Drug and alcohol addiction is known as a family disease because of the deep impact substance abuse has on the addict’s loved ones, as well as on the addict. At the same time, family members often don’t realize just how difficult it is to detox and begin the recovery process.

“It’s hard for friends and family to understand that quitting drug use isn’t just a matter of will power,” says Jeanette Revay, medical director at Bayview Recovery in Tacoma. Revay became a nurse practitioner 25 years ago when her son and husband were substance abusers. “Withdrawal comes with powerful cravings that aren’t just in your mind but also your body. It’s an intense feeling that if you don’t take the drug, you won’t be OK. Your body has become accustomed to and actually requires the abused substance to function normally.”

Medication-assisted treatment satisfies the physical need for the abused substances, allowing the addict to detox more comfortably. With the proper FDA-approved drug, withdrawal symptoms are significantly reduced, over days or weeks depending on the substance being abused, without developing a dependence on the treatment medication.

When is MAT a good option?

Addiction recovery is certainly possible without MAT, and is even preferred by some people who want to get off all drugs as soon as possible. However, MAT offers hope for the one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

“The most common barrier to addiction recovery is that people don’t actually want to stop using — or, they don’t think they can do it,” Revay says. “We often prescribe MAT for people who have tried multiple times to detox without medication and have been unsuccessful because their cravings and other symptoms are so uncomfortable. Another barrier to recovery is that people don’t have the tools and support system needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle.”

Common withdrawal symptoms which can be avoided through the use of medication-assisted treatment during recovery include:

  • Elevated body temperature and heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Seizures and tremors
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Sleep issues

MAT can be done as an inpatient or outpatient therapy. According to Revay, a lot depends on what substances are being abused, how long the individual has been using, and when they last used. Even when MAT is done as an outpatient treatment, it’s advisable for the individual to be under supervision in a recovery center setting all day during their detox period for emotional and physical support.

MAT and nondrug therapies

Medication-assisted treatment isn’t meant to replace reliance on one drug with another. “The medication part of treatment is short term, and provides patients the physical stabilization needed to start working on psychosocial issues and lifestyle changes that enable long-term recovery without relapse,” says Ryan Hickey, executive director at Bayview Recovery.

And, medication alone isn’t the total answer for recovery success. Studies show that MAT works best when paired with behavioral health treatment including individual and group counseling, weekly participation in an ongoing 12-step support program such as Al Anon and Narcotics Anonymous, and life skills training. Individualized programs are designed for each patient based on their needs.

Non-drug therapies used in conjunction with MAT may include:

  • Life skills support group teaches self-care habits including personal finance, nutrition, and how to apply for a job.
  • Yoga therapy helps to improve inner strength and balance, mental focus and clarity, and physical health.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy helps patients to identify and analyze negative thoughts and feelings, reducing their effect on actions.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy teaches patients to regulate their emotions and create meaningful connections.
  • Other individual and group therapy programs.

Recovery isn’t just about ending substance abuse; it’s also about building new habits.

“Once a patient has established emotional and physical stabilization with the help of MAT, we see continual growth in their personal relationships, self-esteem and confidence, Hickey says. “These are the cornerstones of a healthy, happy life for anyone.”

Bayview Recovery has helped thousands of adult men and women safely navigate their way through addiction and back to sobriety. Bayview Recovery uses the latest treatment modalities and provides care from intake to aftercare for alumni.