More than 16 million people around the world struggle with opioid use disorder.1 Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) can help combat the effects of opioid and alcohol use and sustain recovery. Opioid and alcohol use disorders are chronic conditions that often require professional treatment to overcome. By understanding the benefits of MAT, you can seek the care and therapy you need to live a clean and sober life.
What is Medication Assisted Treatment?
MAT provides a whole-patient approach to addiction treatment. It combines FDA-approved medications with behavioral counseling therapies to help treat alcohol and opioid use disorders (like heroin and prescription opiate-based pain medications), support recovery, and prevent or reduce overdose.
MAT programs are tailored to meet each individual’s unique needs. The medications prescribed help to balance brain chemistry, block the pleasure caused by alcohol and opioids, eliminate physiological cravings, and regulate body functions without the effects of substance use.
MAT for Opioids
To combat the effects of short-acting opioids like morphine, codeine, heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, MAT relies on three opioid dependencies medications:2
- Buprenorphine: This opioid partial agonist reduces the physical dependency on opioids, reduces cravings, and lowers the potential for misuse.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone blocks the sedative and euphoric effects of heroin, morphine, and codeine and suppresses opioid cravings.
- Methadone: This drug curbs opioid cravings and withdrawal, and it blocks the effects of opioids. Methadone must be administered under a physician’s supervision, but patients can eventually manage methadone maintenance at home on their own.
Suboxone is the brand name for a combination medication, buprenorphine, and naloxone, an opioid antagonist. The naloxone was added to the buprenorphine to deter misuse because if someone injects Suboxone, they will go into immediate withdrawal, which can be painful and unpleasant.
When comparing Suboxone vs. methadone, each is utilized for different reasons:3
|Used to Treat||Opioid addiction, chronic pain||Opioid dependence|
|Controlled Substance||Schedule II||Schedule III|
|Risk of Withdrawal||Yes||Yes|
|Potential for Misuse||Yes||Yes|
All of these medications are safe when taken as prescribed, and all are merely components of a complete treatment plan. Medications should be used in conjunction with behavioral counseling to ensure patients receive a whole-patient approach to their care and recovery.
Behavioral therapy helps to ensure patients adhere to the medication plan, discuss aspects of their disorder that aren’t covered by medication, and face weaknesses of the medication element of the treatment plan. Some are structured approaches like residential programs. Others are simply short-term drug counseling sessions.
Either way, with so many people needing MAT for opioid addiction, many programs have a long waiting list before patients can receive the care they need. As a result, the FDA has approved interim treatment that combines medication with emergency counseling. In many ways, this has been highly effective in minimizing opioid use and improving entry into long-term treatment.4
MAT for Alcohol
MAT can also be useful in the treatment of alcohol addiction. Much like MAT for opioids, MAT for alcohol relies on several medications to assist with recovery from an AUD. These medications include:5
- Disulfiram: This prescription is intended to cause an aversion to alcohol by creating unpleasant symptoms when alcohol is consumed. Patients may experience nausea, headache, labored breathing, and vomiting, which ultimately deter you from wanting to participate in alcohol consumption. Patients take a tablet once a day. Within 10 minutes after drinking, you begin to experience these unpleasant effects, which last for an hour or longer.
- Naltrexone: This medication eliminates the pleasurable feelings of alcohol intoxication. The goal is that by disassociating alcohol from euphoria, you will lose interest in alcohol consumption. Whether taken as a tablet or as an injection, naltrexone is most effective when combined with behavioral therapy.
- Acamprosate: After you’ve overcome detoxification and withdrawal, you may need help curbing cravings. This tablet is taken three times a day to help you continue to practice abstinence and succeed in recovery.
To treat alcohol use disorders most effectively, these medications are combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy. This method addresses the connectivity of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and helps patients identify and resolve warped patterns of thought that impact behavior and, ultimately, lead to alcohol abuse.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a problem-focused approach. It aims to find healthy solutions to your dilemmas rather than focus on underlying issues that may be the root of those problems.
Is Medication Assisted Treatment Effective?
MAT has proven to be highly effective in the treatment of alcohol and opioid use disorders. Not only does it help to considerably reduce the need for inpatient detoxification services, it also provides a comprehensive, customized treatment program that addresses the individual needs of each patient.
