Medication-Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders carries an abundance of unwarranted negative baggage. What’s surprising is that people struggling with substance use disorders encounter the most strident resistance to this type of treatment from other individuals in recovery who advocate a type of abstinence that prohibits the use of medication in recovery. It’s unfortunate, because this point of view is based on misinformation and a lack of understanding about what medication-assisted treatment really is.
We want to make something perfectly clear right away:
Using the best available medication to treat a substance use disorder is not – we repeat – NOT the same thing as using drugs to get high.
If we could broadcast this message to every person impacted by opioid addiction and overcome these dangerous misconceptions, we would. The stigma against Medication-Assisted Treatment is a barrier that we’re committed to removing.
Instead, we’ll give you ten simple facts directly from National Institutes of Health (NIH) and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Members of our clinical staff say that one of the most important things about MAT – in addition to saving lives and mitigating the extremely uncomfortable symptoms of withdraw – is that it gets people feeling well enough to begin treatment.
That’s a big deal.
When you use drugs – particularly opioids – for an extended period of time, your brain undergoes drastic changes. When you remove drugs from your system, your brain overreacts. It floods the body with stress hormones. You feel sick. You become agitated, unhappy, and it’s difficult to carry out the most basic activities in life. Medication can normalize the brain functioning and reduce levels of circulating stress hormones thereby enabling you to participate in regular daily activities. You can go to work, take care of your kids, and be an active spouse or partner – and you can start participating in recovery activities.
In short, medication can make recovery possible for people for whom recovery was previously almost impossible.
That’s what we’ll tell you if you come to us and say,
“Doc, I don’t want to use drugs to get off drugs.”
We’ll never make you do anything. If you don’t want to use medication, we honor your choice and respect your wishes. We won’t (we can’t) make you take it. We will, however, offer you the evidence we presented above, and give you the treatment you’ll accept when you’re ready to accept it.
Methadone, a synthetic drug, is the medication for opioid addiction that we have the longest experience with. The initial goal of methadone treatment is to ease withdrawal symptoms that occur when you stop taking opiates. The discomfort of withdrawal is one of the primary reasons people struggling with opioid addiction stay addicted: they can’t make it through withdrawal. Methadone helps you through the worst parts of withdrawal so you can begin the real journey: recovery.
Methadone does not cure addiction.
Methadone substitution for opiates is one part of a successful individual treatment plan. Total recovery and sustainable abstinence require physical health, mental health, positive coping skills, and the ability to restore and/or develop healthy relationships. Your individualized treatment plan for opioid addiction addresses the whole you: mind, body, and spirit: Methadone helps to normalize the part of the brain damaged by addiction to opioids to improve participation in recovery activities like group and individual counseling and development of a network of support.
Like methadone, Suboxone® (buprenorphine) works to reduce the strong cravings of addiction and reduce the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. Unlike methadone, however, Suboxone can be prescribed in a doctor’s office rather than in a clinic. Suboxone occupies the same parts of the brain that drugs of addiction occupy – but there is no high associated with Suboxone. Our comprehensive Suboxone Maintenance Program includes medical intervention and treatment for long-term opioid dependence.
Vivitrol is scientifically proven to reduce opioid cravings an reduce rates of alcohol relapse. One injection of Vivitrol blocks the opioid receptors in the brain for an entire month, which reduces cravings and makes it impossible to get high from any opiate-derived drug. Vivitrol treatment requires complete and total detoxification from opiates before injection.