Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT)
Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT), also known as medication-assisted treatment, can help people reach recovery when combined with other therapies.
If you are struggling with substance misuse or addiction, particularly to alcohol or opioids, you may benefit from medications for addiction treatment (MAT). Often a part of a larger treatment program, MAT is becoming increasingly commonplace in addiction treatment settings, particularly in the treatment of opioid use disorder.
Medications for addiction treatment, also known as medication-assisted treatment, involves the use of medications in combination with psychosocial interventions such as counseling and behavioral therapies. A substance use disorder affects some or all areas of functioning, thus medications may be enlisted when taking a “whole person” approach to treatment.1
Despite gaining greater acceptance in the medical community in recent years, many may worry about the effectiveness of MAT, or fear the medications used during the process. Many of these fears are unfounded, as MAT programs use FDA-approved drugs that have been proven to be safe when taken as prescribed and under medical supervision.1 Additionally, medications used to treat addiction involving opioid use are strongly associated with reduced morbidity, mortality, and costs compared to treatment without medication.1, 11 Understanding the nuances of MAT, how it may factor into your treatment program, and how to find rehabs that offer MAT can help you take advantage of a powerful tool to achieve recovery.
What are Medications for Addiction Treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment is, as the name suggests, a type of addiction treatment that combines traditional psychosocial interventions (e.g., counseling and behavioral therapy) with medication.1 MAT is usually part of an integrated treatment program that seeks to take a whole-person approach to treatment. For people with opioid use disorder, MAT can be used to help ease withdrawal symptoms, protect against overdose, and help maintain a lasting recovery.1 These medications may be prescribed as part of an inpatient or outpatient addiction rehab program, but they are also increasingly being prescribed outside of addiction rehab programs, such as by emergency and primary care physicians. Whether or not medication will be used during treatment depends largely on the patient’s needs and what medications are being prescribed.1
How Do Medications for Addiction Treatment Work?
At time of writing, the only medications for addiction treatment that are FDA-approved are for the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD). However, scientists are continuing to search for and develop other drugs that may help treat other substance uses disorders, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.12, 13 As for Medication Assisted Treatment for AUD and OUD, medications can serve a variety of purposes, such as easing withdrawal symptoms and helping to maintain recovery.
MAT is used in a variety of ways depending on the nature of one’s substance use disorder, how long they’ve been misusing substances, and the medical needs at time of treatment. A common use for MAT is during the detoxification phase of treatment in order to ease potentially uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.2 This is especially prescient during opioid detox. MAT may also be used to help an individual maintain recovery during or after treatment. Many may benefit from taking methadone of the treatment of opioid use disorders or medications like acamprosate or disulfiram for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.6, 2, 4
Medications for Addiction Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Those attending treatment for alcohol use disorder (the clinical term for alcohol addiction and alcoholism) may benefit from MAT. Due to the unpredictable nature of alcohol withdrawal, it is possible that medications may be used to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms or stabilize a patient, but these medications (which include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or anticonvulsants) are not considered treatment of the disease itself and are only used as necessary to stabilize someone prior to entering treatment.2
Once you’ve stabilized and have moved into alcohol addiction treatment, you may be prescribed medications to help you achieve or maintain recovery. There are currently three FDA-approved medications for the treatment of alcohol use disorder: acamprosate (Campral), disulfiram (Antabuse), and naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol).4
Acamprosate is a medication that can help people maintain recovery. Usually taken via tablet three times a day, acamprosate serves as a relapse prevention agent.2 You may be prescribed medications to help you achieve or maintain recovery, and while some of these medications may be started during the end of your withdrawal, they are usually stared once you’ve stabilized and have moved into an alcohol addiction treatment program. 2
Disulfiram is typically taken after one has finished detox, or if they’ve gone at least 12 hours without drinking.4 Disulfiram is an alcohol sensitizing agent that interferes with the processes the break down alcohol in your body, leading to unpleasant side effects.3 Those who are determined to quit drinking or maintain recovery may take disulfiram to help prevent relapse, limit the severity of relapse, or to simply keep away from alcohol altogether.3
