How Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Works

What Is Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)?
MAT is an evidence based treatment method used to treat substance use disorders such as opioid addiction or alcohol addiction by prescribing medications that alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. These medications are approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of substance abuse. Medication Assisted Treatment providers at rehab facilities administer the medications to patients as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

The length of MAT varies depending on what medication is used, if it is Medication Assisted Treatment for alcohol or Medication Assisted Treatment for drug addiction, and in those cases what the substance of choice is. The goal of MAT is to eventually give patients lower doses so they can taper off and remove the dependency on any substance.

Types Of MAT
The medications used for MAT include buprenorphine, methadone, naltrexone, and suboxone (a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone). All of these medications are FDA approved and target either opioid or alcohol abuse. Medication Assisted Treatment for opioid use disorder will typically be either suboxone or methadone, while naltrexone can work as either MAT for alcohol or opioid use.

Buprenorphine can be prescribed by any medical professional which provides greater accessibility as it does not have to be administered as part of an addiction treatment program. Buprenorphine treatments can be indefinite depending on the patients’ needs and the intensity of their addiction. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it produces similar euphoric effects as opioids on a much lower scale in order to curb cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms.

Methadone is a prescribed medication that is administered for a minimum of 12 months and can only be prescribed by an opioid treatment program. This medication comes in either pill, liquid, or wafer form. Methadone is a full opioid agonist, so it creates feelings of euphoria similar to opioid use in more intensity than buprenorphine. Due to this, there is a potential danger of methadone abuse and dependency, which is why it can only be administered by medical professionals at a treatment facility.

Naltrexone can be prescribed and administered by any medical professional that is licensed to prescribe medications so it does not have to be part of a treatment program, although this is typically the case. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, meaning that the medication attaches to opioid receptors without activating them, unlike opioid agonists such as buprenorphine and methadone. Patients will typically take naltrexone for 12 weeks or more, with a period longer than 3 months considered the most effective.

Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, so it is both a partial opioid agonist and an opioid antagonist. Suboxone activates certain opioid receptors in the brain to reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms by mimicking the euphoric effects of opioids on a lower scale, while also blocking other opioid receptors so that the patient is unable to achieve a high from using opioids. The naloxone is also used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose, which is beneficial for both relapse and the possibility of suboxone misuse.

How Does Medication Assisted Treatment Work?
MAT works by taking away the worst effects of withdrawal and blocking the brain from future opioid reception. It also reduces cravings to make the detox period easier on the patient and lessen the possibility of relapse. Depending on which medication is used, MAT that uses partial or full opioid agonists can produce euphoric qualities similar to opioid use within patients.

However, these medicines have what is known as a “ceiling effect,” meaning that even with a dosage increase the opioid effects will plateau at a certain point and be unable to produce any stronger feelings. Other forms of MAT that contain opioid antagonists will lie dormant in the body until the drug is misused or relapse occurs, which will cause the medicine to activate and produce adverse side effects.

This is meant to deter patients from injecting these medications instead of taking it as prescribed, so the risk of misuse is greatly reduced along with the risk of relapse. Combination medications are used to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms without creating a risk of dependency. Since opioid agonists mimic the euphoric quality of opioids, their potential for misuse is much higher, although the ceiling effect exists to prevent overdose on these medications and reduce the chances of misuse.

Is Medication Assisted Treatment Effective?
Studies have shown that MAT reduces overdose deaths by more than 50%. Although MAT is not a cure for substance use disorder, it is an effective method of treating and managing withdrawal symptoms. Clients who have a greater dependence on substances may need to partake in MAT for a longer period of time as their treatment. The ultimate goal is to remove the dependence on substance use.

MAT, when used as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes behavioral therapy and support groups, is proven to be effective in treating alcohol and substance use disorder. By taking away the worst effects of withdrawal and blocking the brain from future opioid reception, Innovative Health sets our clients up for long-term success in recovery. MAT should not be a standalone treatment, as patients must also learn to recognize certain triggers and develop healthier coping mechanisms that make them less likely to turn to substance abuse.

At Innovative Health, our treatment programs focus on both substance abuse and mental health to ensure treatment of the whole person and the root of the addiction, not just the symptoms. By helping patients discover what drives them to use and alternative methods of managing life stressors, while simultaneously using MAT to ease withdrawal and reduce cravings, patients at Innovative Health are given the tools they need to succeed in maintaining sobriety.

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