Medically Assisted Treatment In Rehab

Medically Assisted Treatment In Rehab

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There are various methods to treat substance abuse problems and one of them is through medically assisted treatment. What is this process and does it provide better chances of recovery? We’ll explore this topic.

Addiction is a complex disorder. There are a multitude of causes and triggers for each individual going through this condition. For some, going to support groups or making minor changes in their environments are enough to curb their substance use. But not everyone achieves successful recovery with the same methods. This is the main reason why rehab centers offer various treatment options such as medically assisted treatment or MAT treatment.

What Is Medically Assisted Treatment?

As someone considering rehab, perhaps you may have wondered, “What is MAT treatment?” To put it simply, medication assisted treatment MAT provides government-approved drugs along with behavioral therapy approaches during rehabilitation. MAT treatment often involves using antagonist or agonist drugs during the detox phase.

An antagonist drug helps flush out the effects of the addictive substance in the body. For example, the drug naloxone (often known as the brand name Narcan) is an antagonist drug used to reverse the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs.

An agonist drug activates opioid receptors in the brain. However, drugs used in MAT medication assisted treatment are usually partial agonists. This means that they don’t provide the full effects of opioids, which may help lessen dependence on addictive substances. An example of an agonist drug for opioids is buprenorphine. Buprenorphine lessens the effects of withdrawal from full-effect opioids, while providing its own analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.

What is MAT in substance abuse treatment?

Substance abuse treatment centers routinely use MAT for many clients, especially for clients who are more dependent on addictive substances.

There are multiple types of MAT addiction treatment, mainly:

  • MAT opioid treatment
  • MAT alcohol treatment
  • MAT smoking treatment

MAT opioid treatment

Opioid dependency may be caused by prescription or illicit drugs. Opioid drugs are similar to another drug, opium. Many clients use MAT medically assisted treatment for addictions to counteract addiction to short-acting opioids such as heroin, morphine, or codeine. These opioids give stronger, fuller effects that cause drug dependency.

MAT opioid treatment often utilizes drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone as partial agonist drugs. These drugs allow people to taper from the full-effect opioids of their addiction and help them lessen their dependency. Health care professionals provide partial agonist drugs on a regular basis until their clients’ withdrawal symptoms are easily managed.

Where to medically assisted treatment for opioid addiction?

Some prescription drugs for opioid addiction treatment can be habit-forming. This is a problem in itself. It is best to seek assistance at high-quality rehab centers that can give you a full assessment on your opioid addiction, medical and mental health, and other factors. Such thorough assessments may make your MAT treatment safer and more effective.

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MAT alcohol treatment

Alcohol addiction is one of the most common addictions and it is also one of the most dangerous when left untreated. Severe alcohol withdrawal can cause life-threatening symptoms, especially when a person stops drinking abruptly.

In these cases, MAT alcohol treatment is recommended. The process includes the use of drugs such as disulfiram, acamprosate, or naltrexone. For many people, these drugs are effective when used after detox, days after withdrawal and during the period of abstinence. When taken according to instructions, the medications can reduce cravings for alcohol and increase motivation in recovery.

Where to medically assisted treatment for alcohol addiction?

If you have a moderate to severe alcohol dependence, it is not recommended to stop drinking completely right away. Rehab centers with medication-assisted treatment for alcohol may help you with the process of alcohol detox, treatment, and relapse prevention and help you create a long-lasting recovery.

MAT smoking treatment

Nicotine dependency may be treated by prescription drugs as well. Nicotine replacement medications such as varenicline, bupropion, or clonidine can be used to lessen withdrawal effects and cravings.

Commonly, people use the replacement drugs from a month up to a week before total abstinence from smoking. The process of nicotine replacement during MAT smoking treatment depends on the severity of smoking dependency and the recommendations of health care professionals.

Where to medically assisted treatment for smoking addiction?

Smoking withdrawal may not pose as much danger compared to drug and alcohol withdrawals, but it can lead to potentially risky chronic conditions such as strokes, heart problems, and even diabetes. Craving nicotine can also lead to weight gain that contributes to a host of other health complications. If self-treatment isn’t effective, there are available rehab centers to help treat many types of substance addictions.

What Does Medically-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Include?

Although MAT uses the terms such as medically assisted and medication-assisted, this does not mean that prescription drugs are the only part of this type of addiction treatment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the goal of medically assisted treatment in addiction is to provide a “whole-patient” approach. By considering the physiological, psychological, and contextual issues surrounding the individual, it is possible to treat many angles of addiction causes and triggers.

Specifically, MAT medically assisted treatment includes the following steps:

  • Drug detoxification: The first portion of medication-assisted treatment usually involves some form of detox. There are two main objectives in drug detoxification: to safely manage withdrawal symptoms and to lessen the dependency on the addictive substance. Drug detox may involve the use of agonist or antagonist drugs or require users to taper from using addictive substance over a period of time.
  • Behavioral therapy: These are the various treatment options aimed to cover the psychological and environmental factors of addiction. After the detox process, the individual can undergo psychotherapy, holistic approaches, faith-based treatment, and substance abuse treatment options. In some instances, medication-assisted treatment will continue during this phase, as people need to take some medications after a period of abstinence from the abused drugs.
  • Continued MAT and aftercare: It is possible to continue taking antagonist or agonist drugs even after the period of intensive rehab ends. MAT aftercare programs may include the regular use of prescription medications until dependency is no longer observed. People take the medications while participating in relapse prevention programs, counseling, support groups, and continued behavioral therapies.

