Substance use disorders are complicated diseases that often involve psychological and physiological cravings for drugs and/or alcohol. Medication assisted treatment is one of the evidenced-based practices used to address substance use disorders and is especially helpful in addressing the cravings that can trigger people working towards recovery.

Medication Assisted Treatment Defined

Medication assisted treatment, or MAT, is the use of FDA-approved medications in conjunction with therapy to treat the variety of complicated issues, like physical and psychological cravings, associated with recovering from a substance use disorder. Currently, medications exist for the medication assisted treatment of opioid use disorders and alcohol use disorders.

Medication Treatment for Opioid Disorders

The medications used in the medication assisted treatment of people with opioid use disorders include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Methadone and buprenorphine can help a person withdraw from opioids safely and more comfortably. All three medications help reduce cravings by blocking the positive and euphoric effects of opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers.

People typically crave opioids because of their euphoric and pleasurable effects. If a person who wants to get high understands that they will not experience the euphoric and pleasurable effects of opioids while they are on these medications, they will not crave the drug.

Medication Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

There are several medications that reduce cravings for alcohol, including naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. Naltrexone helps address cravings for alcohol in a similar way to how it helps address cravings for opioids, since opioid receptors in the brain mediate the pleasurable effects of alcohol. If someone ingests alcohol, naltrexone blocks its euphoric and positive effects. Whereas naltrexone works on the opioid receptors in the brain, acamprosate works on the GABA receptors in the brain. After years of heavy drinking, the GABA receptors in a person’s brain are usually imbalanced, which can contribute to cravings.

Acamprosate helps to restore balance to the GABA receptors in the brain, which then decreases cravings. Disulfiram works in a different way than naltrexone and acamprosate in that it causes severe symptoms, like headaches, nausea, vomiting, impaired vision, sweating, weakness, and confusion if a person drinks alcohol. Consumers of disulfiram hope that the adverse reactions they will experience if they ingest alcohol will be enough to deter them from doing so.

For people with opioid and alcohol use disorders, experiencing cravings can be a difficult trigger to cope with. Medication assisted treatment can be an instrumental component of overcoming cravings and enjoying a successful recovery. Medication assisted treatment is both FDA approved and evidenced based.

If you are struggling with an opioid or alcohol use disorder, talk to a medical professional about how medication-assisted treatment can increase your chances of a successful recovery.