What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Addiction?
Author: Atlanta Addiction Recovery Center Editor
“Erica”(not her real name) came to Atlanta Addiction Recovery Center not expecting to be prescribed medication to help treat her prescription drug addiction. Overwhelmed at the prospect of stopping her pill intake and facing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, she had been reluctant to begin the detoxification process. She was relieved to discover that there were medications available to keep her comfortable during detox. As part of treatment in AARC’s partial hospital program (PHP), she also learned about medication-assisted treatment (MAT), or the use of medications to help control cravings over the longer term.
“Even though I wanted to seek help, I was afraid to enter treatment. I tried to stop taking the pills myself, but I couldn’t deal with the cravings along with all the emotions that were coming up. I had no idea medication could be used to help alleviate the physical symptoms so that I could stay focused on my recovery,” said Erica.
Addiction recovery is often marked by intense cravings for the substance that has been abused. There is a common misconception that medication-assisted treatment is simply switching one addictive drug for another—but this is not the case. A large body of research shows that the use of medications such as methadone or buprenorphine (brand name Suboxone) for opioid addiction cuts the risk of relapse. When prescribed by an experienced physician and combined with counseling and other forms of therapy, these drugs can be effective in decreasing the risk of relapse and supporting long-term recovery. At AARC, MAT is administered and carefully monitored by our physician-led, multidisciplinary team. We pay careful attention to your progress and reaction to the medication, making adjustments as needed.
How Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?
Studies show that long-term use of drugs can change the way your brain functions. This is why people with an addiction problem can’t simply just stop taking the substance they’re dependent on. Their brain becomes hard-wired to crave the drugs just to feel normal. When the drug is taken away, the brain will send out messages demanding more—triggering cravings and causing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, headaches, stomach pain, respiratory problems and changes in heart rate can occur.
Medications used to treat addiction help restore balance to the brain as they work to block cravings and ease unpleasant symptoms. Which medication is prescribed depends on the type of substance that has been abused, the duration and an assessment of whether any co-occurring disorders are present.
It’s important to remember that the use of medications for addiction treatment is just part of the equation. There are many other components of recovery in addition to medication, including holistic therapies, focusing on nutrition, cognitive therapy and 12-step work. As your body heals and adjusts, your treatment plan will likely change as you progress in your recovery.