The first months of a new life can be a rocky transition for people beginning the recovery journey from substance use disorder. Even for the most dedicated, a return to familiar settings and life patterns may trigger cravings and increase the temptation to use again.
To navigate those challenges, a strong foundation is essential. That should involve counseling and peer support, and it may also include consideration of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT is the use of approved medications to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms in order to lessen the risk of relapse.
“MAT is another safe, effective tool in the toolbox to give people a more-comprehensive approach to achieving recovery,” said Rosecrance Harrison Campus Medical Director Dr. Raymond Garcia. “By addressing the biological part, it addresses an important part of holistic recovery.”
These medicines work by binding to receptors in the brain that block cravings or limit the pleasurable feeling of alcohol or opioid use. In addition, an option for alcohol treatment is available that prevents the liver from metabolizing the substance and sickens a person as a deterrent if they consume it. MAT is available in pill or long-lasting injection form. These options give the brain time to heal—a process that may take up to a year.
For residential clients, MAT is best started when they transition to outpatient therapy and typically lasts six months. Treatment is continued with a team of caring experts who monitor the clients’ progress. Rosecrance recommends the team includes a doctor certified in addiction medicine and an addiction-certified counselor. In addition, clients are encouraged to participate in 12-Step groups to develop healthy coping skills.
Clients are taken off MAT once they show improvement in living healthy lives. That means the person is functioning effectively in life, relationships, work, or school. In many cases, clients recognize when they have improved to the point where MAT might not be necessary.
Though some may be hesitant to replace one substance with another, or they think medicinal support may not be needed, Garcia believes everyone starting recovery should consider MAT.
“If we’re treating an infection, we prescribe antibiotics right away and don’t wait until it is severe, so why would we treat substance use differently?” he said. “I encourage people to try MAT because it helps them physically heal while they take the first steps toward lasting recovery. If they can succeed early, the journey will be that much easier.”