for medication-assisted treatment may be utilized in a number of ways. Some are used only for treatment of withdrawal symptoms during detoxification while others help individuals in recovery from addiction to highly addictive substances, such as opioids or alcohol, learn to function without the substance at a gradual pace that works for them.

There are currently several medications in use for medication-assisted treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These medications work to treat addiction to two of the most addictive substances: opioids and alcohol. Both of these substances cause physical dependence, which results in extreme withdrawal symptoms, sometimes for long periods of time after stopping the use of the substance.

Other medications used in medication-assisted treatment address any number of health conditions which may arise or any pre-existing conditions. Use of any and all medications during our addiction treatment programs is highly regulated, both for the health and safety of the individual and for the insurance of continuous commitment to recovery.

People who have struggled with addiction long-term may need to use certain medications, such as those that alleviate withdrawal symptoms, for an extended period of time. While popular belief holds that this method simply replaces one addiction with another, in reality, medications used in medication-assisted treatment have many uses and pose far less risk for addiction or harmful consequences when taken as directed.

Further, these medications can help individuals learn to function without a drug in order to build a foundation for recovery. Then, when a person is ready, he or she can face recovery without the use of the medication.

Medications For Opioid Addiction

Opioids affect the body by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and causing an altered perception of pain and sense of euphoria. When abused, opioids work by interfering with the brain’s communication pathways and producing a surplus of happy chemicals in the brain, disrupting the natural process for producing these chemicals. With time, a person may no longer feel happy or normal when not taking the drugs and will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Medications used for opioid addiction treatment work by either blocking the effects of opioids or by producing effects similar to opioids which are milder and without euphoria. In this way, medications ease withdrawal symptoms but do not foster addiction when taken as intended.

Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine, brand names Suboxone and Subutex, is a partial opioid agonist used to treat opioid addiction and dependence. The medication is highly useful for three reasons:

  • It does not block the effects of opioids, but instead produces effects similar to them.
  • It does not produce euphoria when administered as intended.
  • It does not cause respiratory depression when administered as intended, unlike other opioid drugs.

Buprenorphine binds to opioid receptors in the same way as other opioid substances but is not a “perfect fit,” as explained by the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT). The result is that buprenorphine satisfies the body’s craving for opioids but does not produce the euphoria which often leads to dependence. This way, individuals can continue using buprenorphine until their body needs less of it to function, eventually fully weaning off the use of it.

Though buprenorphine does not pose a high potential for addiction when administered as directed, the medication is sometimes abused because individuals can receive it with a prescription from their doctor without having to attend inpatient treatment or a clinic. Our medication-assisted treatment programs work to ensure individuals receive buprenorphine only as needed and carefully monitor progress to ensure less chance of relapse.

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The medication is also one of several treatment components; when used in our medication-assisted treatment program in combination with therapy, counseling and more, buprenorphine can aid in making recovery both effective and manageable for individuals.

Methadone

Methadone is a full opioid agonist medication which has been in use for decades for the treatment of opioid addiction and dependence. Like other opioids, methadone works by changing how the brain and body respond to pain.

Instead of producing a heightened sense of euphoria, though, methadone works to produce effects similar to opioids of abuse on a more mild scale while reducing cravings and other painful withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is an extended-relief medication, which means the onset of the medication takes much longer without an immediate “rush” of euphoria, and one dose may alleviate cravings for up to a day-and-a-half.

Despite its history of use in medication-assisted treatment programs, especially for people struggling with opioid addiction, methadone poses a high risk for addiction. The drug produces pain-relieving effects, which can become addicting especially if a person receives a written prescription for the medication for self-administration and begins abusing it. Even when used in medication-assisted treatment programs, the medication may become addictive.

Some people may end up taking methadone for years, though the medication is intended to curb cravings and other symptoms caused by withdrawal. When a person enters a medication-assisted treatment program for opioid addiction, it is important to weigh all risks and benefits of a proposed medication before making a decision.

Naloxone

Naloxone is a full opioid antagonist, which means it works to block the effects of any opioids in the body at the opioid receptor sites. Because of this, the medication can reverse or stop the effects of an overdose before it leads to fatal consequences, gaining the medication the common name of the overdose reversal drug.

Naloxone may be used in medication-assisted treatment programs to prevent overdose for someone who has relapsed. The medication may be kept on hand to avoid emergency situations, though individuals in our programs are highly monitored. Once a person has left a MAT program, they and their families can keep naloxone injectors nearby to administer if needed.

