Exploring Medication-Assisted Therapy for Substance Abuse Treatment

Substance abuse is a complex and chronic condition that can devastate a person’s physical and mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life. Fortunately, effective treatments are available to help individuals overcome their addiction and achieve long-term recovery. One such treatment option is medication-assisted therapy (MAT).

Medication-assisted therapy is an evidence-based approach to substance abuse treatment that involves medication in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies. MAT aims to help individuals manage their addiction by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms and improving treatment outcomes.

In this article, we will explore the different types of medication used in medication-assisted therapy, how it works, their effectiveness, and important considerations when using it.

Types of Medication Used in Medication-Assisted Therapy

Medication-assisted therapy primarily involves medication that helps manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and prevent relapse. The following are some of the most commonly used medicines in MAT:

  1. Opioid Agonists

Methadone and buprenorphine are opioid agonists that activate the same brain receptors as opioids but in a more controlled way. As a result, they help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms while minimizing the euphoric effects of opioids that can lead to addiction. These medications are generally taken daily and are effective for both short- and long-term treatment.

Methadone has been used for over 50 years in medication-assisted therapy for opioid addiction. On the other hand, buprenorphine is a newer medication that has gained popularity recently due to its safety profile and ease of administration. Buprenorphine is available in different forms, including sublingual tablets and films, administered at home or in healthcare.

  1. Opioid Antagonists

Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that works by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain receptors. As a result, it is effective in reducing cravings and preventing relapse. Still, it is only used after a person fully detoxes from opioids, as it can cause withdrawal symptoms if taken too soon.

Naltrexone is available in different forms, including oral tablets and injectable formulations. The injectable form, known as Vivitrol, is administered once a month and has been shown to improve treatment outcomes in individuals with opioid addiction.

  1. Other Medications

Acamprosate and disulfiram are non-opioid medications used in medication-assisted therapy for alcohol addiction. Acamprosate helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, while disulfiram makes people sick if they drink alcohol, thus discouraging alcohol use.

Acamprosate is typically used with counseling and behavioral therapies, while disulfiram is used as a last resort when other treatment options have failed.

How Medication-Assisted Therapy Works

Medication-assisted therapy works by interacting with the same brain receptors that opioids or alcohol bind to, but in a more controlled way. By doing so, MAT can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. This makes it easier for individuals to engage in treatment and recovery. The medications used in MAT have different mechanisms of action. However, they all work by blocking or activating specific brain receptors involved in addiction. 

Additionally, medication-assisted therapy also involves counseling and behavioral therapies. These therapies help individuals identify and address the underlying psychological and social factors contributing to their addiction. MAT also helps individuals develop coping strategies and skills to manage their triggers and stressors and build a support network to promote long-term recovery.

Effectiveness of Medication-Assisted Therapy

Medication-assisted therapy is an effective treatment for substance abuse, especially for opioid and alcohol addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), MAT can:

  • Improve patient survival.
  • Increase retention in treatment.
  • Decrease illicit opiate use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders.
  • Increase patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment.
  • Improve birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant.

Studies have also shown that medication-assisted therapy can reduce the risk of overdose and the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. MAT has also been found to be more effective than abstinence-based treatments alone. Research has shown that it addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction.

However, it is essential to note that medication-assisted therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Its effectiveness can vary depending on the individual and the type of medication used. MAT should always be combined with counseling and behavioral therapies. The treatment should also be tailored to the individual’s needs and preferences.

Considerations When Using Medication-Assisted Therapy

Medication-assisted therapy is generally safe and well-tolerated, but there are some important considerations when using it. These include:

  • Medication adherence: It is essential to take the medication as prescribed and not skip doses or stop treatment abruptly. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms and increase the risk of relapse.
  • Safety: Some medications used in medication-assisted therapy can cause side effects, such as drowsiness or dizziness, impairing a person’s ability to operate machinery or drive a car. It is essential to talk about any safety concerns with a healthcare provider.
  • Stigma: There is still a stigma attached to medication-assisted therapy. Some individuals may feel ashamed or judged for using medication to treat their addiction. It is important to remember that MAT is a fair and evidence-based treatment for substance abuse and to seek support from a healthcare provider or a support group if needed.
  • Availability: Not all healthcare providers are trained or certified to prescribe medication for substance abuse treatment. It is important to find a knowledgeable and experienced provider in MAT and to ensure that the drug is obtained from a reputable source.

Many don’t have access to MAT because it doesn’t know how to find it or are afraid of the stigma associated with it. Confidant Health is changing that. It is a confidential and discreet app that connects people needing MAT with experts who can help them get the treatment they need.

Overcoming Addiction with Medication-Assisted Therapy: A Comprehensive Treatment Approach

Medication-assisted therapy is an effective and evidence-based treatment for substance abuse. It is particularly beneficial for opioid and alcohol addiction. MAT involves medication, counseling, and behavioral therapies to help individuals manage their addiction and achieve long-term recovery.

By addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, MAT can provide individuals with a comprehensive approach to recovery. Therefore, it is vital for individuals struggling with substance abuse to seek professional help and consider MAT as an option for treatment. With the proper support and treatment, recovery from addiction is possible.