When it comes to getting sober from drugs and alcohol, the use of medications as a treatment intervention is often seen as controversial. The issue of using a drug in order to get off of another substance can be a touchy subject, especially when it comes to certain peer support groups such as alcoholics anonymous, a group that tends to frown upon using drug-assisted interventions and adds fuel to this controversy. The case of medication-assisted treatment comes with plenty of pros and cons, factors that should be properly weighed against the issue as a whole.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Before we dive into the pros and cons of medication-assisted treatment, it’s important to first define what medication-assisted treatment is. Medication-assisted treatment is the use of a pharmacological medication as a way to intervene in an individual’s substance use disorder. This treatment method is traditionally used in combination with other counseling and therapeutic modalities as a way to fully address a person’s condition.
Medication-assisted treatment can be used with many different kinds of substances, particularly alcohol, opioids, and tobacco. Methadone has traditionally been used to treat an addiction to narcotics and is often the most controversial form of therapeutic intervention, as many individuals end up abusing Methadone, a substance that has many negative side effects. Naltrexone is another substance used as a medication-assisted treatment, as it is used to block the effects of opioids.
Suboxone, or Buprenorphine, is also used to treat an opioid addiction, as it blocks the effect of narcotics while reducing a person’s withdrawal symptoms. Chantix, or varenicline, is a medication that is used to treat an addiction to nicotine, as it reduces the urge to smoke, making the path to quitting smoking a potentially easier endeavor. For a wide variety of substances, medication can be used as an effective way to combat addiction and provide an individual with lasting results.
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The Pros of Medication-Assisted Treatment
There are several positive factors to consider when it comes to using medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse disorder. Many individuals experience success through some form of MAT, as these substances can reduce a person’s cravings and block the brain’s ability to experience the benefits of using a substance. For some patients, incorporating medication-assisted treatment can increase the chances that one’s recovery will be sustainable. This is due to the way in which a drug reduces an individual’s persistent cravings, making it less of a struggle to remain sober.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), medication-assisted treatment can provide a person with a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. This is due to the fact that MAT can provide needed relief from constant physical cravings, allowing for a recovery to take effect much easier in many cases. It can also block the rewarding qualities of a particular substance, making the attraction of using a much less appealing prospect for most users.
The most common form of MAT comes in the form of treatment for addiction to opioids, such as heroin and painkillers which contain opiates. This is done to provide patients addicted to these substances with a method for normalizing brain chemistry, as their substance use addiction is a source of an imbalanced chemical makeup. The goal of an effective MAT program is one where an individual experiences a full recovery and has the ability to live a self-directed life of meaning and purpose.
According to SAMHSA, medication-assisted treatment has been shown to improve overall patient survival, as well as increase retention in treatment. It has also been shown that this treatment method decreases opiate use as well as other criminal activities associated with this condition. It also can increase a patient’s ability to gain and maintain employment, as a sober lifestyle will make someone more likely to be responsible with their life. Additionally, using medication-assisted treatment in women with a substance use disorder has been shown to improve birth outcomes within this segment of the population.
The Cons of Medication-Assisted Treatment
As with other forms of treatment which involve medication, medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse disorder can come with many unintended consequences and undesirable outcomes for the patient.
Root Cause of Addiction
MAT will not necessarily offer the full solution to a person’s addiction, as there are often many factors that cause a person to become addicted to a substance. It can be alluring to believe that a simple pill will provide the needed sense of relief for an individual, but this is only a small part of the equation.
In order for a substance abuse treatment to be effective, it needs to efficiently address the reasons why a person developed an addiction, to begin with. When it comes to the opioid crisis and other forms of drug addiction, one of the most common reasons people resort to using illicit substances is due to social isolation. This is when a person lacks a feeling of connection to other people in their life, creating a massive void in the process. Drugs can become much more appealing to a person without a positive support system in place.
Unfortunately, one of the big downsides to using MAT, specifically opioid blockers, is that they can contribute to lower levels of social connectedness, engagement, and feelings of being loved. This undesirable outcome can be a significant setback for someone who is trying to regain a sense of their life, as connection with others is one of the strongest sources of support in the recovery process. If a MAT is used to help a person overcome their addiction to a substance, yet they experience a reduced connection with those in their life, it’s likely that the recovery process will be much more challenging and unpleasant, reducing the long-term odds for success.
Getting Help for Addiction
Medication-assisted treatment may be a good fit for you, or it may not. For more information on addiction treatment and options available to you, contact Ocean Hills Recovery today.
About the author:
Greg opened his home and heart to alcoholics and addicts in 2003. He is a Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATCI). Starting in 2009 Greg has fostered the growth of Ocean Hills Recovery into one of the most respected and effective treatment centers in the area and has been working with people with addictions since March of 2001. Greg believes in a holistic approach to recovery. His focus is on drug alcohol addiction treatment with a combination of 12 Step work, therapy and counseling, and the rejuvenation of the body through healthful eating and exercise. He has designed his program to foster a family-like atmosphere and believes that people in recovery are just beginning their lives. He encourages the people he works with to learn to enjoy life in sobriety. Greg is married to Nicole; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.