Opioid use disorder is a chronic disease caused by the consistent use of opioids over some time. The regular use of opioids causes a dysfunction in the brain’s reward system and negatively affects memory and motivation.
In a nutshell, medication-assisted therapy is an evidence-based treatment that uses medications combined with behavioral therapy and addiction counseling to treat opioid use disorder and alcoholism. Opioids include Oxytocin, Percocet, and Vicodin, heroin, and illicit synthetics like fentanyl.
MAT services are one of the most effective and long-lasting treatment programs for alcoholism and mental health disorders. It provides a well-balanced approach that has helped individuals recover from their condition more quickly by taking into account all aspects of addiction and how the disease of addiction affects the mind and body.
Opioid overdose causes one death every 20 minutes making accidental opioid death the leading cause of unintentional deaths in the United States. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction or alcohol dependence, keep reading to find out how medication-assisted therapy could help.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the CDC estimates that the financial burden of prescription opioid misuse is $78.5 billion a year due to the costs of healthcare, addiction treatment, low productivity, and legal fees.
Research has shown that using medication-assisted therapy alongside behavioral therapy has high success rates when treating substance use disorder and helps sustain recovery. Opioid addiction is a national crisis that affects the United States’ social and economic well-being.
The goal of medication-assisted treatment for alcohol abuse is to recalibrate brain chemistry by blocking the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, stopping physical cravings, and normalizing the body’s functioning while still avoiding the repercussions and harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.
Outpatient treatment programs for alcohol include a continuum of care plans through all stages of recovery. MAT services include:
- Health promotion
- Integrated primary/behavioral medical care
- Transitional care/follow up services
- Peer recovery support services
- Medical detox
- Aftercare/sober living
- Case Management
- Crisis Support/Emergency
- Day/Night outpatient treatment
- Outreach (To identify and link individuals with opioid use disorders to medication-assisted treatment providers)
This type of program also includes psychopharmacology/medication management assistance provided throughout each phase in conjunction with therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). People also have access to detoxification as an option during this process if needed.
How Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?
A MAT Program is an innovative and effective, evidence-based, comprehensive care model for people who have opioid use disorders. It includes the following four phases of treatment:
- The induction phase: The beginning of treatment is a one-week induction period. This is essentially the admissions process. This means getting to know the rehab program and undergoing a process that includes medical evaluation/assessment, along with medical services such as medication management.
- Intensive outpatient stabilization phase with integrated primary care services: The second stage includes integrated primary care, and peer support services.
- Maintenance phase with ongoing peer support: Monitoring of medication, case management, support services, etc.
Medication management and supportive services are utilized throughout all four phases of Medication-Assisted Treatment for alcohol abuse and tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient.
The length of treatment all depends on the patient. People can safely take the medications involved in medication-assisted treatment for up to a lifetime. The length of treatment depends on what the patient decides on with their doctor. Changes in frequency, dosage, or the cessation of treatment should always be discussed with the medical professionals involved.
What Medications Are Used During Medication-Assisted Treatment?
The following are the three drugs approved by the FDA to treat opioid dependence and alcoholism. These medications have proven to be effective when treating chemical dependency alongside counseling and therapy.
Methadone is a medication used to relieve drug cravings by activating opioid receptors in the brain while also blocking the effects of other opioids like heroin. Methadone also provides a similar feeling to opioids while being safer than using opioids unsupervised.
It was created to change the way your nervous system reacts to pain in medical settings. Doctors would use it to treat an injury, pain after surgery, and illnesses that cause chronic pain. Now it’s a popular medication in replacement therapy and has shown to be an effective way to treat addiction only when used in a safe, controlled environment.
Similar to methadone, buprenorphine works by preventing withdrawals and cravings; but it is not as likely to be abused. This medication is a good option for long-term medicated assisted treatment that lasts more than two years.
Naltrexone is a good option for short-term treatment, which reduces the risk of overdose. This medication is not a controlled substance, and it can be prescribed as a take-home medication without the need of a medical professional supervising and administrating intake.
Does A Medication-Assisted Treatment Program Work For Alcohol Addiction?
Once people develop a dependence on opioids, they have a physical reaction when they stop using them. Symptoms of withdrawal from opioids include unpleasant symptoms like cramping, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, diarrhea, and muscle aches. Going through opioid withdrawals is highly uncomfortable and can make recovery seem unattainable and extremely difficult. Medication can help patients maintain their regular activities, relationships, and obligations without continuing to take opioids or go through a difficult withdrawal.
