Overcoming an addiction to alcohol or drugs is never easy. Some treatment programs use a combination of medication and behavioral therapy to help people recover. This is known as medication assisted treatment (MAT) and it is often used for those with an addiction to opioids or alcohol.
An evidence-based treatment, MAT has been shown to reduce overdose deaths in one study, while others have shown it to be better than medications or behavioral counseling used separately. MAT may also increase an individual’s adherence to their prescribed treatment program.
Benefits of Medication Assisted Treatment
There are specific medications that have been shown to help someone overcome an addiction to alcohol or opioids.
Alcohol Addiction: Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone help treat alcohol use disorder (AUD). These are the most common medications for AUD, but none treat the addiction to alcohol itself. Instead, they prevent the person from continuing to drink. Acamprosate and disulfiram do this by causing unpleasant side effects if someone taking them does ingest any alcohol. Naltrexone stops the individual from experiencing any of the euphoric effects of alcohol.
Opioid Addiction: For those struggling with opioids, taking buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone can help them in their recovery. Buprenorphine and methadone both work by reducing cravings for opioids. They can also limit withdrawal symptoms. Naltrexone prevents the feelings of euphoria that someone experiences when they take an opioid such as heroin, morphine, or codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved all six of these medications to be safe and effective for assisting in the treatment of AUD and opioid addiction in combination with counseling and psychosocial support.
Behavioral Therapies Used in MAT
A key component of medication assisted treatment is therapy and counseling. The most recommended type of therapy is some form of behavioral therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
Cognitive behavioral therapy works to help the person struggling with addiction identify the behaviors and unhealthy patterns that have contributed to their addiction. The therapist works with the individual to find new, more constructive ways of thinking and behaving that won’t be self-destructive.
Though it is similar to CBT, what distinguishes dialectical behavioral therapy is the therapy’s emphasis on accepting uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal is for the individual to come to terms with their troubling behaviors, develop new coping skills, and find a balance between acceptance and change.
No matter the form of behavioral therapy used, the main goals are to:
- Modify the behaviors that may have led the person to misuse opioids or alcohol.
- Encourage individuals to take their prescribed medications.
- Treat any other existing psychiatric disorders that could have impacted them.
Myths About Medication Assisted Treatment
Misconceptions exist around medication assisted treatment that may cause people not to consider this form of addiction treatment. One of the most common MAT myths is that the person merely trades one addiction for another. However, the medications used in MAT have been shown in research to be effective in promoting a sustained recovery. The addition of counseling means that MAT bridges both the biological and behavioral components of addiction.
Another myth is that MAT is only a short-term treatment. MAT can be used for up to two years, and no research has found any evidence that stopping MAT earlier is helpful.
Some health care providers may not think that their patient’s addiction is severe enough to warrant using MAT. Because MAT uses several different medications, it is possible to customize treatment for the individual, making MAT an option for a wide range of people struggling with addiction.
There are some that worry that MAT may increase a person’s risk of overdose or even disrupt the recovery process. In fact, MAT can often prevent overdoses caused by substance use during recovery. This is because medications that curb cravings can help the person in recovery prevent a life-threatening relapse. When done properly, MAT can improve the individual’s quality of life and ability to function.
Multiple groups, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), recommend MAT as a course of treatment for opioid or alcohol addiction.
MAT offers patients an approach that considers all aspects of their addiction, helping them manage both the physical symptoms of withdrawal and cravings with the mental and emotional issues that fuel their addictions. This type of addiction treatment does require close medical supervision due to the dispensing of medications and may not be appropriate for everyone.
At Bridges of Hope, our treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing substance use and mental health disorders. We utilize therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices to provide superior patient care throughout Indiana.