The risk of relapse and overdose increases during the initial stages of recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) when withdrawal symptoms are at their peak. In some cases, the symptoms of withdrawal are extremely uncomfortable physically, psychologically, and emotionally. In other, rare cases – like withdrawal from chronic alcohol use – withdrawal can be deadly.
MAT mitigates the symptoms of withdrawal, reduces cravings, and helps prepare you to engage in treatment. When you first stop using substances, you may not be ready to participate fully in treatment and recovery-related activities. The symptoms of withdrawal dominate your experience. Medication regulates brain chemistry and helps reduce circulating stress hormones in your body during this period. As time passes and your body, mind, and emotions move toward a new normal, it’s like waking up from a long sleep: you’re present, alive, and ready to engage in individual therapy, group therapy, and implement the lifestyle changes that lead to lifelong, sustainable recovery and sobriety.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer the following definition of MAT:
“MAT is the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Medications used in MAT are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and MAT programs are clinically driven and tailored to meet each patient’s needs.”
It’s important to understand that MAT is about more than medication.
In the context of evidence-based treatment for substance use disorder, MAT is one part of a holistic approach to treatment. MAT goes beyond treating physical symptoms. An integrated MAT program addresses all the psychological, emotional, and social factors that play a role in addiction and/or the disordered use of substances.
The supervised use of these medications can:
- Normalize chemical balance in your brain and body
- Block the action of opioids on your nervous system
- Prevent opioids from activating the pleasure and reward centers in your brain
- Reduce physiological cravings for opioids and alcohol
- Restore balance to physiological systems
When used as directed, in combination with individual therapy, group therapy, lifestyle changes, and community support programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA), evidence shows that for people with opioid use disorder and alcohol use, MAT programs:
- Reduce opioid use/relapse
- Reduce alcohol use/relapse
- Reduce risk of fatal overdose
- Reduce criminal activity related to drug-seeking
- Decrease spread of disease
- Improve ability to function in social, family, and school situations
- Improve treatment adherence, i.e. time in treatment
- Improve ability to seek and secure employment
In other words, MAT can make treatment and recovery a reality when approaches that don’t include medication make treatment and recovery close to impossible. If you’ve tried to stop using opioids or alcohol without success, MAT can help you through the withdrawal period, help you manage any recurring cravings, and give you a solid foundation in recovery. Most importantly, though, MAT can give you hope for the future and confidence that long-term, sustainable sobriety is possible.