You may have considered a number of options for addiction treatment. In your search for the best rehab program, you may have heard about medication-assisted treatment. This type of treatment can seem like an easy fix, and some people swear by it, while others debate its place in the process of recovery. Is medication-assisted treatment right for you or your family member?
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is not necessarily a stand-alone treatment, but rather, it is an add-on to traditional addiction rehab. Patients who are part of a MAT program receive FDA-approved medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and help prevent relapse, particularly during the early stages of recovery.
MAT is often used to treat opioid addiction, including – but not limited to – prescription pain reliever addiction and heroin addiction. It can also be used in severe cases of alcohol addiction. The medications vary from case-to-case, but are prescribed to help ease cravings and regulate chemical imbalances related to addiction behavior.
MAT programs must be medically supervised. The medications used in MAT programs may interact with other drugs, so the supervision of a licensed physician is very important to ensure the safety of each participant.1
What Is the Debate Surrounding Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Historically, there has been great debate about MAT treatment in the recovery community. This likely stems from the 12-Step recovery philosophy, which traditionally mandates complete cessation of all substances. The 12-Step philosophy is not wrong at all, but it doesn’t fully work for every single person.
Some people do not like the idea of MAT and see it as trading one drug for another. Drugs like buprenorphine, methadone, and Naltrexone do curb opioid cravings, but people can find themselves dependent on the replacement drug over time. However, these replacement drugs do not produce a high, so they allow people to return to work, school, or parenting. They also do not cause withdrawals that are as severe as prescription opioids or heroin.2,3
That’s where a well-rounded, medically-supervised program comes in. These maintenance drugs are not meant to be taken forever. A quality treatment program should be designed to help each patient through the entire process.
We sat down with Dr. Zak Kordik, a specialist in addiction psychiatry at Skywood’s sister program, Foundations Chicago, to learn more. Dr. Kordik has been working with patients through MAT programs for over a decade and specializes in the treatment of patients with co-occurring disorders within the Foundations Recovery Network of treatment programs.
Dr. Kordik believes that MAT should only be used as part of a wider, more comprehensive treatment plan. He states, “I feel that many patients’ treatments and prognosis can be greatly enhanced and improved by using MAT, but I caution them that medications are not meant to replace other aspects of their treatment programs such as therapy, groups, meetings, and sponsor.”
“MAT is a tool or option for treatment that should be evaluated and considered to use for anyone’s treatment, just the same as individual therapy, EMDR or sober living could be.
Is Medication-Assisted Treatment Right for You?
The MAT add-on option can look different for each person. At Skywood Recovery, each patient has an individualized treatment plan that is determined by his or her doctor, counselor, therapy team and personal desires.
As an example, if a patient is prescribed Naltrexone to curb alcohol or opioid cravings, he or she may take a daily oral tablet or a once-a-month injectable version of this drug. Naltrexone works to reduce cravings for substances and has the added effect of blocking opioid receptors and reducing the euphoric feeling patients get if they drink or use opioids while taking it. Similarly, if a patient relapses, it can lessen the severity of those effects.
The most common question patients have is, “How long do I have to take this medication?” While there is no one-size-fits-all minimum or maximum duration of treatment, Dr. Kordik generally suggests a minimum of three months – up to one year of use – and gradual dose-lowering.
Patients also often ask about side effects, but Dr. Kordik notes that side effects are uncommon. He adds, “It is always important for your doctor to double check and insure that any MAT medications do not interfere with any other currently used medications. Your doctor or medical team should stay involved to be sure that there are no side effects that interfere with daily living.”
The best way to know if MAT options are right for you is to talk with your treatment team. The first step is to seek and accept help. Once you have evaluated your situation in partnership with your doctor and therapist, you will be able to decide if you want medication-assisted treatment to be part of your recovery plan.
By Kathryn Millán, MA, LPC/MHSP
1SAMHSA. Medication and counseling treatment. 2018.
2Brodwin, E. There’s a science-backed treatment for drug addiction that works — but it’s nearly impossible to get. Business Insider. 23 Apr 2018.
3Kaplan, S. F.D.A. to Expand Medication-Assisted Therapy for Opioid Addicts. The New York Times. 25 Feb 2018.