Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Kirsten Langdon, PhD

When someone misuses opioids, changes occur to the brain, which make it extremely difficult to simply walk away from continued use of the substance. The addiction frequently results in craving, an overwhelming desire to use the drug, and loss of control, where drug use becomes compulsive and continues despite severe, negative consequences.

An effective treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a form of treatment for opioid use disorder that is an effective way to overcome the problematic pattern of opioid use. It involves the use of longer-acting and safer medications along with therapy and other support. The goal of this treatment is to produce a more stable state of mind so the individual can focus on creating healthier lifestyle changes to support recovery. When used properly, these medications do not create a new addiction.

While medication is one component of this form of treatment, therapy and other psychosocial support are equally important to achieve and maintain abstinence. Peer recovery, which involves meeting with a “coach” who has experienced addiction recovery, can help to address other issues closely tied to substance use and motivate change. Therapy helps to guide important cognitive, behavioral, and lifestyle changes so individuals can maintain their recovery.

There are currently three FDA-approved medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder.  Methadone and buprenorphine, which are longer-acting opioids, eliminate withdrawal, reduce craving, and reduce or stop the desirable effects of opioids. Injectable naltrexone, on the other hand, is used to block the euphoric effects of opioids.

Dangers of addiction

The dangers of opioid use disorder are clear.

  • It is marked by the inability to stop using opioids despite the experience of severe, negative consequences.
  • Left untreated, individuals often face serious physical and mental health, employment, legal, and family problems.
  • Illicit opioid use can also lead to overdose and death.
  • While some people are eventually able to stop using opioids on their own, the majority of these individuals will go through many dangerous cycles of relapse and recovery.

Because of this, opioid use disorder is characterized as a chronic medical condition that requires long-term management. Treatment begins with identification of the problem, followed by stabilization, and eventually self-management.

Benefits of MAT

While opioid use disorder can be a chronic and debilitating condition, recovery is possible.  Evidence-based treatments, such as MAT, can:

  • make the recovery process much safer
  • keep patients healthier
  • reduce criminal activity
  • prevent drug-related diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis
  • prevent overdose and death

Clearly, the benefits of MAT far outweigh the dangers of addiction.

Learn more about the Lifespan Recovery Center, and how we can help you or a loved one.  

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