medication assisted treatment

What Is MAT?

MAT, or Medication Assisted Treatment and its Role in Recovery.

Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies for the treatment of substance use disorders. A combination of medication and behavioral therapies is effective in the treatment of substance use disorders, and can help some people to sustain recovery.

Medication-assisted treatment is the use of anti-craving medicine such as methadone, naltrexone (Vivitrol), buprenorphine (Suboxone).


Methadone has long been used for the treatment of opiate withdrawal, most often for heroin. Relapse rates for heroin addiction are high with all forms of treatment. Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is commonly used to help individuals with opiate use disorders decrease their use of opiate drugs and reduce rates of criminal activities.

MMT programs are ongoing. Individuals continue to use methadone in place of their opiate drug of abuse.


Vivitrol is an extended-release, injectable form of naltrexone. It is a non-addictive opiate antagonist that has helped many individuals remain drug-free during their initial recovery period. It has been used to treat both alcohol and opioid drug dependence. Because Vivitrol is given as a monthly injection, it’s considered to be one of the most convenient ways to remember to take the drug.

If you’re thinking about taking Vivitrol, consider the following benefits that come with it:

  • Vivitrol can make opiate drugs or alcohol much less desirable, which can help you avoid a relapse.
  • You don’t have to remember to take a pill every day, which may make it easier to comply with your treatment plan.
  • Blood levels of Vivitrol may remain more stable than levels of oral naltrexone.
  • Vivitrol can help you break your dependence on habit-forming drugs – without running the risk that you’ll develop a secondary addiction to naltrexone.


Suboxone is a medication that combines two drugs: buprenorphine and naloxone.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that helps relieve cravings for narcotic drugs like heroin, morphine and codeine. Suboxone produces similar effects to narcotics, but with a less intense, gradual onset of action. As a result, the user doesn’t experience the full euphoric high that makes heroin or morphine so addictive.

Suboxone is unique in that it also contains naloxone, an opioid antagonist (or blocker) that blocks the pleasurable effects of narcotic drugs. The benefit of this combination is in minimizing the incentive to use excessive amounts of any opioid drug and, further, in limiting any risk of overdose while it is being taken.


The Benefits of Medication Assisted Treatment AND Therapy

The choice to incorporate medications as part of a substance abuse treatment strategy will be up to the recovering individual as well as their specific treatment team. Not all addiction treatment programs utilize medication assisted techniques. Still, there are a number of benefits to medication therapy that are worth considering as you weigh your treatment options with your healthcare provider.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that medication therapy may:

  • Increase patient retention in addiction treatment programs.
  • Decrease the rate of relapse among alcoholics or individuals recovering from addiction.
  • Lower the rate of drug-related criminal activity.
  • Reduce the rate of drug-related disease transmission.

Just taking any of these drugs will not cure someone addiction but with counseling and behavioral therapy, the cycle of addiction can be broken. For many of those who rely on Medication-assisted treatment, they go into it with the understanding that they may be on their medication for the rest of their life. This is no different though, form those who struggle with high blood pressure or diabetes. There’s no shame attached to being on these medications for obvious reasons – you’re fighting to stay healthy.

These medications are prescription only, meaning that regular check ups are required for renewals. This adds another level of safety and sets up a healthy lifestyle for the recovering addict.

Success Rates

While there’s plenty of evidence supporting the efficacy of MAT, there are still gaps in the scientific literature that researchers want to see addressed.

What are those gaps?

One big gap in the research is how to pick the right drug and the right dose for an individual patient. According to 2015 national practice guidelines from the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “there is some evidence supporting the relative efficacy of one medication over another, but in many cases, there are no good-quality studies comparing the relative benefits of one medication over another.”

Each drug does carry different risks and benefits. People can overdose and die on methadone, whereas they can’t with buprenorphine or naltrexone. Buprenorphine and naltrexone can be taken orally; naltrexone also comes in an injectable form. And people who need surgery can be taken off buprenorphine more quickly than they could be if they took methadone.

Understanding the differences between these opiate substitutes will help you make an informed decision in your recovery journey.


If you’d like to learn more about your recovery options, Contact us.


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