Quick Guide to Understanding Medication-Assisted Treatment

medication assisted treatment programs

What are medication assisted treatment (MAT) programs? How do they work? Why are they necessary? These are the things we’ll cover in this quick guide. 

To better understand this specialized form of treatment, we need to first look at the current opioid addiction situation around the globe. 

Opioid Abuse Overview

Opioid use and its almost inevitable misuse create changes in the brain that leads users into addiction. Some patients fall into addiction because they were prescribed opioids after an injury or a medical procedure. Others deliberately abuse opioids for several reasons, like avoiding emotional pain, coping with stress, peer pressure, or simply getting high.

Between 1999 to 2018, almost 450,000 people died from an opioid overdose. This increasing number of deaths warrants attention from the medical community and the general public. It has become such a growing concern that the CDC even calls it the opioid overdose epidemic.

However, there is hope since opioid addiction is a treatable disease, but its treatment, rehabilitation, and relapse prevention require crucial care and supervision. One recommended way of treating opioid addiction is through medication-assisted treatment for substance use addiction.

A significant improvement is often shown in patients’ addiction-related behaviors and psychosocial functioning when receiving medication-assisted treatments.

What are Medication-Assisted Treatments?

Medication-assisted treatments (MAT) are used to treat substance use disorders by combining medications with counseling and behavioral therapies. The medicines used are FDA approved, and the MAT programs are tailored according to patients’ needs.

The primary use of MAT is in treating opioid and heroin addiction. As well as treating addiction to prescription pain relievers that contain opiates. Apart from that, MAT is also used for alcohol use disorder and tobacco.

The medication used in MAT gives several benefits to the patients without the harmful effects of the substance. Some of the prescribed medication benefits include normalizing brain chemistry, stopping the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, alleviating physiological cravings, and normalizing body functions.

There are three approved medications used in the MAT of opioid use disorder. These medications are methadone, buprenorphine, and extended-release injectable Naltrexone. These medications differ in their frequency and route of administration and the healthcare provider that may prescribe or dispense them.

  • Methadone is known for its efficiency in managing cravings. Methadone works by binding to the same brain receptors of drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers. However, its effect is less potent and does not cause symptoms of a high.
  • Buprenorphine only partially binds to brain receptors. This medication is difficult to abuse due to its “ceiling effect”.
  • Naltrexone doesn’t give the euphoric effects of opioids, so relapsing patients won’t experience the high that they’re craving for. 

What Are the Major Components of a Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Several MAT care models’ characteristics often overlap and have variations in the structure, making it challenging to categorize and summarize the MAT’s key components. However, a finding shows that medication-assisted treatment programs typically have a care model that comprises four major components:

  • Pharmacological therapy
  • Provider and community educational interventions
  • Coordination or integration of substance use disorder treatment and other medical or psychological needs
  • Psychosocial services or intervention

What are the Benefits of a Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment’s effectiveness is credited with providing a number of benefits, including: 

  •       Decreased mortality
  •       Increased retention in treatment
  •       Lowering opioid overdose among patients in treatment
  •       Bringing down medical and SUD treatment costs
  •       Improving abstinence from opioid
  •       Decreasing a person’s risk of acquiring HIV or Hepatitis C.


The results of MAT are among the best when it comes to judging a treatment program’s success. That reiterates the bottom line that MAT works. Medication-assisted treatments are also affordable and offer patients and their families the best value for their money.

Another benefit of MAT is that it allows its patients to enjoy more freedom since they can reclaim their daily routines while still receiving medical and psychological support. And that creates a smooth transition and recovery for the patient.

While MAT is usually offered as a sole program, this treatment course can be a part of a more significant structure clinically through the support of other holistic therapies. After initial treatment, patients who continue with MAT can face the challenges of recovery with less assistance. Due to the several benefits of MAT, it’s also of great use for withdrawal management.


What Are the Concerns About Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Some people may be concerned that taking medications to address opioid addiction is counter-intuitive. They may think it’s like replacing one drug with another. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Taking medication to treat opioid addiction can be likened to taking medication for chronic diseases such as asthma.

Also, medication alone will not suffice. MAT is designed as a whole-patient approach for patients with substance use disorder. Patients are taking medications, along with meetings and other recovery activities.

Some may also raise concerns about whether the medications are safe in treating opioid addiction. The medications used are FDA approved and are shown to be safe and effective, combined with counseling and psychosocial support.

There may also be queries regarding the duration of the treatment. The treatment course may take months, sometimes more, just like any treatment for any other disease. There is no maximum recommended duration for the treatment, and some patients may need to have their treatments indefinitely.

When used correctly and under a healthcare practitioner’s guidance, medication-assisted treatment programs continue to be one of the best treatments for opioid addiction.


Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?

Medication-assisted treatment programs have been proven to be clinically effective. Since MAT gives a more extensive medication and behavioral therapy program, it’s been known to decrease the need for patients’ inpatient detoxification services.

Medication-assisted treatment effectiveness is observed by improving patient survival, increased patient retention in treatment, improved ability to gain and maintain employment, and decreasing illicit opiate use and criminal activity among patients with substance use disorders. It also raises birth outcomes for pregnant patients with substance use disorders.



Opioid addiction has claimed many lives and will continue to do so if we do nothing about it. Acknowledging the problem is the first and crucial step, so the next steps towards rehabilitation will follow.

Seeking treatment should be a patient’s and their family’s top priority, especially since clinically effective treatments like MAT are available. If you or a loved one is seeking help in battling opioid addiction, we at Roots Through Recovery are ready to provide all the necessary help and specialized services. Visit us at 3939 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 102, Long Beach, CA 90807 or give us a call at 866-766-8776 to get started.

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