Medication-assisted treatment, also known as MAT, is a treatment approach to opioid addiction that uses a combination of medications and behavioral therapies. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), this approach can improve patient survival, increase treatment retention, and reduce the risk of relapse.
Despite what some consider convincing research regarding the benefits of MAT for the treatment of opioid addiction, there is still a stigma surrounding this treatment approach. Some people believe that taking medications used in MAT is replacing one substance with another or that being in MAT doesn’t count as being sober. There are two schools of thought with MAT: one says you are just replacing one drug for another and that you are not really getting anyone sober; and the second is that MAT helps with the above benefits.
The truth is that understanding opioid addiction is important before deciding on a treatment. And, understanding how MAT works throughout the treatment and recovery process can not only reduce the stigma around it, but also help you decide if medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction is right for you.
Intake and Assessment
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) begins with a comprehensive intake and assessment procedure. You will work with an intake coordinator to sign treatment consent forms and insurance forms, then you will meet with a doctor and addiction specialist or psychiatrist for an in-depth evaluation.
During this evaluation, the team is trying to gather all pertinent information about you so they can develop a tailored treatment plan based on your needs. In addition to a physical exam and routine blood work, you may undergo a psychiatric evaluation and addiction assessment. The physical exam helps the team understand the severity of your withdrawal symptoms as well as how you may benefit from and respond to medications. The psychiatric and addiction portion aims to diagnose any underlying mental health conditions, evaluate your previous and current mental health, and determine the severity of your opioid use disorder (OUD).
Once the clinical team has gathered all of your information, they will discuss a recommended treatment plan with you and help you begin your recovery.
Medically-Assisted Drug and Alcohol Detox
Opioid withdrawal is generally not life-threatening, but it can necessitate medical support because self-detox has the potential to result in relapse for those who have not been through the process before. A medical detox center can prescribe medications, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex), lofexidine (Lucemyra), or methadone, to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal. The doctor will prescribe whichever medication he or she thinks is right for you. If you decide to go the MAT route, it is imperative (if you are truly seeking sobriety) that you tell the doctor that you are looking to taper off the medicine ASAP. Some doctors believe that MAT should last the length of your sobriety, or even a lifetime. This is not sobriety. Have a plan with the doctor and a deadline to taper off of the medicine to where you have a stop date and a day you can live your life without these drugs.
Many medications that are used to treat opioid withdrawal cannot be taken until 12-14 hours after your last dose of opioids, so it is important to be honest with your doctor about the last time you used opioids. Taking any of these medications too early can result in precipitated withdrawal.
During detox, your medications will be administered to you by a nurse each day, and you may be expected to take them under supervision. This aims to eliminate opportunities for medication abuse or diversion.
Nurses will continue monitoring your withdrawal symptoms throughout detox, which usually lasts 3-7 days. Once you are feeling better, you will transition to an inpatient or outpatient medication-assisted treatment program.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opioid Addiction
MAT is used in both inpatient and outpatient rehab settings, but it always involves the same aspects of care, including:
Inpatient rehab centers will administer your medications to you on a daily basis, while outpatient rehab centers may send you home with limited doses or require you to check in to the clinic each day to receive your dose. You will also have regular meetings with your prescribing physician to discuss how the medication is working, any side effects or concerns you may have, and your progress in recovery. Again, it is important to make sure you doctor is working with you to taper off of these drugs. If you aren’t tapering, you are still using. Simple as that.
Some people only need medications during detox, while others take medications for several weeks, months, or years. If you continue taking medication after treatment is over, you will still be expected to show up for regular doctor visits to keep receiving your prescription. You may also be asked to take a drug to test to confirm that you are not abusing drugs or your medication. If you are still using these medicines for a year, you need a new doctor.
Medications can alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce opioid cravings, but they do not cure opioid addiction. And, in order for medications to be effective, they must be combined with behavioral therapy and counseling. That’s why the majority of your time in treatment will be spent in group and individual counseling sessions.
Your therapy will be custom-tailored to meet your needs. For example, if you suffer from trauma or PTSD, you will engage in trauma therapies that help you heal from and resolve your trauma.
Types of therapies that may be used during MAT include:
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Family behavior therapy
- Motivational Interviewing (MI)
- Contingency Management (CM)
- Relapse prevention therapy
There are many goals to these types of therapies, including identifying underlying conditions, understanding thought and behavior patterns, regulating emotions, improving communication skills, and coping with distress. The skills you learn during therapy can be applied to your daily life, helping you improve your mental health and prevent addiction relapse. The goal of MAT is to not have to navigate the physical effects of withdrawal to allow you to focus on these therapies and modalities. If you are not receiving these types of therapies, you should speak up.
Whether you continue taking MAT medications after rehab or not, aftercare is essential. Medication-assisted treatment centers may offer or refer you to aftercare programs like:
- Alumni program
- 12-Step meetings
- Outpatient counseling
- Sober living
These services can help you uphold healthy habits, develop a support group, and prevent a relapse on opioid drugs.
Find out How Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can Help You Beat Opioid Addiction Today
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may not be right for everyone, but for those who qualify MAT can be a highly effective treatment option for opioid addiction.
If you or someone you love has been suffering at the hands of an opioid abuse disorder of any severity, San Diego Sober Living can help. We are a group of women who have been through opioid addiction before and know the way out. We can put you in touch with the proper professionals and detox centers to help you get your life back Today!
Don’t wait any longer to start your recovery journey. Call now to learn about your opioid addiction treatment options.