MAT stands for medication-assisted treatment. Under the MAT rehabilitative treatment model, FDA-approved medication supplements counseling and behavioral therapy to treat patients with substance use disorders. Described as the “whole-patient” approach, MAT primarily helps sustain recovery for people with opioid dependence, alcohol use disorders, and even smoking addiction. The model was developed to help those in recovery overcome triggers and impulses to take drugs or drink.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD) strongly support access to MAT for people struggling with substance use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), MAT improves patient survival rates by decreasing opiate use. The approach increases the patients’ ability to maintain a job and resist criminal activity associated with acquiring the drug of choice. MAT has also shown to improve birth outcomes for women who abuse substances while pregnant.
Medications Used in MAT for Opioid Dependency
Other forms of opioids are used as part of addiction treatment. Opioids like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone may be taken safely to treat opioid dependence.
Buprenorphine is an opioid that has a strong binding ability. It attaches to opioid receptors, replacing and blocking them, so they lose their effect. With buprenorphine, patients report feeling “normal” rather than high as the medication does just enough to keep them from experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Methadone can significantly reduce the patient’s craving for opioids by tricking the brain to believe it’s still on opioids. It changes the way the nervous system responds to pain, lessening the impact of opiate withdrawal symptoms.
Naltrexone is unique in its ability to block opioids’ sedative and euphoric effects. Naltrexone is classified as an opioid antagonist which blocks the activation of opioid receptors. If the patient takes naltrexone and uses opioids, they won’t feel the usual effects of being high.
Medications Used in MAT for Alcohol Use Disorder
Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are FDA-approved medications that are used in MAT to treat alcohol dependency.
Acamprosate isn’t administered until after the patient has completed detox, which is typically the fifth day of alcohol abstinence. It helps recovering alcoholics by blocking their urge to drink, so they can focus on their sobriety.
Disulfiram interferes with the way the body metabolizes acetaldehyde, which assists the body in processing alcohol when it is consumed. When someone on disulfiram consumes alcohol, they will experience a very unpleasant reaction. Knowledge of the potentially dangerous outcome of drinking while on the medication is often enough to keep people from drinking.
Naltrexone can also be used to treat alcohol dependency because the brain interacts with opioids and alcohol similarly. As a medication used in MAT, naltrexone suppresses alcohol cravings rather than treating withdrawal symptoms. Those with a drinking problem tend to consume less alcohol once they are on naltrexone. The medication blocks the pleasurable sensations they would typically receive from drinking.
MAT is most effective when combined with complementary therapies like psychotherapy and group support. In fact, MAT patients are required by federal law to receive counseling and behavioral therapies.