Why Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is best for people struggling with Drug Addiction

Thousands of people die as a direct consequence of drug addiction every year. Medically speaking, addiction is a disorder of the brain and the central nervous system. Addiction establishes itself as the result of repeated exposure to an addictive substance, a drug for instance, that the body interprets as intrinsically rewarding. Addiction can be treated using a variety of methods, all of which include, as a core component, behavioral therapy and counselling.

What is MAT?

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) complements traditional therapy based approaches by using medications to create a direct effect on the physiological systems that play a role in establishing addiction in patients. MAT combined with therapy and counselling has been proven to be tremendously effective in treating substance abuse disorders to the fullest extent. MAT is used primarily with opioid addictions such as cocaine, heroin, and other prescription medication, mostly pain killers, which are opioid derivatives. The medication alters the patients’ brain chemistry so that the effects of the abused substance are less pronounced. Once the reinforcing behaviors of the drug is neutralized, the psychological and physiological dependence that the drug creates in the addict can also be reduced and finally eliminated. Post therapy can be used to recover normal physiological functions of the body and social skills.

Why is therapy and counselling necessary?

Traditionally, behavioural therapy and counselling were the sole methods of treating addiction. Counselling involves appealing to the person’s logic and conscious thinking to create an effort to stop the behaviours that result as a consequence of addiction. It can be done both individually as well as in a group environment. Individual therapy tries to guide the patient on a path towards reducing and ultimately ceasing substance abuse and engage them in positive behaviours like skill building, association with family and other social relationships, and sticking to set guidelines for recovery from addiction to prevent relapse. Group therapy provides an external support structure for recovering addicts so that they do not lose motivation on the way to full recovery.

Therapy is effective in motivating people to self-correct behaviours that cause harm to their selves and their loved ones. Different forms of therapy are effective in people of different dispositions; for instance, a teenager will respond to a very different approach than an adult. The core component of therapy is to make the individuals understand the damage addiction is causing to their lives and empower them with the ability to quit such self-destructive activities.

Counselling is necessary because quitting addiction is an inherently difficult task. Only medication cannot motivate a person to put in the effort needed to overcome addiction. MAT based solutions can make the process easier by abating the physical and psychological symptoms but at the end of the day, it is an individual fighting against a habit and only therapy can provide the dedication necessary to win the fight. Federal law requires some form of counselling for patients receiving MAT.

How does MAT work?

Medication assisted treatment involves administering very specific medication in very specific dosages that are tailored to the patient receiving them. The medication does not emulate the effects of the addictive drug as is commonly believed. Instead, the medication treats the symptoms of withdrawal that occur because of the cessation of the addictive drug. The psychological dependence that develops as a result of addiction is also lessened using medication. This creates a situation where the body can slowly repair itself and normalise its systems to a pre-addiction stage. Addiction creates chemical imbalances in the body to persist; with the application of medication in proper doses, these imbalances are corrected and the body eliminates the dependence on the foreign drug.

Extensive research on the subject all points to the fact that when properly administered, MAT is one of the most effective ways of treating substance abuse disorders, particularly opioid addiction. MAT does not produce any negative or adverse effects on the body and does not have any impact on intelligence or mental capability.

Effectiveness of MAT

The different medications used in MAT are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the programs that offer MAT must be certified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and accredited by an accrediting body approved by the SAMHSA.

Drugs used for treating opioid addiction disorders include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These drugs all work in different ways: methadone engages with the nervous system in a manner similar to the abused drug but does not create a “high”, thereby tricking the brain into thinking that it is still getting the drug. This prevents withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine directly suppresses cravings for the abused drug while naltrexone blocks the euphoric and self-reinforcing effects of the abused drug.

MAT has been extensively proven to reduce the need for detoxification services to a significant extent. Complemented with behavioural and cognitive therapy, MAT can lead to a full recovery from addiction and completely eliminate dependence. Patient survival rates and resistance to relapse are significantly improved by MAT. Patients undergoing MAT are also more likely to stick to the treatment program; this directly reduces the chances of contracting communicable illnesses like HIV-AIDS and Hepatitis C which are rampant among substance abusers (due to sharing infected objects like needles and syringes). MAT therefore has a remarkable effect on both recovery from addiction and the quality of life beyond treatment.