Medication-Assisted Treatment: What To Know

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Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has been a common and useful recovery method for decades, and it can be especially helpful to people facing severe substance abuse. However, it’s important to fully understand the benefits and risks of MAT.

Medication-Assisted Treatment: What To Know

Many people who experience substance abuse have difficulty stopping use of the substance due to the potential for severe withdrawal symptoms or cravings.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help with this by providing people with a safe, effective way to detox and reduce their dependency on substances.

Although MAT is not a solution for everybody, it has benefitted millions of people around the world and helped them achieve lasting recovery.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

MAT involves the use of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications prescribed by an addiction treatment provider in conjunction with behavioral health treatment approaches.

Behavioral treatments help people tackle the root causes of their addictions, but MAT assists with the physical symptoms and cravings that may cause a person to relapse during or after treatment.

By treating both the body and mind simultaneously, people have a much higher chance of success in recovery.

MAT can be used in inpatient or outpatient programs and causes few disruptions to people’s daily routines, making it an effective long-term solution for substance abuse.

Addictions That Can Be Treated With MAT

MAT primarily benefits people experiencing severe addictions to opioids and opiates, alcohol, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines.

These powerful substances rewrite the brain’s reward pathways to cause intense cravings and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, leading many to avoid quitting altogether.

MAT is an effective treatment for these addictions and appeals to people by allowing them to skip hospital stays, time off from work or school, and other costly disruptions to daily life.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol addiction is one of the most pervasive substance use disorders in the country. Around 10% of Americans have an existing alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The accessibility of alcohol has made alcohol abuse a particularly difficult disease to treat in the past. Drinking is pervasive in U.S. society and can lead to high risks of relapse for people in recovery.

Fortunately, there are MAT options that can help with AUD. Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat alcohol addiction.

These medications do not cure alcoholism, but they can help people through the difficult initial phases of recovery.

Opioid Use Disorders

Opioid addiction and overdoses have been skyrocketing in the U.S. in recent years, with almost 80,000 opioid-involved overdose deaths in 2022.

As a result, the need for effective opioid treatment programs is higher than ever. There is particular concern surrounding the rise of fentanyl-related addictions and overdoses.

It is getting easier to access MAT for opioid abuse, as it is the most popular and effective treatment available for this disorder. Many MAT facilities only treat opioid or opiate addiction.

Popular medications for the treatment of opioid use disorders (OUDs) include buprenorphine, Suboxone, methadone, and naltrexone.

Common Medications Used In MAT

There are a few standard medications that are FDA-approved for addiction treatment.

They all work in slightly different ways. Some completely block the “high” from substances, while others work to alleviate cravings or withdrawal symptoms.

These medications may come in tablet, liquid, sublingual film, or injectable form.


Methadone is one of the oldest forms of MAT available and is primarily used to treat opioid and opiate use disorders.

It is a synthetic opioid and an opioid agonist, which means that it completely blocks any effects of opioid drugs. It also reduces cravings and other opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Methadone is a long-acting daily medication that is usually prescribed for a minimum of 12 months, but many people take it longer. It can lead to physical dependence over time.


Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that works by activating the brain’s opioid receptors. It can create very mild euphoric effects but is not nearly as strong as a full opioid agonist.

Like methadone, buprenorphine blocks the effects of narcotic drugs and reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms from opioids.

Buprenorphine treatment comes in several forms and does not need to be taken in a facility every day, making it an increasingly popular option for people in recovery.


Naltrexone, brand name Vivitrol, is an opioid antagonist that completely blocks any effects from opioid use. It does not stop withdrawal symptoms but can help reduce cravings.

Naltrexone also has applications as a treatment for alcohol abuse. Since it does not stop withdrawal symptoms, the client must detox first before starting naltrexone use.

Unlike some other MAT options, naltrexone does not usually cause physical dependency.


Suboxone is the name brand for a medication that contains buprenorphine and naloxone, a powerful medicine that reverses opioid overdoses.

There is a low potential for misuse with Suboxone due to the added naloxone, which prevents the “high” from opioid use.


Also known as Campral, acamprosate is a treatment for alcohol addiction. Since it does not stop withdrawal symptoms, it shouldn’t be used until a person has completed a medical detox.

Research has found that alcohol abuse can cause significant changes in brain chemistry, and acamprosate helps reverse those changes and restore normal brain activity.

Drinking while on acamprosate can stop it from working effectively.


Disulfiram is different from the other medications on this list in that it causes unpleasant effects when a person drinks after taking it. It is used to treat chronic, severe alcohol use disorders.

If someone drinks while on disulfiram, they may experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, flushing of the face, blurred vision, sweating, anxiety, and other unpleasant physical symptoms.

This medication works best as a deterrent to stop drinking and is not usually prescribed until a person has completed detoxification and inpatient treatment.

Therapies Used Alongside Medication-Assisted Treatment

Because MAT is most beneficial when used in conjunction with other treatment approaches, many MAT clinics also offer counseling, case management, and other services.

These treatment options may be used in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program setting.

Common addiction treatment approaches used alongside MAT include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • group counseling
  • 12-step meetings
  • relapse prevention
  • motivational interviewing (MI)
  • eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • life skills training
  • anger management
  • family or couples counseling

Treatment plans are usually individualized, so the exact behavioral health approach used will vary based on each client’s needs.

Some facilities also utilize holistic services like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, or animal-assisted therapy.

Does MAT Have Any Side Effects Or Risks?

Although MAT is fairly safe and effective, there is some potential for side effects, health risks, physical dependency, or abuse.

Since some medications, like buprenorphine or methadone, are similar to opioids, they can also cause some of the same side effects.

These include:

  • drowsiness
  • respiratory depression
  • constipation
  • dizziness

There are relatively few side effects experienced by people taking MAT, but you should consult your doctor or clinician immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms.

Other side effects of MAT may include:

  • stomach pain
  • headaches
  • joint pain
  • rashes or itching
  • anxiety

Are MAT Medications Addictive?

Certain MAT options, like methadone, do have some potential for physical dependency and abuse. This is why methadone is only legally able to be dispensed at treatment facilities.

Despite the risks for dependency or illicit use, MAT is still significantly safer than continuing drug abuse.

Doctors and healthcare providers are also well-equipped to help people wean off of MAT when the time is right.

Although there is some stigma that taking MAT is trading one addiction for another, MAT is essentially the same as the use of medication for asthma, mental illness, or other health disorders.

Is MAT Covered By Health Insurance?

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), addiction treatment is considered essential healthcare. All health insurance plans must cover some form of substance abuse treatment.

The exact plans vary, but most will pay for MAT at a licensed treatment center. Medicaid and Medicare health plans also pay for MAT services.

If you do not have health insurance, many MAT clinics offer low flat-rate fees, sliding fee scales, and other forms of payment assistance.

Find Help For A Substance Use Disorder

If you or someone you love is battling opioid dependence or alcohol addiction, help is available. Contact us today to learn more about finding the right recovery services for you.

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