Medication Assisted Therapy

There are many types of treatment that exist to help people struggling with substance use disorders. Many of these treatments focus on using psychotherapy combined with principles of recovery based on the concept of abstinence only approaches. This concept has proven to be a very beneficial strategy for many, however, there are some who still struggle with this approach due to a variety of barriers they may be experiencing.

The use of alternative or complimentary treatment models such as medication assisted therapy (MAT) has been proven to be effective in reducing relapse rates for those who struggle with abstinence-based programs.

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What Is MAT?

MAT is a treatment modality that incorporates psychotherapeutic behavioral therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with the use of specific medications. These medications are targeted at managing specific symptoms or developing strategies for those who need longer periods of time to safely stop using a particular substance.

The main purpose of MAT is to ensure those who are struggling to enter recovery are given as many tools as possible to help them achieve their goal of living a life free of substance abuse. Most programs require that someone undergoing MAT engage in some type of behavioral therapy as well, in order to continue medication management, as the combination of therapy and medication management has shown to be the most effective compared to medication alone.

There has been a significant amount of research on the use of MAT and its impact on those who have utilized it. Most medications utilized for MAT have had many trials and have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be utilized as a specific treatment approach for alcohol and Opioid use disorders.

Overall, the results have been positive in nature during participant, exploratory, and analysis-based research, as well as through patient satisfaction reports. According to the Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there have been improvements in the following areas:

  • Improved patient survival.
  • Increased retention in treatment.
  • Decreased illicit Opioid use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders.
  • Increased patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment.
  • Improved birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant.
  • Reduced risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C.
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MAT Medication By Substance Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the one of most prevalent and dangerous conditions globally, with over 95,000 deaths from harmful alcohol use reported yearly in the US alone. It is one of the most common substances used, with over 85% of Americans reporting using alcohol at one point in their life and over 14 million people struggling with an AUD in the US as of 2019.

Alcohol continues to be consumed at a considerable level. It has progressed so much so that some MAT programs have been designed to assist with AUDs by providing medications that assist with reducing the symptoms of withdrawal and cravings to consume alcohol once detoxification is complete. According to SAMHSA, the following medications are currently approved to assist with AUD:

  • Acamprosate: Assists with reducing cravings to drink alcohol after completing a detox from withdrawal symptoms. It does not prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring if drinking continues.
  • Disulfiram: Focuses on prevention of relapse by incorporating uncomfortable side effects such as nausea, headache, vomiting, and chest pains within 10 minutes of alcohol being consumed.
  • Naltrexone: Blocks the euphoric effects of intoxication from alcohol, which can help patients stay motivated during recovery and prevent or reduce relapse. This medication comes in multiple forms, including daily pills or month-long lasting injections.

Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is another dangerous and prevalent disorder that is also marked by an epidemic of overdoses within the US. Nearly 1 million people have died in the US from drug overdoses since 1999. In 2020 alone, nearly 75% of all fatal drug overdoses were due to Opioids. There has been a growing trend in overdoses by Opioids as increasingly dangerous levels of substances such as Heroin and Fentanyl have become more popular.

Synthetic Opioids have continued to cause more harm as they invade the street, resulting in many unintentional overdoses that have continued to rise. To combat this epidemic and provide additional tools for those struggling with an OUD, SAMHSA has identified the following medications to be helpful in MAT:

  • Buprenorphine: It is an Opioid partial agonist that can help reduce physical dependency of Opioids and minimize or prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It is considered safe when used as prescribed, however it still has potential of misuse without continued accountability. Many treatment programs offer this medication to assist those detoxing from Opioids or who are transitioning to a therapeutically appropriate level.
  • Methadone: Perhaps one of the more well-known medications, Methadone reduces Opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It also can “block” effects of other Opioids, including euphoria which reduces motivation to use other forms of Opioids. There are many clinics as well as laws surrounding the availability of Methadone to ensure accessibility.
  • Naltrexone: Blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of Opioids which can help with staying motivated for recovery and prevent or reduce relapse. This medication comes in multiple forms, including daily pills or month-long lasting injections.
  • Naloxone: An Opioid overdose medication that can reverse the effects of an active Opioid overdose in time for life saving measures to be taken.

Finding A Treatment Center With MAT

When researching various treatment centers and their treatment approaches, it can be beneficial to review what MAT services they offer and how they can incorporate MAT into continuing aftercare services that increase success rates for sobriety post treatment.

Featured Centers Offering Medication-Assisted Treatment


Like anything in recovery, accountability is extremely important to help ensure the success of MAT services. Medications only work as well as the motivations behind them. It can be helpful to include loved ones to help with maintaining accountability during the early recovery process. If you are interested in treatment centers that promote their use of evidence-based care, including MAT, please contact a treatment provider.

Published:

Author

Travis Pantiel

Photo of Travis Pantiel
  • Travis Pantiel is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Board-Certified Counselor with specialized expertise in the co-occurring disorder treatment field.

  • More from Travis Pantiel

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