Medication-assisted therapy provides an individualized plan to help withdrawals and cravings. They also include therapy and counseling to help prevent relapse. Taking medication for opioid addiction should be viewed in the same light as those who take medicine for any other chronic, physical illness.
No one option is appropriate for all those struggling with substance use disorder. Medication-assisted therapy is a treatment used alongside counseling and other behavioral health approaches to treat the overall disease. MAT will not be the cure-all for a patient’s addiction to alcohol or opioids. Patients are expected to engage with and explore the internal causes that lead to addiction.
Benefits Of A Medicated-Assisted Treatment Program For Alcohol
Medication-assisted therapy has become the treatment of choice for those with opioid addiction and alcoholism due to its support from the American Medical Association and other public health agencies. Benefits include:
- Decreasing/preventing drug withdrawal
- Helps maintain long term recovery
- Reduces the risk of overdose and death
- Prevents incarceration when trying to buy illicit substances
- Reduces cravings for opioids and alcohol
- Reduces the risk of getting diseases like Hepatitis C, AIDs, HIV from unsterile needles
- Improved quality of life socially and professionally
- Reduces the risk of relapse
Individual treatment plans can vary, and individual treatments may need to try more than one medication to reap the benefits of this therapy. Increasing awareness of how MAT works and making it more accessible can help curb the opioid epidemic we are facing.
How Long Does Treatment Last?
People can stay in treatment anywhere between months to years. Even a lifetime if this is necessary for your recovery. A plan is made with the patient and a medical professional and is based on the length of time, medications, and frequency of treatment is determined based on individual needs.
Who Is Qualified to Help People With Medication-Assisted Therapy?
Because of the use of methadone, treatment can only be administered through SAMHSA-certified clinicians and doctors. Medications like buprenorphine or medicines that contain it can be prescribed by doctors who get a waiver from the DEA after training in the use of medication for MAT. Medications like Naltrexone can be prescribed by any licensed doctor.
The Importance Of Therapy During MAT Services
After the first step, which is to stop withdrawal symptoms and cravings, there comes a second step: a treatment plan. This second step involves therapy, most commonly cognitive behavioral health therapy. Some people have the misconception that recovery just means detoxing and avoiding the drug. The reality is that recovery is a lifelong process, and therapy is essential to a long and committed recovery.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a psychosocial treatment that helps identify and work with the root causes of opioid/alcohol abuse, talks patients through their cravings and anxieties, and prevents relapse during treatment. Individual therapy during recovery gives the patient a place to safely discuss the difficulties faced during recovery in a safe space.
How Safe Is A Medication-Assisted Treatment Program For Alcohol?
Simply put, medication-assisted therapy is way safer than using dangerous drugs, period. Medical professionals are replacing a drug that can kill you with a drug that can help you maintain a normal and healthy lifestyle. The research shows that people do better with MAT than without it.
Although MAT is primarily safe and effective, there are also some possible drawbacks to treatment. MAT requires supervision and administration, there could be undesirable side effects to the medications used, overreliance can occur, and there is potential for misuse of the prescribed medications.
MAT’s common side effects include constipation, dizziness, stomach pain, headaches, anxiety, rashes, impotence, and drowsiness. Over-reliance on the medications can occur when people in MAT are not addressing the root cause of their addiction in therapy and their treatment plan. Another risk could be overdosing on methadone, which is why methadone can only be administered in clinics. Lastly, the medication buprenorphine has a low risk of overdose when people drink while using it. Even with all these risks accumulated, it is still a safer alternative to using illicit opioids.
Getting Started On Your Recovery
Dealing with drug addiction can be overwhelming and terrifying. Sometimes it feels like such an immense hurdle to overcome that people decide not to take the following steps to seek help. Trying to go through detox on your own can be unsafe and extremely difficult. Opting for a medication-assisted treatment program for alcohol is a safe and effective way of facing these fears head-on. It can change your life by helping you break the cycle of substance abuse.
If you feel like you or a loved one would benefit from medication-assisted therapy, reach out to one of our trained professionals with any questions you may have. Here at Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare, we are committed to treating addiction with community, connection, and professionalism. We customize treatment plans based on individual needs. We are here to help you sustain a long and healthy recovery. Contact us today to get started on your exciting new path to recovery.