Medication assisted treatment, also known as MAT, is a science-based approach to breaking drug addiction. With mounting research that supports the use of MAT and increased access to outpatient treatment, more individuals are finding freedom from substance use disorders.
If you're considering a medication-assisted recovery program, understanding how it helps and who it is best suited for can help you decide whether to pursue it. This list of medication assisted treatment pros and cons can help you get a better understanding of the MAT method in relation to sustainable and long-term recovery.
But, first, let's talk about how MAT compares with the traditional zero-medication abstinence-based treatment options like 12-Step.
Comparing MAT and the 12-Step Recovery Program
Twelve-step facilitation therapy is a strategy designed to increase the likelihood of recovery in people suffering from substance use disorder. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are amongst the most recognizable 12-step recovery programs, but there are many organizations for different substances and addictions. The goal is to achieve abstinence without taking any medications and through actively engaging in activities laid out by the program.
This method emphasizes three main factors that lead to recovery success: acceptance, surrender, and active involvement. To the proponents of the 12-step strategy, recovering from addiction is a choice that one needs to make, and that success is defined by one's willingness to get better.
One of the cons of abstinence-based therapy is that meetings and counseling activities are usually conducted by persons who have undergone the program and succeeded, not by doctors and health care professionals. In addition, studies on its effectiveness in opioid addiction are few and mostly topical.
Medication assisted recovery programs, on the other hand, are supported by numerous studies and are based on the premise that opioid addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain and not simply a moral failing. In fact, MAT medications like Suboxone are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treating opioid abuse. Success in recovery is driven by a "whole-patient" approach, which is a combination of medications, counseling, and dedicated case management.
In terms of sustainable recovery, research has shown that MAT programs have a low risk for relapse because of their targeted, evidence-based approach. Meanwhile, those who have opted to recover through the 12-step program find that there are many potential relapse triggers that could threaten their recovery efforts.
Pros of Medication Assisted Treatment
Let's look deeper at why medication assisted recovery programs might have a higher success rate against opioid misuse disorder.
MAT is proven to be effective.
Decades ago, opioid addiction treatment was carried out via abstinence-based programs alone. These required patients to quit the use of opioids by going “cold turkey,” resulting in severe and painful withdrawal symptoms and high relapse rates.
Research demonstrates that opioid abuse alters the brain's chemistry, ultimately leading to irreversible neural damage. Over time, users develop a higher tolerance for opioids, creating a cycle of increasing demand. Medication assisted treatment takes these physical changes into account and places patients on a tailored dose of Buprenorphine-based medication to address the brain's demand for opioids. Studies have shown that:
- Patients undergoing MAT have higher retention in treatment and are more likely to stay on until the end of the course.
- Using medication decreased opioid-positive drug tests by 14.2 percent.
- MAT reduces the risk for relapse significantly.
In addition to multiple studies that support the use of MAT, authorities in the drug abuse treatment space recommend it. The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration concluded:
“MAT has proven to be clinically effective and to significantly reduce the need for inpatient detoxification services for these individuals. MAT provides a more comprehensive, individually tailored program of medication and behavioral therapy that addresses the needs of most patients.”
Beyond the numerous clinical evidence that point to MAT as a viable treatment approach for addiction, it also has behavioral and practical advantages.
It gives patients more flexibility.
Another benefit of an outpatient MAT treatment program is that patients can go about their normal lives while in treatment.
By placing patients on a Buprenorphine-based medication that partially fills the brain's opioid receptors, MAT allows individuals to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, cravings are drastically reduced as the medication chemically replaces the prescription or street opioids causing the addiction.
Free from intense cravings and drastic highs and lows, patients can continue living fulfilling and productive lives. This is a stark contrast to abstinence programs, where patients are often consumed by cravings and battle a range of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
When enrolled in an outpatient MAT program, patients self medicate according to a schedule laid out by their provider. Once on track, there's no need for daily visits to the treatment center. MAT patients experience the treatment as a manageable portion of life, not something that takes over how they live.
It is favored by insurance companies.
Another addition to the cons of abstinence-based treatment is that data shows it to be largely ineffective in treating opioid use disorder. Insurers are taking note of this and offering more coverage options for evidence-based treatment like MAT and resisting paying for treatment without it. If you are seeking MAT treatment, your insurance provider will almost certainly cover the costs for this necessary medical service.
A growing number of insurance companies see the value of MAT and adjust their offerings to reflect this. Typical costs associated with MAT treatment include prescription medication, drug testing, and office visits. Depending on your provider, you may be able to get all or some of these costs covered while in treatment.
Cons of Medication Assisted Treatment
Now that we have looked at the pros of medication assisted recovery programs, let's walk through the potential roadblocks below.
It might not be ideal for everyone.
In certain cases, an individual may not need to take a Buprenorphine-based medication to overcome addiction. If it is possible to tackle the addiction and prevent relapse without medication, then MAT is not necessary. However, this is often difficult to do for long-term drug users since their brain chemistry has already been altered by opioid use.
There are patients who can overcome opioid dependence without the help of MAT. They typically have three components in place that help them in these efforts:
- Financial stability: There will be a need to take extended time off work to cope with withdrawal symptoms.
- Strong support system: Having supportive family and friends is essential during this difficult time. Those who have this have an easier time getting through the process.
- Great physical and mental health: The physical and mental toll that this process has on an individual is no small matter. Those who are in good health mentally and physically are set up for an easier time.
Even with these three elements, the road to breaking addiction is a difficult one. Utilizing a medication assisted recovery plan is one way of reducing the discomfort and increasing the chance for ultimate success.
Develop Your Customized Medication-Assisted Recovery Plan Today
Finding effective and lasting healing starts with proven treatment. At MATClinics, we offer science-based treatment using a tailored approach that includes FDA-approved medications (Suboxone), counseling, and case management. We take the time to develop the medication assisted recovery plan best suited to your or your loved one's needs.