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What You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Okay, so you’ve heard the term Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), before and you have no clue what it means. Good news, you’ve come to the right place – many of our patients and/or their family members come to us with the same question. It is important to keep in mind that addiction recovery is not a “one size fits all” path and while one method of treating substance use disorder may work for one person, it might not work for another.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

In simple words, Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, is the use of medications (such as Buprenorphine, Naltrexone or Methadone), combined with counseling and therapy to treat substance use disorder. These three are the most commonly used medications used to treat opioid use disorders, and they help cut cravings from heroin, morphine and codeine, as well as from semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

MAT provides what is known as a “whole-patient” approach. These personalized programs are designed to reduce withdrawal, cravings, pain, and other symptoms of opioid and substance use. They also help address behaviors that may contribute to addiction and relapse while also providing patients with support for a lasting recovery.

Is Medication-Assisted Treatment Effective?

Yes, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) has been shown to be useful and beneficial for individuals recovering from substance use disorders. The ultimate goal of MAT programs is for patients to achieve full recovery.

The medications used in MAT operate to normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, relieve physiological cravings, and normalize body functions without the negative and euphoric effects of the substances used.

Other benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) include:

  • Improving chances of survival.
  • Keeping individuals in recovery and reducing risk of relapse.
  • Enabling individuals to regain sense of control and “normalcy,” often supporting improved relationships, employment, childcare, and meeting life goals.
  • Improving birth results in pregnant women suffering from opioid use disorder.
  • Reducing risk of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other related health risks.

The key to Medication-Assisted Treatment is the word “assisted,” which means that just medication isn’t an effective treatment for addiction, it must be combined with counseling and behavioral therapies.

Medication-Assisted Treatment is NOT “Trading one addiction for another.”

This is one of the most widely spread misconceptions about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).

One of the possible reasons for this misconception is that medications like buprenorphine and methadone are in the same family as heroin and prescription opioids, so one might immediately think it’s a substitution of one drug for another.

So how are medications to treat addiction different than the so-called “street drugs”?

Medications used in MAT are physician prescribed, longer acting and safer. They are designed to help individuals overcome often dangerous opioid addictions. When used properly and under professional supervision, these medications do not normally result in significant adverse effects. Additionally, when used correctly, they also do not cause any of the highs associated with problematic use and compulsive drug-seeking.

You May Be Wondering – Am I Still Sober If I Use MAT?

Let’s pretend you had a heart condition and you had to take physician prescribed medications to manage it. Or that you had diabetes and had to inject insulin to manage your sugar levels. Would someone accuse you of not being sober? Probably not.

The same applies to controlled, physician-prescribed medications used in Medication-Assisted Treatments to manage substance use disorder (SUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD), both chronic, recurring brain conditions.