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What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

an image of someone who got help from a medication-assisted treatment program

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) integrates medications with counseling and behavioral interventions, providing a comprehensive treatment strategy for substance use disorders (addictions). This holistic approach is supported by medications approved by FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). Medications are clinically effective and customized to individual therapeutic requirements.

Studies show that combining medications with talk therapies can effectively address substance use disorders, with certain medications also playing a role in maintaining long-term recovery. Beyond this, these medications are instrumental in preventing or minimizing the risk of opioid overdose, as well as mitigating cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs

Medication-assisted treatment programs combine pharmacological intervention with therapy to tackle substance use disorders, specifically those related to alcohol and opioids.

For opioid use disorders, MAT medications work by obstructing mu-opioid receptors in the brain, mitigating cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and typically reducing the euphoric effects associated with opioid use.

MAT for alcohol addictions, on the other hand, employs medications that either negate the rewarding sensations of alcohol consumption or induce adverse reactions to alcohol intake. MAT is especially suitable for those grappling with severe alcohol dependence or when other treatment modalities have proved ineffective.

Medications alone are not sufficient for treating addiction. This means that medication-assisted treatment programs incorporate psychotherapeutic interventions alongside medication. This dual approach has proven effective in helping people battling alcohol or opioid dependence to achieve and maintain recovery. By addressing both the physical components of addiction like cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and the psychological and behavioral dimensions through therapy, MAT offers a comprehensive treatment strategy aimed at holistic recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Medications

The following medications are used to treat alcohol use disorder:


Acamprosate, FDA-approved for treating alcohol dependence, helps individuals in recovery from alcoholism by reducing cravings. Marketed as Campral, this oral tablet is administered daily to support those who have quit drinking and want to maintain sobriety. Its preference in alcohol dependence treatment stems from its non-metabolism by the liver, a significant benefit for those with alcohol-induced liver damage.


Disulfiram, an FDA-approved medication for alcohol dependence, is prescribed to individuals who have discontinued alcohol consumption and completed detox. It reacts adversely with alcohol, triggering symptoms like nausea to deter drinking. Disulfiram is taken orally.


Naltrexone is used in MAT for alcohol and opioid use disorders, blocking opioid receptors to reduce cravings and the pleasure derived from these substances. This FDA-approved medication can help prevent relapse when prescribed as a daily pill or a long-acting injectable, making it especially beneficial for alcohol use disorder treatment following detoxification.

Naltrexone is also used to treat opioid addictions alongside the following FDA-approved medications:


Buprenorphine treats opiate and opioid addictions by diminishing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. As an opioid agonist, it occupies brain receptors while blocking other opioids. Despite its potential for misuse, buprenorphine’s overdose prevention feature makes it a safe choice for opioid addiction treatment. Available in various forms, including oral, sublingual film, injection, or implant, buprenorphine is a controlled substance, requiring specialized DEA licensure for prescription.


Methadone, a long-acting opioid agonist, effectively reduces cravings and prevents opioid relapse. Approved for opioid dependence treatment, it’s also utilized for managing chronic pain. Administered orally on a daily basis, methadone is closely monitored due to its abuse and overdose risks. It’s typically dispensed in specialized methadone clinics with a structured treatment protocol.


Suboxone is a combination medication that contains buprenorphine and naloxone, enhancing safety by reducing overdose risks and discouraging misuse. Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, reverses opioid overdose effects when administered promptly. Suboxone, usually in sublingual film form, shares buprenorphine’s controlled status and is favored for its safety, lower intoxication risk, and milder side effects than methadone. 

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment

The approach to using medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder differs significantly. For alcoholism, MAT is not universally recommended for individuals discontinuing consumption. It’s usually reserved for those with severe addictions, strong physical dependence on alcohol, or people who have made multiple unsuccessful attempts at sobriety in the past.

