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Medically-Assisted Therapy (MAT) for Addiction

    Medically-Assisted Therapy (MAT) for Addiction

    Many people are hesitant about the thought of entering recovery for addiction due to the possibility of experiencing uncomfortable and often uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms during treatment, particularly in regards to alcohol and opioid addiction recovery.

    The development of medically-assisted therapy for addiction has made the process of detoxification and withdrawal more comfortable, increasing the rates of treatment completion and lowering the number of relapses and overdoses during the withdrawal period.

    So, what exactly is this method of treatment and what does it entail?

    Medically-assisted therapy involves the use of certain medications combined with behavioural therapy in order to treat addiction. It has been proven to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings and block the effects of substances.

    While this form of addiction treatment can have some success as individual therapy, it is far more effective when combined with behavioural therapy in order to treat the psychological causes behind the addiction. [1]

    Which addictions can medically-assisted therapy be used to treat?

    The most common disorders that can be effectively treated with medically assisted therapy include alcohol, opioid and nicotine addictions.

    Medication is primarily used in the treatment of substance use disorders, with more research required to understand whether it could also be used to treat behavioural addictions.

    1. Alcohol addiction

    Alcohol addiction can have devastating effects on every aspect of a person’s life, from their physical health to their mental wellbeing. It can be extremely difficult to find the strength to stop drinking, as the withdrawal process can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

    In many cases, medically-assisted therapy can allow patients to detox from alcohol in a slow and safe manner by rebalancing brain chemicals and acting as an active deterrent. Some medications can cause vomiting and other unpleasant side effects when alcohol is ingested, and this method has been proven to be an effective form of treatment.

    2. Opioid and heroin addiction

    Many people become addicted to opioid-based substances after receiving a prescription for a legitimate medical need, such as chronic long-term pain management or as a short-term painkiller after an operation or accident.

    The body can very quickly build up a tolerance to these substances, requiring a higher and more frequent dosage in order to experience the same effects. As a result, without careful medical monitoring, the patient may develop a dependency.

    Opioid addiction is notoriously difficult to recover from, with severe and intense side effects developing as the body goes into withdrawal. Thankfully, a range of medications is available to help make the process more comfortable and reduce the chances of relapse.

    3. Nicotine addiction

    Arguably the most common addiction across the globe, nicotine causes approximately 74,600 deaths in the UK every year. [2] However, as a society, we have become more educated on the dangers of nicotine and as a result, the rates of nicotine addiction are steadily dropping.

    There are a number of medications that have been developed to help with the process of withdrawing from nicotine, allowing individuals to stop smoking without the uncomfortable and unpleasant side effects that they may have come to expect.

    Which medications are used in medically-assisted therapy?

    There are a large range of medications that have been approved for use in medically-assisted therapy, each with their own benefits and uses. Some have the ability to reduce the pleasurable effects of certain substances rendering them less effective, while others can mimic the effects of addictive drugs allowing the patient to switch to a safer and less addictive substance.

    Each of the medications described below has been extensively studied regarding the role they can play in addiction recovery. While some have the potential to be addictive themselves, the risk is greatly reduced when the dosage is prescribed by a medical professional and closely monitored throughout the treatment process. [3]

    Medications used for alcohol addiction

    Acamprosate

    Acamprosate is commonly used in the treatment of alcohol addiction as it has the ability to rebalance the levels of chemicals in the brain that may be disrupted by an excessive amount of alcohol.

    Disulfiram

    This medication can make alcohol seem less appealing by causing unpleasant side effects when it is consumed, while also reducing cravings by controlling the amount of dopamine released by the brain.

    Medications used for opioid and heroin addiction

    Methadone

    Methadone is commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain and is effective at alleviating many of the more uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms during a heroin or opioid detox. However, methadone can be highly addictive and care must be taken to ensure the individual does not develop a dependency on this medication.

