Taken together, medication-assisted treatment and counseling might be our best weapon against opioid use disorder (OUD) and the deadly epidemic it’s spawned. In this post, we’ll present an overview of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and discuss why people on MAT should also attend therapy sessions if they want to achieve long term recovery.
MAT vs. The Opioid Epidemic
Even though it’s been overshadowed by the corona pandemic throughout most of 2020, the opioid epidemic continues to rage throughout the United States. In fact, there was a 4.6% increase in drug overdose deaths between 2018 and 2019, more than erasing the 4.1% decrease that occurred between 2017-18. And while we don’t have the numbers for 2020 yet, the opioid crisis seems to have worsened since the pandemic began.
Fortunately, we have a set of weapons that have proven to be effective in stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic and helping individual drug users recreate their lives. This weapon comes in the form of MATs. For those who don’t know, medication assisted treatment is a catchall term for the use of approved drugs to treat alcohol and opioid use disorders. Here are some of the drugs used in MAT:
- The opioid drug methadone is used to treat heroin addiction
- Buprenorphine, a drug that partially blocks the effects of opioid receptor cells, has been used to treat many forms of opioid addiction
- Naltrexone is often used to treat both opioid and alcohol addiction by blocking their euphoric effects and reducing cravings
The short version is that these drugs have been proven to reduce opioid use significantly, especially when compared to traditional non-MAT methods.
The pharmacology behind this success is beyond the scope of this post, but here’s the upshot: MAT alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce the irresistible pull of opioid cravings. This gives people with an OUD a fighting chance to survive and eventually recover.
Medication-Assisted Treatment and Counseling
However, their chances are even greater when MAT drugs are administered in conjunction with individual and group therapies. This actually makes a great deal of sense when you consider that substance abuse is a disease that affects the mind, body, and spirit of the user. Medication alone is a great start, but it’s usually not sufficient to achieve a truly rewarding recovery.
The type of counseling a client needs depends on the situation. However, some form of intensive counseling is required to address the cognitive and behavioral difficulties that people with substance abuse disorders face on a daily basis.
Using MAT As a Ladder
There’s no longer any question that MATs help people in active addiction. In fact, they actually save lives. But people don’t abuse drugs and alcohol in a vacuum. They abuse drugs and alcohol because of things like trauma, cognitive distortions, and co-occurring mental health disorders.
Drug therapy can definitely position drug users to find long-term relief, but more is required. The simple truth is that when they’re combined, medication-assisted treatment and counseling give people the best chance to create the life they’ve always deserved.