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medically assisted treatment

It is widely accepted in the medical field and substance abuse treatment industry that medically assisted treatment (MAT) promotes positive outcomes in particular forms of addictions. Alcohol and opioid addiction are the two most common forms of addiction that are treated with MAT. Below are answers to some of the most common questions related to MAT.

What is medically assisted treatment?

Across the United States, there are almost 3,000 facilities that offer drug and alcohol detox services. Of these facilities, approximately 88 percent reported that they routinely use medications. This use of pharmaceutical medications in detox or treatment, in conjunction with behavioral therapy, is referred to as medically assisted treatment, or MAT. Medically assisted treatment is evidence-based, meaning that research analysis’ have been conducted proving that it does produce positive outcomes. Medically assisted treatment can be offered on an inpatient and outpatient level of care.

Is medication-assisted treatment considered harm reduction?

Harm reduction encompasses any programs or treatments that help reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use. Although not all harm reduction programs include the use of medications, such as needle exchange programs, some do. Therefore, harm reduction can be a MAT, but they are not the same thing.

Medication-assisted harm reduction is particularly common in the treatment of opioid addiction. We will discuss this further as we answer the next question.

What medications are used in medication-assisted treatment?

The medications used for treatment will vary depending on a number of factors including the substance a client is being treated for and where they are in the recovery process, among other factors. We will go over the medications used for alcohol and opioid addiction treatment.

Medications used for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Disulfiram is a medication used to reduce alcohol use relapse. It works by producing negative effects when someone drinks alcohol, therefore creating an aversion. The effects that a person will experience when they are on disulfiram and they drink include nausea, headache, vomiting, shortness of breath, and chest pains. It only takes about 10 minutes from when alcohol is consumed for these side effects to begin and they last approximately an hour.

Acamprosate works by restoring the balance of activity in the brain following withdrawal. It reduces the brain’s dependence on alcohol and subsequently reduces the need to drink. Continued alcohol consumption can reduce the overall effectiveness of this drug.

Naltrexone is a medication that supports sobriety by blocking the neuroreceptors associated with the euphoric effects of intoxication. 

Benzodiazepines reduce the effects of a number of alcohol withdrawal side effects including seizures, tremors, nausea, irritability, headaches, and anxiety. Although the exact mechanisms of how this drug works to reduce symptoms are not known, it is known that it affects the brain’s GABA receptors and reduces neurotransmitters associated with alertness. This allows the individual to enter a relaxed state. 

It is important that the administration of benzodiazepines such as Librium, Valium, and Ativan are monitored closely. These are addictive substances and should only be taken as prescribed.

Medications used for Opioid Addiction

Opioids, whether synthetic or not, are highly addictive substances. As these drugs leave the human bloodstream, cravings for more begin to develop. These cravings, as well as the euphoric high associated, are 2 of the biggest factors that need to be addressed when treating opioid addiction. There are 3 main medications used to treat opioid addiction. These include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. 

Buprenorphine is a medication that reduces the effects of opioid-related withdrawal without creating euphoric effects. 

Methadone works similarly to buprenorphine in treating opioid addiction. It basically tricks your brain into thinking that it is still receiving the substance being abused, which reduces withdrawal symptoms.

Forms of buprenorphine and methadone are medications used for harm reduction as they both have a significantly lower risk of overdose than heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids that are abused. 

Naltrexone, a medication previously discussed for its use in treating alcohol addiction, is also used to treat opioid addiction. It works much the same against opiates, blocking the euphoric high when an individual does abuse one of the substances in this drug family.


A study that looked at alcohol use disorder treatment outcomes with and without medically assisted detox found a 14% increase in abstinence a month after treatment among those who did receive medication during detox.

Anytime medication is used to treat addiction, is it important that the person being treated is monitored closely. Primary care physicians do not always have the skills and time necessary to appropriately treat addiction with medication. At an addiction treatment center, there are physicians and other medical professionals that are experienced specifically in medically assisted treatment. The facilities that offer medications also build their treatment models with this in mind, to ensure the best care possible.

At Compass Detox, our team is experienced in offering medically assisted addiction treatment for drug and alcohol detox. Get started with medical detox at our trusted detox center in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

Brooks V.
Brooks V.
Brooks has been a freelance journalist for the better part of two decades, as well as spending a decade as a crisis intervention counselor. Through his own work and researching the work of others throughout the many facets of the detox, crisis intervention, and mental health worlds he has been able to tell the stories of those worlds in an effort to help addicts and those with mental illnesses understand and navigate them.