If you’re wondering how to manage a MAT treatment program, it is best to consult addiction specialists who can help you arrange a custom rehab treatment program suitable for your needs. The steps mentioned above are part of a general process, but the treatment options for each part of the program will be customized according to your unique background and preferences.

What Drugs Are Used In Medically Assisted Substance Abuse Treatment?

As previously mentioned, there are designated anti-craving drugs for each type of addiction. Here is a brief overview of common drugs used for opioid, alcohol, and smoking abuse problems:

Opioid addiction


Naltrexone is used to block opioid receptors in the central nervous system. The blockages dampen the effects of fast-acting opioids in the body. People usually take naltrexone after they complete the detox process and taper from their dependence on opioids. Using naltrexone can be part of the treatment and relapse prevention program, as the drug stops the feeling of being high that heroin, codeine, and morphine may provide.


Buprenorphine is a drug that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002 to help curb opioid dependency. Compared to methadone, which is distributed at highly specialized settings such as clinics and hospitals, buprenorphine is more accessible. Many rehab centers offer buprenorphine as a part of MAT treatment. This drug is a partial agonist, which means it can produce the same relaxing effects as opioids but also produce lower chances of misuse and dependency.


Methadone, a prescription medication used to treat severe pain, can also be taken to relieve the withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction. Methadone should be taken according to instructions, as it can also be habit-forming when not used properly. Methadone is used in the MAT treatment program after a person experiences a period of abstinence from fast-acting opioids.

Alcohol addiction


Disulfiram is a drug approved by the FDA to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD) and is often known by the brand name Antabuse. When a person uses alcohol and disulfiram, disulfiram inhibits dopamine and its feel-good effects. This inhibitory response helps reduce a person’s dependence on alcohol. It is essential not to mix alcohol with this prescription drug, since severe adverse effects may occur.


Acamprosate (brand name: Campral) was first introduced in 1989, and is deemed safe and effective to treat problems related to alcohol abuse. This prescription drug aims to balance irregularities in the neurochemical composition of the brain that may occur due to alcohol addiction.

Smoking addiction


Similar to treatments for opioid addiction, naltrexone may also be used to treat alcohol dependence. Naltrexone blocks the sedative effects of alcohol, similar to how the drug works to treat addiction to fast-acting opiates.


Varenicline is a partial agonist drug that treats nicotine dependency. It produces effects that are similar to nicotine but the effects are weaker, making the person less susceptible to smoking again after rehab. Although generally safe, medical professionals may need to review the case histories of some potential users because this prescription drug may cause aggression or seizures.


Bupropion is in a class of antidepressants that are also used to target smoking dependency in addition to depression and other mental health disorders. It works by increasing brain activity and mental clarity, which are also side effects of nicotine. Because of the similarity between the two drugs, taking bupropion may gradually decrease nicotine dependence.


Clonidine is a drug used to treat nicotine dependence as well as symptoms of ADHD and high blood pressure. It relaxes the heart rate and lowers the blood pressure, which may reduce discomfort related to smoking withdrawal.

Issues Related to Medically Assisted Treatment in Rehab

Some people question the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs used as a part of the rehab program. They cite a number of cases where people became dependent on replacement drugs. They acknowledge that replacement drugs may reduce the abuse of substances but note that the unsupervised use of replacement prescriptions can create addictions themselves.

It is important to note that the main purpose of these medications is not to start a new addictive habit but to aid in substance abuse cessation. The prescription medications work in various ways, but all aim to reduce the discomforts of withdrawal or to prevent substance dependency by blocking its effects.

Many may be hesitant to undergo MAT, but with the right approach and adherence to professional advice, why oppose medically assisted treatment facilities? Such treatments could be a vital part of successful addiction recovery for many, many people.

What are some components of MAT treatment centers?

Accredited rehabilitation

It is important to find a state-accredited rehabilitation center with the right permits, licenses, and accreditation. Such recognition is a good sign that the center uses treatment approaches that are safe, effective, and evidence-based.

Top-notch facilities

A treatment facility with top-notch amenities means that you can receive the most from your program. If you are planning to enroll as an inpatient, consider finding a rehab with high-quality equipment, lodging amenities, and varied treatment options to experience the best that rehab has to offer.

Medical supervision

One indicator of a competent MAT treatment center is the presence of experienced medical professionals. Some replacement drugs such as methadone require regulated and supervised use in order to avoid habit-forming tendencies. A medical staff must be present during medically assisted treatments to ensure client safety.

Treating a Drug Problem with Drugs? Yes, It’s Possible!

Using drugs to treat a drug problem may sound counterintuitive to the uninformed, but it’s actually an effective aid to addiction treatment. Through the strategic use of partial agonist and antagonist medications, along with behavior therapies, counseling, and holistic treatments, we can address substance abuse problems as a whole. There is no cure for addiction, but it’s possible to achieve long-term sobriety through medically assisted treatment and other approaches.

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Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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