    Naltrexone

    This medication can help to make heroin and other opioids seem less appealing, as it reduces their effects by blocking opioid receptors in the brain. Naltrexone is also commonly used to treat heroin overdoses.

    Buprenorphine

    A less addictive substance that can mimic the effects of opioids, buprenorphine is prescribed as an effective substitute for heroin during the detoxification process and can help to reduce cravings during the tapering-off process.

    Medications used for nicotine addiction

    Clonidine

    Clonidine can help the process of nicotine withdrawal feel more comfortable by actively reducing the individual’s heart rate and lowering their blood pressure, helping them to feel calmer and more relaxed.

    Naltrexone

    With a similar effect on both nicotine and opioids, naltrexone blocks opioid receptors in the brain which can help to reduce cravings and prevent relapse.

    Varenicline

    By producing a similar sensation to nicotine but with less addictive effects, this medication can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms as the individual slowly tapers off the dosage.

    What are the benefits of medically-assisted therapy?

    While medically-assisted therapy has been proven to be effective at increasing the chances of long-term recovery from a number of addictive substances, this form of treatment provides benefits that extend far beyond simply recovering from an addiction.

    Common benefits of medically-assisted therapy include:

    1. Reduces criminal activity

    As these medications are prescribed by medical professionals and commonly dispensed at pharmacies or within rehabilitation centres, there is no longer a need to commit criminal activities such as stealing or engaging in illegal prostitution as a means to fund the addiction.

    The medications are also manufactured in clean, sterile environments with the dosage of each treatment accurately measured. This reduces the risk of accidental overdose and ensures that patients know exactly what they are ingesting.

    2. Helps patients to stay in treatment

    The withdrawal period can be the most difficult aspect of addiction recovery, with intense cravings and uncomfortable side effects often persisting for a number of weeks or even months. Many patients are unable to sustain their treatment goals and a number will eventually relapse before the end of the programme or shortly afterwards.

    The danger of relapsing during or after treatment revolves around the fact that while the body can quickly build up a tolerance to a specific substance requiring a higher and more frequent dosage in order to experience the same effects, this tolerance can be lost after a short period of abstinence. In the event of a relapse, the patient may attempt to ingest a large amount of the substance as they were previously able to do so, and as a result, they are at higher risk of overdose.

    Utilising specific medications during this process can help patients to continue treatment and reduce the chances of relapse, particularly when they are able to switch to a substitute that provides similar effects to the addictive substance. [4]

    3. Reduces the risk of contracting a blood-borne disease

    People dealing with opioid addiction are more likely than the general population to contract a blood-borne disease such as HIV or hepatitis due to the common practice of injecting the substances directly into the veins and potentially sharing needles with other people.

    There are no approved medications that require injection by the patient, and therefore this risk is greatly reduced. In fact, certain medications can induce unpleasant side effects if they are not ingested as directed, making this practice appear unappealing to many people.

    How can I access medically-assisted therapy?

    The majority of these medications must be prescribed for use by a medical professional, and under UK law it is illegal to supply or possess many of them without a prescription.

    A number of rehabilitation centres across the country include medically-assisted therapy in their treatment programmes, with professionals on hand 24/7 to assess, prescribe and monitor your reaction to the medications and provide the appropriate behavioural therapy in order to increase the effectiveness and longevity of this method of treatment.

    Your doctor may also be able to prescribe certain medications, however many do not have the resources or experience to conduct a thorough assessment and therefore may refer you to a rehabilitation centre as an inpatient or outpatient depending on the severity of your addiction.

    You can take action today and take that first step towards your recovery goal by giving our friendly and experienced team at OK Rehab a call to discuss your treatment options – we have the experience and resources required to source the most effective medically assisted therapy programmes in the country that suit both your requirements and your budget.

    References

    [1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

    [2] https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-smoking/statistics-on-smoking-england-2020/part-1-smoking-related-ill-health-and-mortality

    [3] https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment

    [4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3670653/

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