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Medication-Assisted Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Substance Use Disorders, Medication-Assisted Treatment

When a person is trying to stop using alcohol or other drugs, cravings and withdrawal symptoms can make it difficult for them to quit. One way to increase their likelihood of success is to prescribe medications that will reduce their cravings, their withdrawal symptoms, or both. Despite how successful medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has become for people with certain substance use disorders, it is still often misunderstood and stigmatized. At Highland Hospital Behavioral Health in Charleston, West Virginia, we would like to clear up some of the misinformation about MAT, an evidence-based intervention that saves lives.

Part of a Bigger Puzzle: Medication-Assisted Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

MAT is currently approved for treating opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder. MAT is one piece of a more comprehensive treatment strategy. Mental health counseling, recovery groups, and other interventions are often used alongside medications. 

The medications that have been approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder are:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone

The medications that have been approved by the FDA to treat alcohol use disorder are:

  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate

Common Misconceptions and Stigma about Medication-Assisted Treatment 

There are a lot of myths around MAT that can make it harder for people who are utilizing it to find the support they need and deserve. Some of these incorrect beliefs include:

  • People utilizing MAT are just substituting one drug for another – In reality, people who utilize MAT are not getting high from the medications that they take to avoid substance use. In fact, some MAT drugs make it impossible for a person to feel high, even if they were to ingest opioids. Their brains are being stabilized by the prescribed drug so that they can function.
  • There is one set standard for how long it is appropriate to utilize MAT – rapid step-down of MAT is not generally recommended by doctors, and there may be people who are best served by remaining on medications for months, years, or even the rest of their lives. As with other aspects of recovery, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone. In fact, forcing someone to taper off of MAT can increase their cravings while simultaneously lowering their tolerance to opioids, which drastically heightens their risk of overdose and death.
  • MAT is not appropriate for women who are pregnant or parenting – MAT is generally considered the best option for pregnant women to help them deliver healthy babies. There is no reason why women cannot parent while utilizing MAT, as these medications do not adversely impact their ability to make parenting decisions.
  • People who use MAT aren’t really in recovery – just as we would never tell a person with diabetes that they shouldn’t use insulin to treat their disease or ask a person with asthma to throw away their inhaler, we should not discount that MAT can be part of the recovery journey for certain people. Every addiction and every recovery story is different from the next and it is important to allow each person to determine what works for them.
  • If someone tests positive for illicit substances, they should be forced to stop participating in MAT. Using substances while on MAT should be treated as an indicator that the person may not be receiving a proper dose of the medication intended to help them abstain from drinking or opioids. The most reasonable response is to increase their MAT dosage, not take it away.
  • Some of the drugs given during MAT are bought and sold on the black market, so criminal legal and family courts should not allow MAT – the fact that some people misuse a tool that helps people get and stay in recovery should not be used against the people who are trying to turn their lives around. Research has found that most of the people who buy black-market MAT drugs are trying to acquire them so that they can stop abusing substances.

Results from Medication-Assisted Treatment

Studies of medication-assisted treatment have found that its use is beneficial in the following ways:

  • Increases treatment adherence
  • Reduces opioid use
  • Decreases infectious diseases that result from illicit drug use
  • Reduces overdoses
  • Decreases criminal behavior

At Highland Hospital Behavioral Health, we provide a range of drug and alcohol detox services, which include medical monitoring, around-the-clock nursing care, case management, group and individual therapy, and aftercare planning, as well as medication-assisted treatment. We also offer dual-diagnosis treatment for patients who are struggling with both addiction and mental illness.

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About programs offered at Highland Hospital

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