Q & A: How Does MAT Work and What are the Benefits?

Michelle Rosenker

August 9, 2019

Q: What is MAT?

A: MAT is the abbreviation for Medication-Assisted Treatment, a form of addiction treatment most commonly used to treat opioid use disorder.  This course of care combines medication and psychological therapies into a single comprehensive treatment plan. As with most other disorders, medication alone cannot fully treat an opioid use disorder. If you are participating in MAT, you will not be solely relying on medication but utilizing it in conjunction with other therapies to aid you in your recovery.

Q: What medications are used in MAT?

A: There are several different medications that can be used in MAT, but two of the most common are Suboxone and Vivitrol. Suboxone is a medication that contains both buprenorphine and naloxone and Vivitrol contains an ingredient known as naltrexone. Suboxone comes in either tablet form or in dissolvable strips and is taken on a daily basis during treatment. Vivitrol, however, is taken by injection once a month because an extended release medication.

Q: How does MAT work?

A: MAT is designed to help treat both the physical and psychological challenges faced by those recovering from opioid use disorder. The physical issues resulting from opioid abuse can range from nausea and headaches to severe abdominal cramping and dehydration caused by diarrhea.

When a medication like Suboxone, for example, is being consumed, these symptoms are less intense because the buprenorphine in Suboxone is partially activating the opioid receptors in the brain. This makes the period of withdrawal (which can include significant cravings) easier to get through, which in turn can help you stay in treatment long enough to begin the therapeutic portion of your care.

Throughout treatment, you will continue to take Suboxone (or begin Vivitrol injections, once fully detoxed) while participating in therapy sessions.

Q: What are the benefits of MAT?

A: If you participate in MAT, and do so within the guidelines proposed, you can easily begin benefiting from this type of care. The withdrawal symptoms you are bound to experience will not be nearly as distressing as they would have been without the medication. The temptations you may have when detoxing will be fewer in frequency and less in strength, allowing you to remain focused on your treatment. Your body is not only beginning to function more properly but your mind is becoming clearer as you continue with your medication. This is one of its greatest benefits, as a clear mind and a body at peace can keep you willing to participate in therapies that will help you rebuild a new, drug-free life.

Additionally, MAT has proven helpful in decreasing rates of relapse, keeping you on track to meet your recovery goals.

MAT benefits

Q: If I get MAT, will I be on medication for the rest of my life?

A: The idea of taking an opioid-based medication can be overwhelming enough, never mind when you start thinking about how long you may be on it. If you begin Vivitrol injections, you can expect a recommendation of taking it for one year. With buprenorphine, people can remain on it for years at a time as a form of maintenance, while others only utilize it for a few months. The length of time that you remain on one of these medications will be directly proportionate to your specific treatment needs.

That said, buprenorphine and Vivitrol are not medications people should remain on for the rest of their lives. The goal of MAT is to help you learn and apply skills to your life that you can use as a means of personal care for your disorder.

Q: What should I expect if I get MAT?

A: Depending on your situation, you can expect that you will either begin MAT immediately after admission or wait until you have finished detox. You will take your medication as directed (it will be administered to you) and you will be engaging in several therapies at the same time. Many of these therapies are behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Depending on the program you are attending, you may also participate in 12-Step therapy or experiential therapy sessions, or other sessions designed to address the underlying causes of your opioid use disorder.

Q: How effective is MAT?

A: Like most other therapies, MAT will be as effective as you make it. The more you participate, the better your treatment outcomes will be. Studies have proven that those who receive MAT have a higher likelihood of survival and are more likely to stick to treatment than leave early. These same studies also prove that rates of relapse are less for those who receive MAT, especially because the abuse of opioids is significantly decreased within this population.

Q: Can MAT help me get my life back?

A: Yes! Opioid use disorder is a treatable disease and it is recommended that if you have developed a dependency on opioids that you consider MAT. This is because stopping opioid use is not as easy as just never using again. There are physical and mental challenges that that have to be addressed. With MAT, those needs will be managed so that you can develop the skills needed to rebuild relationships, find and maintain employment, keep yourself healthy, and work to prevent relapse. As long as you put forth the effort to recover, the benefits of MAT are endless.

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