Benefits of MAT for alcohol dependence include:

  • FDA approval and safety: Medications for treating alcoholism undergo extensive FDA approval processes, ensuring safety and efficacy in clinical trials.
  • Blocking alcohol’s pleasurable effects: Medications like disulfiram and naltrexone disrupt the rewarding sensations from alcohol consumption, helping to alter addiction pathways in the brain and diminish the desire to drink.
  • Creating negative associations with alcohol: Disulfiram triggers adverse reactions like nausea and dizziness when alcohol is consumed, promoting negative associations that support sobriety.
  • Minimizing cravings: MAT can lessen alcohol cravings through various mechanisms, including removing drinking incentives, associating drinking with undesirable effects, or directly diminishing cravings.
  • Reducing relapse risk: MAT decreases the likelihood of unplanned relapses by countering alcohol’s pleasurable effects, especially in tempting situations.
  • Alternative to traditional treatments: For those who haven’t found success with conventional treatments, MAT offers a viable alternative.
  • Short-term usage: Many medications for alcohol use disorder are not intended for long-term use, with most people discontinuing medications within 4 to 6 months without issue.

For opioid use disorder, MAT is a standard and primary treatment option, partly due to the high risk of fatal overdoses from opioids, as well as superior treatment retention than non-medication approaches.

Benefits of MAT for opioid dependence include:

  • FDA approval and safety: Like alcohol addiction medications, opioid addiction medications are rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness.
  • Alleviating withdrawal symptoms: MAT reduces or prevents the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid detox, a major barrier to recovery for many people dependent on opioids.
  • Reducing cravings: Medications are effective in significantly reducing cravings for opioids by acting on the brain’s opioid receptors.
  • Enhancing treatment adherence: MAT has been shown to improve retention in treatment programs and reduce the risk of relapse.
  • Helping those with past failed recovery attempts: MAT offers a new avenue for individuals who have unsuccessfully attempted other forms of treatment.
  • Lowering overdose and death risks: MAT mitigates the high risk of overdose associated with opioid abuse, with most medications having overdose-prevention properties.

Discussing MAT for opioid addiction with a licensed clinician can provide more personalized insights, helping you make a more informed decision about the best treatment approach. 


What is medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder like?

Medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder combines medications like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone with behavioral therapies and counseling. This approach helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making recovery more manageable.

What is medication-assisted treatment for alcohol like?

For alcohol use disorder, medication-assisted treatment may include FDA-approved medications like disulfiram, naltrexone, and acomprosate paired with counseling and talk therapies. These medications work by reducing a person’s desire to drink, blocking the euphoric effects of alcohol, or managing withdrawal symptoms.

Is a medication-assisted treatment effective?

Medication-assisted treatment, sometimes called medically assisted treatment or medical assisted treatment, is proven effective for treating opioid addictions and alcohol addictions. MAT has been shown to increase retention in treatment and reduce illicit drug use.

How does a medication-assisted treatment program help with recovery?

A medication-assisted treatment program helps with recovery by using medications approved by the FDA to mitigate cravings and withdrawal symptoms during detox. MAT may also be effective for promoting ongoing abstinence. Blending medications with counseling and behavioral therapies improves the chance of long-term recovery by treating both the physical and psychological components of addiction.

Find Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs at Drug Rehabs Centers

Finding the right medication assisted treatment program can be challenging. If you feel that you would benefit from a residential detox program for drugs or alcohol but you have no idea how to get started, reach out to Drug Rehabs Centers today.

Our experienced and compassionate staff can help you connect with licensed medical detox centers throughout the state of California, enabling you to begin your recovery as safely and comfortably as possible.

While detox addresses the issue of drug or alcohol dependence, you will require ongoing treatment to tackle the psychological aspect of addiction. We can help you connect with inpatient and outpatient treatment centers near you, as well as peer support groups for those who require additional support.

Call (844) 739-2005 for on-the-spot assistance and effective addiction treatment in Southern California.

Joe Gilmore
Author: Joe Gilmore


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