Understanding Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opioid and Alcohol Use Disorders

The substance abuse community uses a wide variety of treatment methods, counseling models, therapies, and rehabilitative services to treat people struggling with addiction. In years past, “rehab” was typically a 30-day stay in an inpatient facility for detox and cursory therapy, and then the patient simply returned to normal life. Today, we understand that this method of treatment can be helpful, but it can also put patients at risk, and increase the likelihood of relapsing. Programs that use some form of Medically-assisted treatment (MAT) have greater success than those that don’t use it.

MAT in substance abuse care provides patients with the first step toward recovery. Most addictive substances will lead to withdrawal, and withdrawal symptoms for some addictions can be fatal without medical assistance.

The Value Of MAT Treatment In Substance Abuse Recovery

What is MAT addiction treatment? It is a carefully crafted treatment regimen aimed at minimizing discomfort and preventing adverse or fatal effects during the detox period of substance abuse recovery. Detox is the first phase of addiction recovery, during which the patient removes the last of his or her drug of choice from his or her body to prepare for counseling and therapy. Some people may attempt to self-detox, but this is incredibly risky for several reasons. First, it puts the person at serious risk, especially if he or she attempts to detox alone. A seizure, respiratory failure, or the shock of withdrawal can cause severe medical complications or even death.

Detox is also an incredibly unpleasant experience. Withdrawal symptoms vary based on the type of drug used, but alcohol and opioids typically entail some of the most significant withdrawal symptoms. MAT in substance abuse recovery helps manage these withdrawal symptoms with minimal discomfort, preparing the patient for a more effective treatment regimen.

FDA-Approved Medications For Substance Abuse Treatment

Many people may wonder if treating a substance abuse disorder with a potentially addictive medication is a safe or viable option. While some substance abuse treatment professionals and researchers abstain from prescribing medications more than absolutely necessary, there are several FDA-approved medications that can help manage the symptoms of withdrawal and physically restore a patient:


This medication can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and exists in two main forms. On its own, buprenorphine activates and deactivates different opioid receptors in the brain, reducing or even eliminating the withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction. When combined with naloxone, buprenorphine can reverse an overdose in progress. Naloxone’s formulation also prevents abuse by causing a withdrawal reaction if injected.


Effectively a heroin replacement, methadone has a long history in the substance abuse treatment world. While buprenorphine acts as a partial opioid agonist, methadone is a full opioid agonist that activates the opioid receptors in the brain. This reduces or eliminates withdrawal symptoms and helps manage opioid cravings.


Naltrexone offers relief to people suffering from opioid addiction and alcoholism. In opioid detox treatment, naltrexone is a relapse prevention medication available for adults who have completed opioid detoxification, and it prevents the euphoric effects of other opioids. If a person taking naltrexone were to attempt an opioid high, a withdrawal effect occurs instead. Naltrexone is also valuable for alcohol rehab because it prevents the pleasurable high resulting from alcohol consumption.


This medication helps people recovering from chronic alcohol consumption. Long-term alcoholism damages the brain in several ways, and acamprosate helps regulate the brain functions impacted by this damage and minimizes withdrawal symptoms.


This medication prevents alcohol metabolism, creating a very unpleasant sensation if a person taking disulfram ingests alcohol. This medication effectively discourages relapse when taken regularly.

Medical Assistance For Opioid Addiction

MAT opioid treatment is a robust care program comprised of different types of therapy and counseling and an FDA-approved medication. The patient’s age, degree of addiction, and type of opioids used may influence the course of treatment. Some patients benefit greatly from methadone replacement, while others have negative reactions to the medication or find the effects uncomfortable. Buprenorphine works best for people who have completely detoxed from opioids and want a bit of help with maintenance and recovery. Ultimately, MAT requires individualized attention.

Dangers Of Opioid Withdrawal

Without medical assistance, opioid withdrawal can be fatal. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal typically include nausea, disorientation, anxiety, vomiting, abdominal pain, and a host of other symptoms. People experiencing opioid withdrawal also feel intense cravings for opioids to allay the withdrawal symptoms. Prolonged opioid abuse also tends to lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and a weakened immune system. MAT provides a safer environment for opioid rehab to begin by restoring vital nutrients, fighting infections or any present diseases, and curbing the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Medical Assistance For Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse can lead to significant physical harm, including brain damage. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are acute and intense as well. MAT alcohol treatment can involve medically-assisted alcohol detox for managing the earliest, and most dangerous, period of alcohol withdrawal. It may also involve maintenance treatments like naltrexone, which eliminates the pleasant feelings drinking alcohol can create.

Risks Of Alcohol Detox

Prolonged alcohol abuse can damage internal organs including the liver, kidneys, and stomach. Alcohol’s effects on the brain are more profound over time, and some people who have experienced extreme alcoholism suffer permanent disabilities from alcohol abuse-related brain damage. During the initial detox phase, severe alcoholism can create potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms in as little as 72 hours. Delirium tremens, seizures, and heart rate problems are all possible, and medical assistance helps manage the patient’s discomfort while limiting the window for fatal incidents.

Since alcohol is so physically damaging, restoring a patient to well enough status to effectively participate in therapy is crucial to any alcohol rehab program. MAT alcohol care makes starting rehab safer and easier, and it can also extend through the entire continuum of care, if necessary.

Effectiveness Of MAT In Substance Abuse Recovery

The Department of Health and Human Services includes the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an organization that collates drug abuse data and provides the public with various treatment-related resources and scientific studies. The available evidence indicates that properly administered MAT for opioids and alcohol is undoubtedly effective at improving recovery rates, and psychotherapy isn’t a requirement in every case. Some patients benefit greatly from breaking the physical hold of addiction, and MAT is customizable in that regard. It also helps with aftercare following recovery when the temptation to relapse is greatest.

Join The Addiction Freedom Now Community Today

The substance abuse treatment community continues to adjust and adapt new treatment methods for a variety of addictions, and it’s important for citizens to stay informed on the latest developments in the substance abuse treatment world. If you or a loved one has experienced any type of addiction, the Addiction Freedom Now blog is a fantastic resource for new articles and new information about the types of MAT care available.