Understanding Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Substance Dependency and Addiction
Substance dependence and addiction are marked by strong cravings for a specific drug to feel pleasure, to feel normal, and for many people, to function in daily life. No one chooses to become an addict. For those who are ready to seek help for a substance dependency, Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) is the use of FDA-approved medications coupled with evidence-based treatments such as behavioral and counseling therapies to effective treat substance addiction.
MAT is commonly used for the treatment of alcohol and opioid use disorders as part of a qualified addiction treatment program. There are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat dependence on methamphetamines, marijuana, or cocaine.
Medication-assisted treatments are especially helpful in the early recovery stage, when the person in recovery is going through detoxification and withdrawal.
Common Medications Used to Treat Substance Dependency and Addiction
There are several medications that have proven highly effective in reducing drug cravings and lessening the often debilitating effects of drug withdrawal, helping millions of people in the journeys to addiction recovery.
Medications used in combination with other therapies for opioid addiction:
- There are currently three FDA-approved medications used to treat opioid use disorders:
According to NIDA, “these medications reduce the negative effects of withdrawal and cravings without producing the euphoria that the original drug of abuse caused. Methadone and buprenorphine are medications approved for this purpose.”
About Methadone and Buprenorphine
Methadone and buprenorphine “trick” the user’s brain into thinking it is receiving the abused opioid drug, and thereby stops the individual’s intense cravings for their opioid of choice. Methadone has been in use as an opioid treatment since the late 1940s. It is considered a synthetic opioid agonist that eliminates withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist, which binds to opioid receptors in the brain but doesn’t activate them like the opioid drug will. Buprenorphine, approved for use in 2002, can be prescribed by a certified physician outside of a treatment clinic; Methadone, however, can only be given through a SAMHSA-certified opioid treatment program.
MAT programs offer safe and effective ways to counter withdrawal symptoms to overcome opioid use. According to SAMHSA, “Research has shown that when provided at the proper dose, medications used in MAT have no adverse effects on a person’s intelligence, mental capability, physical functioning, or employability.”
Naltrexone for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment
According to NIDA, “Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it works by blocking the activation of opioid receptors.”
Naltrexone is different from methadone and buprenorphine because it actually prevents any opioid medication from producing the euphoric effects in a user. In essence, it prevents an opioid user from feeling high. Prescribed as an oral pill, naltrexone can also be given as an extended-release injection. However, medical managed withdrawal (detoxification) from opioids should be completed at least 7 to 10 days before extended-release injectable naltrexone is initiated.
Medications used to treat alcohol addiction:
- Naltrexone (used to treat alcohol as well as some opioid addictions, see above)
- Disulfiram (Antabuse) to curb alcohol consumption
- Acamprosate (Campral)