Advances in medicine and therapy allow for new methods of curbing the painful effects of substance abuse withdrawal. One such method is Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for drug rehab, which reduces the discomfort patients suffer while recovering from substance abuse.

What Is MAT?

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a complementary treatment for drug and alcohol rehabilitation that uses a combination of FDA-approved medications, counseling, and behavioral therapy. MAT takes a “whole-patient” approach and eases patients’ substance abuse withdrawals and side effects so they can place their focus on rehabilitation and recovery instead.

MAT Harm Reduction

As a treatment involved in substance abuse rehabilitation that involves medication use, MAT follows certain principles of the harm reduction movement. Harm reduction is a set of practices and ideas that aim to reduce the consequences of drug use, while also demonstrating respect for the people it treats.

Principles of Harm Reduction

One of the principles of harm reduction is that interventions and policies aimed at serving drug users should reflect the specific needs of the individual and the community. Harm reduction has no specific rules because of this principle of individualization, but it does adhere to some core beliefs, including:

  • Accepting that illicit and licit drug use is part of our world and minimizing the harmful effects instead of just ignoring them
  • Establishing quality of life and well-being, not necessarily just the complete stoppage of drug use, as the criteria for successful interventions and policies
  • Understanding that drug use is complex and multi-faceted, and encompasses a range of severities from extreme abuse to total abstinence, acknowledging that some drug uses are safer than others
  • Not attempting to minimize the real and tragic harm and danger associated with licit and illicit drug use.

Medication Assisted Treatment Best Practices

The ideal procedure of MAT involves the patient engaging in responsible practices to treat their addiction while taking their medication to deal with substance abuse cravings and chronic pain.

  • The patient should have eligibility, which considers the medical history, treatment experiences, and previous compliance with medication.
  • The patient should take the FDA-approved medication that corresponds to his or her specific addiction, that combats the addiction by blocking the euphoric effects of the substance, relieves physiological cravings, and normalizes body functions without the drug’s negative effects.
  • The patient must receive and participate in counseling, which includes behavioral therapy, as well as other medical, educational, and vocational treatment services.

The goal of MAT is to allow patients to fully recover and live an independent life. The best outcome for MAT includes:

  • Improvement of patient survival
  • Improvement of treatment participation
  • Decrease in substance abuse and other criminal activity associated with abuse
  • Increasing patient’s capability of obtaining and keeping employment
  • Improvement of birth outcomes with women who are pregnant and have substance abuse issues

MAT Vs. Drugs

People with addictions to opioids and prescription medications commonly use MAT. However, the treatment program can adapt and treat other substance addictions as well.

MAT For Opioids

MAT medications for opioid addiction are controlled substances because of their potential for abuse, but the FDA approves them for medical purposes. These medications combat the effects of opioids such as morphine, heroine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. The main medications for MAT for opioids are:

  • Methadone. This medication replicates the effect of opioids in the brain, but without actual drug consumption, reducing withdrawals.
  • Buprenorphine. This medication suppresses and reduces drug cravings and comes as a pill or sublingual tablet.
  • Naltrexone. This medication functions when the patient relapses and consumes an opioid, only for naltrexone to block the euphoric effects of the drug.

MAT For Alcohol Addiction

MAT medications for alcohol addiction do not necessarily cure the disorder, but they are effective in people who participate in the MAT program.

  • Disulfiram. This medication is appropriate for people who detoxified or are in the first stage of abstinence. Disulfiram causes unpleasant side effects on intoxicated people or people who have consumed alcohol in the last 12 hours.
  • Acamprosate. Recovering people who already stopped drinking alcohol take this medication to continue to avoid drinking. Acamprosate does not relieve withdrawal effects from alcohol and is not effective for people who consume alcohol or other drugs.
  • Naltrexone. Like with opioids, naltrexone reduces the euphoric and intoxicated feelings of alcohol.

MAT For Smoking

There are three FDA-approved medications for tobacco use disorders that accompany MAT programs.

  • Nicotine replacements. Products such as nicotine gum, transdermal patches, and lozenges deliver nicotine in smaller, less harmful amounts than tobacco.
  • Varenicline. A prescription medication that is a nicotine partial agonist that reduces cravings for cigarettes.
  • Bupropion. Originally an antidepressant, this drug is also effective in helping people quit smoking.

New Treatments and Guidelines

Medication assisted treatment continues to advance as more people discover its benefits in helping victims of substance abuse disorders cope with their symptoms.

New Medications

New medications continue development for MAT use. One of the most recent is a medicine made with buprenorphine called Sublocade, which the FDA approved in late 2017. Sublocade is an injection that solidifies under the skin and releases medication over four weeks. The medication enforces a steady blood level, which reduces the need for daily pill consumption.

FDA Encourages Development

On August 6, 2018, the FDA issued new scientific recommendations that encouraged the innovation and development of medication assisted treatment programs against the use of opioids. Some of the guidelines have the FDA pursuing drug sponsors to evaluate the effects and benefits of MAT, as well as assistance in the early development of the MAT medication process.


The use of MAT programs remains controversial for some who argue that the consumption of MAT medication is simply replacing the use of one drug with another. The purpose of these drugs is to relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings that cause chemical imbalances in the body. Research proves that the proper dosage of MAT medications causes no negative impact on a patient’s intelligence, physical functioning, or mental capabilities.

Marijuana as MAT

The connection between marijuana and medication assisted treatment has faced some backlash as well. A California study with 350 medical marijuana patients found that 26% of patients used marijuana as a substitute for illicit drugs due to fewer harmful side effects, better availability, and helpful in coping with withdrawal symptoms. However, some opposition advocates argue that marijuana is just a gateway drug that causes adverse side effects like IQ loss and psychotic disorders.

Resources and Help

MAT is just one of the several treatments people with substance abuse disorders can turn to in order to cope with their addiction. If you or a loved one need help seeking addiction treatment, contact Emerge and See for further assistance.