Medication-Assisted Treatment

Certain medications have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to assist with the treatment of substance use disorders, a process known as Medication-Assisted Treatment. Learn more about this specific form of substance abuse treatment and how it can benefit you or your loved one during the recovery process.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Sometimes, the use of medications—or Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can be beneficial to patients during the recovery process for alcohol or drug addiction. By using medication combined with behavioral therapy, healthcare providers can ease the side effects of withdrawals and help the patient remain sober throughout their recovery journey.

The specific medications prescribed during MAT are used only for specific addictions. MAT may not be suitable for all cases of substance use disorder.

MAT is only prescribed to treat certain substance use disorders and conditions, specifically:

Whether or not you need medication-assisted treatment is something that can be determined by your doctor or similar healthcare provider.

How Effective Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Evidence shows that medication-assisted treatment is clinically effective. Not only do these medications help to prevent relapse and promote patient overall recovery, but MAT has also been shown to reduce cases of patients contracting HIV and other bloodborne illnesses.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), medication-assisted treatment has shown to be effective in the following categories for patients:

  • Improving survival
  • Improving patient retention during treatment
  • Reducing illegal drug use
  • Reducing criminal activity
  • Improving birth outcomes
  • Improving employment rates (acquiring jobs and remaining employed)

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports,

“Without MAT, the chances of relapse for a person who suffers from [opioid use disorder (OUD)] are significant; studies have shown that outcomes for people with OUD are much better with MAT.”

Common MAT Medications

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of certain medications in the treatment of individuals with certain substance use disorders. These medications can relieve symptoms of withdrawal and help to prevent cravings for the original addictive substance.

There are a few specific medications approved for MAT, including:

Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is used specifically for the treatment of opioid use disorder. It works by targeting the same brain receptors as opiates but to a much weaker degree. By targeting the same part of the brain, this partial opioid agonist helps patients by decreasing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Buprenorphine treatment comes in a few different forms, such as extended-release tablets. One of the more common buprenorphine prescriptions is a formulation that includes the drug naloxone (Suboxone®).

Prescriptions for buprenorphine as part of a treatment plan for battling opiate use disorder are not uncommon, and many medical professionals assert that buprenorphine is “the gold standard” in opioid treatment programs due to how effective it can be in helping patients avoid relapse.

Methadone

Methadone is a full opioid agonist that is used to treat opioid use disorder. Methadone is much stronger than a partial opioid agonist like Buprenorphine, and doses can be changed to suit the individual’s needs.

Methadone reduces cravings for opiates and dulls any effects of opiates if some were to be taken. Methadone is taken daily under medical supervision, such as a methadone clinic; it is not available for take-home use for patients with opioid use disorder.

Methadone comes in powder, liquid, and diskette form. When used as directed, methadone is overall safe but can be habit-forming. It is becoming less common in MAT due to its potential for abuse or dependency.

Naltrexone

Naltrexone is a medication that can be used for the treatment of alcohol use disorder and treatment of opioid use disorder.

Naltrexone is not an opioid, nor is it addictive. It works by binding to certain brain receptors, causing the brain to not receive the euphoric effects of either opiates or alcohol.

Prescription naltrexone medication is available in daily pill format for alcohol use disorder. There is also an extended-release option (Vivitrol) that can be administered monthly by a physician to treat alcohol use disorder or opioid use disorder.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Myths vs. Facts

There are still some common misconceptions about medication-assisted treatment. Some people are concerned about the effectiveness of MAT while others question the overall safety of this type of treatment option.

However, many concerns about MAT are the result of misinformation. Here are some common myths about MAT along with the facts behind each issue.

Myth #1: MAT increases overdose risk.

Fact: The opposite of this is actually true: MAT prevents overdoses from happening. Because MAT medications both block the effects of drugs and alcohol and reduce cravings, patients are far less likely to relapse and overdose.

Myth #2: MAT is just trading one addiction for another.

Fact: The medications prescribed for MAT do not impact the body in the same way as opioids or alcohol. MAT prescriptions work by eliminating the positive effects associated with alcohol or opioids and by reducing cravings for those substances.

Myth #3: MAT isn’t meant for long-term use.

Fact: MAT can actually be an important part of maintenance when it comes to addiction treatment. The average medication-assisted treatment plan runs from 1-2 years.

Myth #4: MAT is only for extreme addiction.

Fact: MAT can be beneficial for any level of addiction, and doses can be tailored to fit the needs of the individual patient.

Myth #5: MAT makes recovery more difficult.

Fact: MAT can improve the patient’s quality of life and their ability to function in daily life, which greatly supports their recovery.

MAT Treatment and Behavioral Therapy

MAT is not designed to be used on its own. Behavioral health is a key focus alongside medication-assisted treatment and counseling or other therapies are usually part of addiction treatment that includes medication.

During therapy, the patient will work on identifying negative thought patterns and triggers that contributed to their substance abuse and then working to create new habits and patterns of thinking.

While MAT will increase the patient’s quality of life and help them to avoid relapsing, MAT works best with a “whole patient” approach.

Does MAT Sound Right for You?

Considering medication-assisted treatment as part of your recovery plan? Find a center near you using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) locator.

FAQs About Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

What is the success rate of MAT?

MAT is considered to be highly effective. Studies indicate that MAT can reduce the risk of death from substance abuse by more than 50%.

Is Medication-Assisted Treatment inpatient or outpatient?

MAT can be provided on both the inpatient and outpatient levels, depending on the type of substance use disorder and the medication that is prescribed.

What are the most common risks associated with medication-assisted treatment? 

While medication-assisted treatment can be highly effective in the treatment of substance use disorder, these medications do also pose a risk for abuse or causing dependence.

Patients are encouraged to take their medication exactly as prescribed. MAT can be safe and effective when taken properly.

Does Medicare cover MAT?

In many cases, yes—Medicaid and other insurance programs cover methadone treatment or other medication-assisted treatments.

Reviewed by:Chris Carberg

Addiction Guide Founder & Mental Health Advocate

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Chris Carberg is a visionary digital entrepreneur, the Founder of Addiction Guide, and a long-time recovering addict from prescription opioids, sedatives, and alcohol.  Over the past 15 years, Chris has worked as a tireless advocate for addicts and their loved ones, while becoming a sought-after digital entrepreneur. Chris is a storyteller and aims to share his story with others in the hopes of helping them achieve their own recovery.

Written by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

5 references
  1. Buprenorphine. SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine
  2. Mat medications, counseling, and related conditions. SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions
  3. Mat medications, counseling, and related conditions. SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions#counseling-behavioral-therapies
  4. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT). SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment
  5. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). (2021, December 29). HHS expands access to treatment for opioid use disorder. HHS.gov. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/01/14/hhs-expands-access-to-treatment-for-opioid-use-disorder.html 

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