Does Medically-Assisted Treatment Actually Work?

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In the world of addiction treatment, there a number of different methods vying for attention. Among these are methods like holistic treatment, traditional therapeutic methods, and medically assisted treatment. Medically assisted treatment has long been under scrutiny for being both unsuccessful and even downright dangerous for people. But how true are these claims after all? Is medically assisted treatment the big, bad wolf of addiction treatment? Or, instead, could it be the answer for millions of addicts around the United States and world alike?

What is Medically Assisted Treatment?

Medically Assisted Treatment, or Medication-Assisted Treatment, is known as MAT. In this form of addiction treatment, as opposed to undertaking a lifestyle revolving around abstinence, the addict relies upon medications and medical treatment as the answer to his or her addiction. But don’t be fooled, it is not simply taking a pill and going on your way; it also includes utilizing counseling and behavioral therapies.

MAT is more often used in the treatment of opioid addictions, since the idea is that by implementing this medication into an opioid addict’s regimen, it will, in turn, act as a replacement for the opiates they may be abusing like oxycodone or heroin.

MAT actively alter’s the brain chemistry of the patient. It works to block the euphoric effects an individual experiences when ingesting opiates or alcohol. It can also reduce the cravings for the substances in the individual. With the reward portion of using the drugs removed, the idea is that there is no motivation for the addict to use their drug of choice.

What Kinds of MAT Are Available?

As with all other types of treatment options, there a variety of medications that an addict can when looking to try medically assisted treatment. Each case of addiction is as individual as the person suffering from it, therefore there is no “one-size-fits-all” mentality associated with it. What works for one person may not for another, and understanding all the different MAT options available on the market is important before making a potentially life-changing decision.


Buprenorphine, or brand name Suboxone or Subutex, is a type of medication-assisted treatment. It comes in pill form and works by placing it underneath your tongue. Since buprenorphine is an opioid with a chemical makeup similar to morphine, codeine, or heroin, it acts as a replacement for opiates. It works by activating the same areas of the brain as these other opiates do while simultaneously reducing cravings and not giving you the same “high” as these opiates.

Taking buprenorphine as part of the medically assisted treatment is contingent upon understanding that it can be a long-term type of treatment. Much like opiates as well, it cannot just simply be stopped cold-turkey. The individual will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms similar to a typical opiate withdrawal, sometimes with symptoms being even more severe than those associated with heroin.

To undergo buprenorphine treatment, you must be under the care of a physician. The doctor will assess your current opioid addiction and decide what strength of buprenorphine is appropriate for you. It is also crucial to understand that while under its effects, you must avoid opiate use as well as alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers since adverse reactions can occur among these medications that can result in death.


Perhaps even more intense than buprenorphine, MAT with methadone is another option available to addicts across the country. Methadone is an opioid medication that will both reduce withdrawal symptoms without giving its users a high.

Methadone is available at methadone clinics. These clinics are staffed with doctors and medical professionals who are experts on methadone and using it as an effective treatment. Since methadone can be addictive as well, it is only available under close medical care at these clinics.

Clinics exist in most cities around the country, and for the most part methadone treatment is either free or available on a sliding scale. If accepted into the program, the patient must agree to the strict terms associated with methadone maintenance. These include punctuality to appointment times, commitment to the program including mandatory therapy sessions, and taking the medication as prescribed.

In the beginning, the methadone doctor will assess your opioid addiction and decide the proper dose of methadone for you. It is possible to receive your first dose the first day you arrive at the clinic. You will then need to go to the clinic on a daily basis where the medication will be dispensed to you by the clinic and by the clinic only. If you miss doses or do not arrive to the clinic, you will not receive your dose and may even be barred from the program.

These programs are long-term, typically 12-18 months in length. If you cannot commit to the methadone program, it is not advised to start. Since methadone poses a high potential for dependence and intense withdrawals, it is important to weigh if it is, in fact, right for you. Over time, upon successful completion of appointments at the clinic, you may be allowed to bring doses home with you. But it is important to know that once this type of treatment is started, it cannot simply be stopped.


The final type of medication-assisted treatment is naltrexone. Known more widely by its brand name Vivitrol, it can be taken by mouth or injection into a muscle. Effects will begin immediately, and it decreases the desire for alcohol and opiates. It may be a better option than methadone or buprenorphine due to having the ability to only needing to be taken once per month (injectable) as opposed to daily (oral).

It is important to understand that you must be clean, meaning not having any opiates or alcohol in your system, for 10 to 14 days prior to starting naltrexone. This can prove to be difficult for many addicts and alcoholics who are unable to stop using for even one day, let alone a full two weeks. The issue is that the presence of alcohol or opiates in your system may interfere with the medication and cause potentially life-threatening complications.

But Does it Work?

The short answer is, yes. MAT has shown to be very effective in treating opioid and alcohol addictions across the board. The issue that many people may have with it is that it acts as a replacement therapy option, instead of overcoming addiction altogether. Rather than being addicted to heroin, you’re addicted to methadone. This merely continues the cycle of addiction and does not actually lead to complete sobriety.

It is important to weigh the pros and cons associated with MAT before undertaking this type of addiction treatment. Obviously, complete abstinence is ideal and the best form of recovery. MAT should not be considered a first-resort.

Are You Or Someone You Love Struggling?

If you or someone you love is currently struggling with addiction, Pathway to Hope is here for you! By providing the best in addiction treatment, you will be in good hands from beginning to end. Our admissions professionals are standing by 24/7, awaiting your call. By calling 844-557-8575 or contacting us online, you will be connected to cutting-edge treatment designed to get you back on track toward the life you deserve: one of sobriety and happiness! Don’t delay, call us now and get on the road toward recovery today!

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