Drugs and alcohol are classified as dangerous substances for many reasons, one of the most notable being the way they hijack and rewire the brain.
Chemical substances – such as marijuana, opioids and alcohol especially – take over the reward center of the brain and fire neurotransmitters at much higher rates than what the body would do on its own. Known colloquially as a “high,” the brain literally stops producing these neurons naturally because the substances do the hard work synthetically.
Not only that, but the highly addictive properties of many substances trigger the reward center of the brain, creating the effect of wanting and needing more and more. It’s like a toddler sucking down a milkshake for the first time – once the treat is gone, the child wants more because the brain told the child, “This is good, this makes me happy.”
Substances like drugs and alcohol have a similar effect on the brain, but the effects obviously intrude deeper into the brain’s functioning than a milkshake. Substance use physically alters the way the brain operates, making recovery that much more difficult. And for some, resetting the brain can only be done safely and effectively through medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
What is MAT?
First, let us explain what medication-assisted treatment is not. MAT is not prescribing a number of prescription drugs to simply replace an illegal substance with a legal one. It is not masking the symptoms without really addressing the underlying problem.
What MAT strives to be is a holistic approach utilizing medication and therapy as an all-inclusive treatment to promote the healing of the whole person.
It has become widely accepted in the treatment field that a person’s recovery is dependent on not just the treatment of the drug or alcohol addiction, but the healing of the way said addiction affects the physical and mental aspects of the person. MAT takes this philosophy into consideration and helps clients take their life back through carefully prescribed and monitored medication alongside expert therapy techniques like CBT.
What does MAT do?
MAT helps with withdrawal symptoms, co-occurring disorders and the prevention of relapse, all while easing the client off the addictive drug and/or alcohol to firmly establish recovery.
- Withdrawal – One method of quitting substance use would be to go “cold-turkey” and completely stop use without any sort of weaning process. However, this can lead to some nasty withdrawal symptoms, even potentially life threatening ones, depending on how long an individual used. With MAT, certain FDA approved prescriptions are used to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal. Also, depending on the treatment plan chosen by the client and psychiatrist, medications might be introduced as withdrawal symptoms present themselves. Depending on how long the substances were used, the client could have a short-term or long-term prescription based on their individual needs.
- Co-occurring disorders – Many substance use disorders co-occur with one or more mental health conditions. Struggles with anxiety and depression, PTSD, grief and loss can be instrumental in the beginnings of a substance addiction. For this reason, it is important for those administering treatment to take into consideration the need to medically treat these conditions to give the client the best chance possible at complete and total recovery from substance use.
- Relapse prevention – Relapse can happen for a number of reasons, but typically a person has little conscious control over a relapse. One of the scarier realities of drug use, a person is barely conscious of the control the addiction actually has on their mind and will robotically return to the substance because of the uncontrollable demands of the brain. MAT plays a vital role in preventing relapse by using the proper medication to turn the brain away from these impulses and slowly return it to a healthy state of functioning by reducing these intense cravings.
MAT as an effective approach in healing addiction
MAT not only provides a more comfortable journey to healing, but it also saves the lives of those who’ve tragically experienced an overdose. For example, an NIH study proved that the use of methadone and buprenorphine (two of the three FDA approved MAT drugs) decreased deaths caused opioid overdose by 59% and 38%, respectively.
Time and again, MAT has increased the success of treatment, decreased the use of addictive substances, prevented relapse and provided clients the ability to regain control over their life and recovery journey. With the proper guidance and monitoring from treatment professionals, and the dedication of clients to the healing of their whole body, mental and physical, MAT gives the holistic approach to therapy that is more than just the prescribing of medication.
If MAT is right for you, reach out to our Rehab After Work staff at (610) 644-6464 to begin your recovery journey today.