As a general rule of thumb, a drug addiction treatment center will try to avoid replacing one addiction with another whenever possible. The use of medication during substance abuse recovery is a difficult subject. In some ways, medication can help enhance the recovery experience, address mental health disorders, and help a person’s body recover from malnutrition, infection, and sickness resulting from addiction. However, some prescription medications have habit-forming properties, so it’s vital to only consider medication assisted treatment on a case-by-case basis.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Many types of addiction cause significant physical and psychological damage. While some detox services may help a person remove the drugs from his or her system in a safe environment, they may not have the resources necessary to address serious medical conditions and co-occurring conditions that impede recovery. Malnutrition, sexually transmitted infections, and infectious diseases can make recovery extremely difficult and even dangerous in some cases. For example, the symptoms of severe opioid withdrawal may be fatal without medical intervention.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can include nutritional support during detox, vitamin therapy, prescription medications to manage chronic or psychological conditions, or any other type of medication-based treatment during the recovery process.
Medical Assistance And The Opioid Crisis
The number of opioid overdose deaths and addiction cases in the United States has reached staggering levels, and MAT combined with cognitive behavioral therapy comprises the standard of care for opioid addiction in the United States*. Many substance abuse researchers and federal officials believe that developing new medications to combat opioid addiction may prove fruitful if drug developers look beyond the detox process and consider more long-term applications for MAT.
MAT During Detox
Detox benefits from medication in many ways. In some cases, detoxing can be life-threatening and the withdrawal symptoms may spiral out of control without some type of medication. During medically-assisted detox, a patient receives different medications that keep vital signs in nominal ranges and manage withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the type and severity of an addiction case, detox medical assistance can last for several days or even weeks.
Many people in the grips of substance abuse neglect basic needs like hydration and proper nutrition. A vast number of people entering rehab do so after suffering from malnourishment, dehydration, and infections from exposure and unsafe drug use practices like sharing syringes. Nutritional support can help these individuals overcome vitamin deficiencies, fight off infections, and replace lost nutrients so they can approach rehab with a stronger body.
MAT For Rehab
The purpose of the rehabilitation phase of addiction treatment is to address the underlying causes of an addiction, identifying the stressors and triggers that encourage drug use, and developing an individualized plan for sober living. Medical assistant programs in substance abuse recovery centers typically offer ongoing treatment for chronic conditions, sicknesses, and other medical issues during rehab.
MAT works best during the rehab process when used in conjunction with group therapy, individual counseling, and psychotherapy**. MAT also helps a person in rehab think more clearly about his or her situation by minimizing impulses, urges, cravings, and other psychological and physical variables that make self-reflection difficult. The rehab phase is also the right time to address mental health conditions and other co-occurring disorders that may influence addictive behaviors.
Managing Co-Occurring Conditions
Many people who abuse drugs and alcohol develop mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Others may have preexisting mental health issues or develop issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and self-medicate with illicit drugs or alcohol. These “dual diagnosis” cases are very common, and a complete recovery experience demands that drug addiction treatment professionals address these co-occurring conditions.
Substance abuse treatment professionals must approach psychiatric medications with caution; some prescription medications like benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and stimulants can easily become habit-forming. It’s possible for a person to replace one addiction for another in these situations; so many addiction recovery centers avoid the use of these medications whenever possible.
MAT After Rehab
Some people experience long-term physical and psychological harm from substance abuse. It’s possible to complete detox and rehab and feel ready for a fresh start but still face a significant risk of relapse or medical issues from prior substance abuse. Long-term MAT may include prescriptions to manage these issues or antagonist drugs that prevent a person from feeling the effects of a dose of drugs***. For example, some antagonist medications may make a person sick after consuming alcohol, so a recovering alcoholic may benefit from one such medication as a preventative measure if the temptation to drink is too great after rehab.
A Smoother Recovery Experience
Ultimately, various medications offer valuable benefits to the substance abuse recovery process. Alcohol abuse, opioid abuse, and methamphetamine addiction are just a few examples of addictive behaviors that can cause long-term medical complications, and MAT can help stabilize, treat, and manage these issues on a case-by-case basis.
Imagine trying to successfully complete the rehab process while suffering from the symptoms of depression, an infectious disease, or severe vitamin deficiency without proper treatment. A person in this situation cannot fully focus on the recovery process, and the psychological markers and medical issues resulting from substance abuse can interfere with reintegration back into “normal” life.
Long-Term Benefits Of MAT
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to substance abuse treatment; what works well for one patient may be totally ineffective for another, and each patient may have unique medical issues that demand individualized attention.
When substance abuse treatment professionals and recovery centers develop comprehensive treatment plans that include MAT, patients generally report much smoother recovery experiences and have an easier time transitioning back to a normal everyday routine. Medically-assisted treatment can help a person recover emotionally, psychologically, and physically after struggling with addiction.