Medications for Addiction Treatment for Opioid Addiction
MAT is increasingly being used for the treatment of opioid use disorders. Studies have shown that those who receive MAT for opioid addiction treatment may experience a reduction of withdrawal symptoms, a blunting of the effects of opioids, or a reduction in cravings for opioids.9 At present, there are three FDA-approved medications used in the treatment of opioid use disorder: buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone. 9
Buprenorphine is a drug that is used to reduce withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings for opioids during opioid withdrawal and help someone maintain recovery from opioid use disorder.9 As with other medications for opioid use disorder, buprenorphine should be combined with behavioral therapies or counseling as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan.10
Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids, reduces opioid cravings, and can be used to help prevent opioid relapse.9 Naltrexone can only be prescribed after one has completed detox as it will precipitate withdrawal.9
Methadone is the third FDA-approved drug indicated for opioid use disorder. Methadone can reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms during detox as well as reduce opioid cravings and block the effects of illicit opioids.6 Methadone is heavily regulated and generally can only be dispensed at certified clinics and treatment centers.6 Methadone treatment is considered one of the oldest forms of medications used to treat opioid use disorder, and can lead to a reduced risk of death from opioid overdose, a reduced risk of contracting infectious diseases, and reduced criminal activity.9
Benefits of MAT for Opioid Addiction
Studies have shown that MAT as part of an individualized treatment plan can be an effective way to treat an opioid use disorder (OUD).1 Research tells us that medications for opioid use disorder can have widespread benefits including::1, 7
- Improved retention in treatment.
- Decrease in drug use and criminal activity relating to drug use.
- Increased odds of a patient obtaining and maintaining employment.
- Improved birth outcomes for pregnant women who with substance use disorders.
- Decreased risk of contracting infectious diseases.
It is worth remembering that incorporating medications into treatment for opioid use disorder is more effective than psychosocial therapy alone (e.g., counseling and other behavioral therapies).7
Is Medication Assisted Treatment Safe?
Many may worry about the safety of MAT, but studies have shown that most MAT programs are safe and effective.1 Whether or not MAT is the right option for you will depend on where you are in the recovery process and how you are expected to react to certain medications. It’s important to have an open and honest discussion with your treatment team before starting MAT.
Can I Take Medications for Addiction Treatment at Home?
There is no “one size fits all” approach to treatment, however, many people with alcohol use disorder or opioid use disorder benefit from the individualized psychosocial supports provided during inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment (e.g., supportive counseling, recovery coaching, and other mental health services).1, 9
Medications for OUD and AUD may be taken on an ongoing outpatient basis. For OUD, ongoing outpatient treatment with medication is linked to better retention and outcomes than treatment without medication.9
Wherever medication is administered, however, it is still advisable that one takes these medications as prescribed and under medical supervision.
Does Insurance Cover Medication Assisted Treatment?
You may be able to use insurance to pay for medication assisted treatment. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that health insurance plans provide some degree of coverage for medically necessary behavioral and mental health treatment.8 This may include treatment for substance use disorders, and MAT that is part of those treatment plans.8 However, coverage may vary depending on the type of plan you have, where you choose to attend treatment, and how long treatment lasts. It’s important to check your coverage before committing to treatment.
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How to Find Medication-Assisted Treatment Near Me
Once you’ve decided to seek treatment for a substance use disorder, you’ll have to find a rehab that offers MAT. A good first step would be to contact your doctor. They can help determine your medical needs and, in some instances, primary care physicians may be able to provide some of these medications as well as additional psychosocial support. They may also be able to refer you to a treatment facility that offers MAT. The SAMHSA.gov treatment locator can also help you locate rehabs near you that offer MAT. Additionally, you could use a treatment directory like the one found on detox.net to find an MAT rehab center nearby.
You may also consider reaching out to an addiction helpline. Addiction helplines are available to answer questions you may have about the recovery process. American Addiction Centers (AAC) operates a 24/7 detox and rehab hotline. Our staff can answer any questions you may have about MAT, can help you determine your coverage for treatment, and can even help you find rehabs near you. We can be reached at .