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Medication-Assisted Treatment

There are many people who claim that using medication in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction is replacing one addiction for another. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration believes that patients can greatly benefit from the use of FDA-approved medications in combination with evidence-based therapies. This combination of different types of therapies is called medication-assisted treatment.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Generally practiced in the treatment of alcohol and opioid addiction, medication-assisted treatment has shown to relieve symptoms of withdrawal, reduce cravings, and block the brain’s ability to experience the substance effect. Certain medications have proven to be highly helpful in reducing cravings after successful completion of detox and promote extended periods of sobriety.

The FDA-approved medications have shown to be mainly helpful when a patient is in the early recovery stage of going through detox and withdrawal. Medications can reduce physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as pain, nausea, chills, and vomiting. They can also reduce emotional symptoms including depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In essence, medications not only help manage physical withdrawal symptoms, but also address cravings and other mental challenges. According to SAMSHA, roughly 80% of detoxification at rehab centers include medication-assisted treatment. Traditionally associated with treatment for opioid addiction, medication-assisted treatment has now been extended to assist any treatment for substance use.

Most Commonly Used Types of Medications

The most commonly prescribed drugs used for the treatment of substance and alcohol dependence are buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.


Buprenorphine is classified as an opioid partial agonist that derives from morphine. It links with opioid receptors in the brain to modify pain perception and evoke feelings of well-being. Buprenorphine replicates the actions of opioid drugs without the associated rewarding high. A safe option as a recovery medicine, it can alleviate unpleasant opioid withdrawal and decrease associated cravings. This type of medication is also difficult to overdose on due to its ceiling effect. When a patient reaches a certain dose, the effects plateau and don’t increase with higher doses.

Buprenorphine may allow for:

  • Less euphoria and physical dependence
  • Lower potential for misuse
  • A ceiling on opioid effects
  • Relatively mild withdrawal profile

Buprenorphine treatment may also:

  • Suppress symptoms of opioid withdrawal
  • Decrease cravings for opioids
  • Reduce illicit opioid use
  • Block the effects of other opioids
  • Help patients stay in treatment

Potential side effects include:

  • Fever
  • Irratibility
  • Muscle aches
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation


Methadone is the most used opioid agonist in detox and in eventual recovery. It produces similar effects to other opioids, without impacting the individual’s ability to function. This type of medication can relieve withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, and is administered in a clinic.

Although methadone is still a highly controversial medicine, it has helped many patients who were addicted to opioids. In essence, it affects the opioid receptors in the brain in the same way as opioids, replacing the need for the abused drugs.

Benefits of methadone therapy include:

  • Reduction in infectious disease due to stopping opiate abuse
  • Reduction in criminal activity due to stopping illicit drug use
  • Improvement in quality of life
  • Better chance at long-term recovery success
  • Improved social functioning
  • Better participation in addiction treatment

Common side effects of methadone include:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling faint
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting

More severe side effects include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling of face, lips, tongue or throat
  • Hives
  • Increased sweating
  • Redness of the face


Naltrexone is a widely used medication that prevents individuals who have been addicted to certain opiates from abusing them again. It’s an opiate antagonist that decreases the desire to take drugs by preventing the opiate effects in the brain such as feelings of well-being, pain-relief, and euphoria. Furthermore, it can also help individuals battling with alcohol addiction by reducing the urges to drink.

Clinical studies show that 50 mg of Naltrexone will block the effects of 25 mg of heroin for as long as 24 hours. However, naltrexone treatment should start after the patient is no longer dependent on narcotics. The duration of treatment depends on which narcotic the patient took, the amount they took, and how long they were abusing.

Common side effects may include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain
  • Headache, dizziness, drowsiness
  • Feeling anxious or nervous
  • Sleep problems (insomnia)
  • Muscle or joint aches

Pros and Cons of Medication-Assisted Treatment

The thoughts on using medications such as Methadone and Naltrexone to help those withdrawing from addiction are mixed. Many members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous feel that individuals who receive medication-assisted treatment are still using drugs and are not truly abstinent. On the other hand, there are others who believe that this type of treatment allows the addict to safely withdraw from opioids. Truth is both have a long list of potential side effects and dangers if not used properly.

The Pros of MAT

Medication-assisted treatment helps the addict obtain a balanced state of mind, free of highs and lows, and allows them to focus on their recovery. Addicts can give their full attention to rehab and address the underlying issues that led to addiction. They can easily find a job, go back to school, resume parenting their children in a healthy environment, and mend broken relationships. It can also help the individual navigate the recovery process safely, generally in combination with evidence-based methods including counseling, 12-step programs, and meditation.

According to SAMHSA, “Management of withdrawal without medications can produce needless suffering in a population that tends to have limited tolerance for physical pain.” Moreover, there are several different choices for medications, each administered for a certain situation and patient. Some of the medications can be prescribed in a doctor’s office, while others are available through rehab centers. In addition, these medications diminish the likelihood of relapse, overdose, disease transmission, and death.

Cons of MAT

Medication-assisted treatment comes with its own list of potential side effects. The most common side effects include anxiety, stomach issues, and sleep disorders. Many addicts may also abuse the medications which can result in overdose or death. Moreover, behavioral therapies have shown to be more effective for treating opium addiction but it can sometimes be overshadowed by the use of medication.

Addicts sometimes sell their prescribed medications to purchase illegal substances. In addition, MAT can become a long-term treatment and some addicts never stop using the medications. Studies have shown that medication-assisted treatment should be administered in concert with the traditional methods since it doesn’t address emotional or traumatic issues that have led to substance abuse.

For more information please call this Toll Free 24/7 Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a completely confidential call. If you have health insurance it may cover up to 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now!

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