If you struggle with alcohol and/or opioid addiction or are a doctor or health care provider that helps treat patients that struggle with such addictions, you need to know everything there is about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

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What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is when both medication and counseling and behavioral therapy are used in substance abuse treatment programs. Through the use of MAT programs, patients that are struggling with addiction disorders are given the opportunity to receive whole-patient care. “Whole-patient care” is a treatment that helps heal the body, mind, and soul of a patient. 

Research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that Medication-Assisted Treatment is very effective with people that struggle with opioid and/or alcohol addiction. 

Drugs that have opiates in them and are thus considered opioids include everything from prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin to illegal drugs like heroin and synthetic drugs like Fentanyl. 

How Medications Can Re-Stabilize the Brain After Addiction

Through the medications used in MAT programs, doctors and health care providers can re-normalize the brain chemistry of their opioid and alcohol-addicted patients. MAT medications can also help block the euphoric properties of alcohol and opioids. MAT medications can even reduce the physiological cravings and withdrawal symptoms that addicts who stop using/drinking opioids and alcohol often receive.

To ensure the safety of any patient that is using a Medication-Assisted Program, all MAT medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To learn more about what a Medication-Assisted Treatment is and how effective it can be to recovering opioid and/or alcohol addicts, we are going to tell you everything there is to know about some key different MAT programs. 

Get ready to become a Medication-Assisted Treatment expert!

1. Medication-Assisted Treatment: Buprenorphine

Approved by the FDA in 2002, buprenorphine is a MAT medication that, when combined with counseling and social support programs, is an effective tool to use when treating opioid addiction. 

The Buprenorphine Treatment Plan Occurs in the Following Three Parts: 

1. The Induction Phase

Within this addiction treatment phase, buprenorphine is given to an opioid-dependent addict who has not used opioids for 12 to 24 hours and is in the early stages of withdrawal. 

2. The Stabilization Phase

This phase occurs when the recovering opioid addict no longer has cravings and is experiencing little to no side effects. At this point, the recovering addict has essentially stopped using opioids. Once the addictive patient is stable, he or she can now take his or her medication every other day.  

3. The Maintenance Phase

This phase occurs when the recovered patient is in a healthy place but still needs a steady dose of buprenorphine. 

Side effects of buprenorphine can include:

  • Constipation
  • Cramps
  • Cravings
  • Fever
  • Lack of sleep
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Stress/Irritability
  • Euphoria

Many of these side effects are similar to that of opioids themselves because of the fact that buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. An opioid partial agonist is an opioid treatment medication that has similar side effects to opioids, but at low to moderate doses that eventually level off. 

Due to its opioid partial agonist level off nature, buprenorphine is known to lessen opioid dependency over time. Although buprenorphine does give off a low to moderate euphoric effect similar to that of opioids when combined with its usual medicinal partner of naloxone, the chances of buprenorphine being euphoric enough to make a patient want to abuse it is low. 

2. MAT: Naloxone

The naloxone medication treatment plan was created to help prevent people from overdosing on opioids. Naloxone is able to accomplish this by blocking opioid receptor sites. 

Like all MAT programs, the naloxone treatment plan provides patients with its designated medication, along with counseling and social support programs. It is also important to note that naloxone is FDA approved. 

Naloxone Side Effects Include:

  • A cold
  • Chills and/or goosebumps
  • Body aches
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness 
  • Restlessness
  • Weakness

3. MAT: Methadone

The FDA approved methadone is a medication that is used to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). Historically, physicians have prescribed methadone treatment plans to opioid addicts that are addicted to heroin and narcotic pain medication. 

Methadone treatment medication helps treat recovering heroin and narcotic pain mediation addicts by blocking the effects of opioids. Methadone is also known to reduce opioid cravings and withdrawals. 

Methadone medication can be taken in the form of liquid, powder, tablets, or diskettes. Until patients of the methadone treatment plan show that they are stable, they must take their medication in the presence of a physician. Once methadone MAT patients are stable, they can take their medication at home on their own. Methadone can only be dispensed through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) certified opioid treatment program (OTP).

Side Effects of Methadone Include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling faint
  • Having chest pain
  • Hallucinating/Confusion
  • Breaking out in hives or rashes
  • Sudden increasing heart rate

Like all MAT programs, the methadone treatment plan includes taking the proper medication, receiving counseling, and participating in social support programs.

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4. MAT: Naltrexone

Naltrexone is a MAT medication that health care providers use to treat both opioid and alcohol addicts. Like all the MAT medications described in this article, naltrexone is approved by the FDA. Unlike some MAT medications though, any health care provider can prescribe someone with naltrexone. 

Naltrexone comes in two forms, pill or injectable. Regardless of which form patients choose to take their naltrexone in, the way the medication operates within the human body is the same. 

When in the human body, naltrexone blocks both the euphoric and sedative nature of any drugs in the patients’ systems by binding and blocking opioid receptors. This is unlike other MAT medications, such as buprenorphine or methadone, which activate opioid receptors in the human body. 

Despite naltrexone’s different methods in dealing with opioid receptors, one key result of its method is still the same as any other MAT medication. That key result is the suppression of problem drug cravings. Naltrexone even takes the suppression of problem drug cravings a step further by preventing the “high” feeling that one will receive if he or she relapses and tries to use the problem drug again.

As effective as the naltrexone medication is at blocking problem drug effects, patients should beware that if they choose to prematurely discontinue their use of naltrexone, they will have a reduced tolerance to the problem drugs that they were recovering from. 

As a result, relapsed patients who choose to take opioids again could very well put themselves in a life-threatening situation. For example, naltrexone patients that relapse could suffer from respiratory arrest or circulatory collapse.  

Like how it does when treating opioid addicts when used to treat alcoholics, naltrexone blocks the euphoric feelings and highs that being intoxicated gives its patients. This, in turn, lowers the patients’ dependency on alcohol. For best results with a naltrexone treatment program, studies show that patients should receive naltrexone therapy for more than three months, at the least. 

Side Effects of Naltrexone Include: 

  • Irritated stomach/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Problems sleeping
  • Nervousness
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Headaches

What is Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid drug overdoses have increased over the past few years to the point where we are in an epidemic. On top of that, heroin overdose deaths have increased by almost five times in the past ten years. 

Combine these troubling facts with research from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stating that the number of Americans that drank themselves to death more than doubled in the past two decades, and it is apparent that there needs to be a change in the way we view and treat drug and alcohol addictions. 

That is why it is so important that physicians and health care providers think logically and utilize the recovery programs that research has shown to be the most effective. According to this article and the SAMHSA, the most effective drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs are the MAT ones. While you may assume that using medications to help treat patients addicted to drugs and alcohol is counterproductive, it is anything but. 

At the end of the day, addiction is a chronic illness. You would never tell someone suffering from a chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma that he or she should not take any medication to help manage his or her illness, right? Then why would you make that suggestion to someone suffering from drug and/or alcohol addiction? It just doesn’t make sense. 

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Medication will only help a drug and/or alcohol addict’s body manage the withdrawals that he or she will go through in recovery. Also, medication will only help repair an addict’s body after it has been put through so much abuse and filled with so many toxins.  

Thus, if you truly want a whole-body recovery, it is best to combine the use of medication with counseling and behavioral therapy. To learn about other whole-body programs and techniques that can help addicts who are in recovery, outside of MAT programs, contact us here at Unity Behavioral Health. 










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