Addiction is a chronic, progressive brain disease that impacts millions of Americans. Like other chronic conditions, an addiction to controlled or uncontrolled substances never quite goes away, even in a stable state of recovery. With other chronic conditions, there are medications that you can take to help you manage symptoms and maintain a more normal lifestyle. Fortunately, the same is true for some instances of addiction.
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) or Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) are terms used to describe the process of treating addiction through the use of medication. This FDA-approved treatment is used primarily to help people get sober and maintain sobriety.
Here, Elizabeth Bulat, M.D., an addiction specialist at Henry Ford Health, helps explain the concept behind MAT and how it can assist patients in their recovery journey.
How does MAT work?
Dr. Bulat: MAT involves taking daily medications to assist with treatment for addiction by helping to curb the craving and desire to use.
Before starting MAT, all patients must go through a safe, controlled detox from any substance they might be taking. When medications are prescribed, an addiction specialist will provide dosage instructions. In most cases, ongoing treatment is recommended at least once a year. After treatment is complete, you should continue to seek addiction care.
What types of addiction is MAT used for?
Dr. Bulat: MAT and MOUD use FDA-approved medications to help treat addictions to alcohol and opioid use. If you are struggling with other substances such as cocaine or cannabis use, there are some medication therapies available, they just aren’t approved by the FDA.
What are the medications used during MAT?
Dr. Bulat: Which medication you are prescribed may depend on individual circumstances such as your specific addition, how often you are able to take medications and your health history.
Regardless of the medication used, it’s always best practice to keep Narcan on hand. Some medications significantly alter your tolerance level to substances, putting you at high-risk of an overdose should you relapse.
How is MAT different from other addiction treatments?
Dr. Bulat: Treating addiction with medication allows us to meet people where they are. There’s such a stigma surrounding addiction, but we want people to know that medicated options are completely okay to explore.
The success of MAT isn’t based on medication alone, though. It also involves patients actively working to change their current lifestyle. Stopping the cycle of addiction requires you to make take steps towards recovery and maintaining sobriety. In addition to taking these medications, you should also be attending regular therapy appointments and 12 Step Program meetings. You still need outside support to help rework the though process associated with addiction. Remember, it can take the up to 18 months for sleep and mood changes to change following an addiction; recovery takes time. All these therapies can help with your recovery, but it also requires patience and determination from you.
Who is a good candidate for MAT?
Dr. Bulat: MAT is a good first option for people who do not have a physical dependence to alcohol or opioids and are looking to stop the cycle of addiction by managing cravings and post-acute withdrawal syndrome. For patients that have physical or psychological dependence, they must undergo detoxification before starting MAT. MAT can also be used for people who don’t yet have a physical dependence to a substance but are more likely to use casually opioids or binge drink on occasion.
What should you do if you are struggling with an addiction?
Dr. Bulat: If you ever are very ill because of substance use or substance withdrawal, call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.
If you are concerned about your use of substances, talk with your primary care physician. They can point you in the direction of the care you need. If you are wanting to move forward with addiction treatment, an addiction specialist can help you explore your options beyond medication-based treatments including inpatient and outpatient programs, therapy and support groups. Our goal is to meet you where you are and help you get your life back.