Certain buprenorphine medications contain naloxone, proving an effective method for treating opioid addiction as buprenorphine satisfies the body’s need for relief from withdrawal symptoms while naloxone blocks the effects of opioids.

Medications For Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction and dependence can lead to extreme withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be life-threatening, including seizures. Medication-assisted treatment helps alleviate these symptoms while a person gets rid of the substance during detox and later when a person enters recovery.

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the nation, and many people are high-functioning alcoholics or people who live with heavy alcohol use disorders every day. These people may have been abusing alcohol for years, which makes treatment for alcohol dependence more complicated. Medications can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and ease cravings so a person can remain fully focused on healing and committed to recovery.

Naltrexone

Naltrexone is a medication used in treatment for both opioid and alcohol addictions, working to block opioid receptors and greatly reduce cravings. The medication works in a manner consistent with prevention: a person taking this medication will not experience a euphoric “high” if he or she abuses alcohol or opioids, removing the addictive potential for abuse of the substances.

The way the medication works in the body provides a lessened potential for abuse. Oral naltrexone tablets are administered daily in medication-assisted treatment programs, while injectable forms (Vivitrol) last longer and are administered monthly.

Disulfiram

Disulfiram is a medication which helps individuals stop alcohol abuse by causing unpleasant effects when they drink alcohol while on the medication. If a person drinks while taking disulfiram, they may experience anxiety, heart palpitations, sweating, vomiting, nausea, vertigo, tachycardia and more.

People considering medication-assisted treatment programs which use disulfiram must be highly committed to stopping the use of alcohol. Otherwise, they may relapse and avoid treatment altogether. For individuals dedicated to entering recovery, though, disulfiram can provide a highly effective way to heal from alcohol dependence.

Acamprosate

Acamprosate (Campral) works by stimulating the gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors in the brain to produce a feeling of calm and sedation. It also reduces cravings for alcohol. The way the drug interacts with these receptors isn’t fully understood, but it is effective. In addition to producing a state of calm, acamprosate is believed to stop certain brain receptor activities while exciting others, resulting in a lessened dependence on alcohol.

Acamprosate is used in combination with other therapies and treatment, particularly group therapy. While the medication is effective, it is best used by patients who have already stopped drinking or are in the process of stopping drinking. Individuals with severe alcohol dependencies should consider all treatment options closely with the help of a clinician before entering a program.

Other Medications Used In Medication-Assisted Treatment

In addition to medications used to help curb withdrawal symptoms, other medications may be used for a number of conditions, such as pain-relief, digestive issues, mental health issues and more.

If a person needs a prescription during addiction treatment, he or she will receive it from staff as needed. All medications must be approved by our program clinicians, and any medications prescribed for individuals will be administered for use when necessary in a monitored environment.

For example, some people in recovery from heroin addiction may struggle with chronic diarrhea and may need an anti-diarrheal, such as loperamide (Imodium). Others may need pain-relief medications for withdrawal symptoms such as muscle and bone pain or headaches. These persons may receive ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Many people in addiction treatment are also there to receive treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, and they may need medication to treat these conditions, such as an antidepressant. Use of such medications is highly monitored and only administered under staff supervision.

Our treatment programs work to highly regulate the use of medications in order to avoid relapse, overdose or any misuse. In this way, individuals stay on track for meeting recovery goals.

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Therapies Used In Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment always involves a combination of medication, therapy and counseling. In our programs, we integrate a number of traditional and alternative therapies and treatment components according to individual need for a comprehensive treatment approach.

Some of the therapies and treatment components we employ for medication-assisted treatment include:

  • cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • adventure and wilderness therapy
  • counseling
  • individual and/or group therapy
  • equine therapy
  • motivational interviewing (MI)
  • mindfulness and stress management
  • family therapy
  • aftercare support

All of our programs are customized to a person’s treatment needs. Clients work closely with counselors and clinicians to assess and determine these needs prior to treatment in order to decide on a course for treatment, including length of treatment, which therapies will be utilized and if any medications will be needed.

Who Will Need Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Due to the wide variety of medications utilized during addiction treatment, nearly anyone with an addiction or a substance use disorder can benefit from entering one of our medication-assisted treatment programs. However, people with severe addictions to dangerous substances of abuse, such as alcohol, opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or others may benefit most.

The central focus of our MAT programs is helping people heal from addiction by providing them with everything they need in treatment—from a beautiful, remote environment at any one of our treatment locations to evidence-based therapies to unending support during and after recovery. Ultimately, anyone struggling with substance abuse or addiction can benefit from this type of structure and support during recovery. To learn more, simply talk to one of our treatment specialists today.


Sources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Medication-Assisted Treatment

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