While the main goal of MAT is complete recovery, this approach has also helped to:6
- Boost patient survival
- Increase treatment retention
- Diminish opiate use
- Enable patients to secure and maintain employment
- Better birth outcomes among pregnant substance use disorder patients
- Empower patients to live a self-directed life
Medications are irrefutably the most effective way to treat opioid use disorder, helping to reduce the likelihood of overdose by up to three-fold.7 Combined with behavioral therapy, this makes MAT a powerhouse in the fight against alcohol and opioid use disorders and addiction.
Patients who receive MAT have higher retention rates than patients who pursue other treatment methods.8 The combination of medication and therapies keeps patients on track and drives them to ongoing success in their journey toward recovery.
Is MAT Right for You?
Because MAT relies on prescription medication to treat addiction to other prescription medications, many question the validity of this method. The truth is, there are no set guidelines as to whether MAT is right for you. However, there are some things to consider when deciding if you should pursue this treatment option.
Addiction is a disease of the brain. Its causes, environmental factors, and genetic contributions create different circumstances for every patient. The success of any treatment plan relies on the unique, customized approach that addresses each individual’s personal needs.
MAT helps to:
- Curb cravings
- Relieve withdrawal symptoms
- Normalize brain and neurotransmitter function
- Enable patients to focus on recovery
If you’re experiencing alcohol or opioid use disorder, MAT could be the treatment you need to curb cravings, overcome your addiction, and remain steadfast in your retention to leading a sober life.
Find a Treatment Center That Uses MAT
Although MAT is becoming a preferred treatment for opioid addiction and alcohol addiction, not every treatment program offers this as an option for recovery. In addition to misunderstandings surrounding the treatment, some facilities lack the trained professionals to administer this treatment.9 Other facilities are substance-free and won’t allow medication as a treatment option.
If you’ve made the decision to pursue MAT for your substance use disorder, it’s important to find a program that specifically offers this treatment plan. To find a program that offers MAT, call our 24/7 helpline at 1-800-429-7690. One of our treatment support specialists can help you locate a MAT program near you.
Frequently Asked Questions About MAT
Is MAT Evidence-Based?
MAT has proven to be successful in minimizing the risk of relapse, effective in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, and effective in preventing overdoses. The FDA approved the medications used in MAT based on research and evidence of effectiveness in overcoming substance use disorders.
Does Insurance Pay for Medication Assisted Treatment?
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 requires insurance companies to offer the same quality of benefits for substance use treatment as they do for medical care.10 Today, MAT is regarded by insurance companies as a valuable and essential form of substance addiction treatment. It is covered by insurance.
Does MAT Just Trade One Addiction for Another?
No, this is a myth. While it’s true that MAT relies on the use of prescription medication to tackle addiction, these medications are used under controlled conditions. They balance chemicals in the brain to help reduce the desire for alcohol and opioid use. Patients undergoing MAT don’t experience the effects of rapidly fluctuating drug levels. Instead, you experience stability and focus so you can overcome your addiction. Is MAT More Effective Than Quitting Cold Turkey?
The greatest downside to quitting cold turkey is the high probability of relapse. MAT helps to curb cravings and deter interest from substance use. Quitting without the assistance of medication and behavioral therapy doesn’t provide a patient with all the tools needed to succeed at addiction recovery and retention.
Medication Assisted Treatment Resources
1. StatPearls. (2021, July 12). Opioid use disorder.
2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019, February 14). Information about medication-assisted treatment.
3. National Library of Medicine. (2013, November 14). Suboxone versus Methadone for the treatment of opioid dependence: a review of the clinical and cost-effectiveness.
4. Kathleen M. Carroll, Elise E. DeVito, Mehmet Sofuoglu. (2018, December 5). Pharmacological and behavioral treatment of opioid use disorder. Psychiatric Research & Clinical Practice, 1 (1): 4-15.
5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019, February 14). Information about medication-assisted treatment.
6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.) Medication-assisted treatment.
7. Proceedings of a Workshop in Brief. (2018, November 30). Medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.
8. Michael A. Cucciare, Chirstina Garrison-Diehn, Nicole R. Schultz, Christine Timko, Lisa Vittorio. (2019, May 30). Retention in medication-assisted treatment for opiate dependence: a systematic review. PubMed Central, 35 (1): 22-35.
9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.) Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can improve health outcomes.
10. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.) The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA).
Ready to Get Help?
Let our team of Addiction Counselors help find the Right Rehab for You!