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Medication Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment can help you to achieve successful recovery. Learn more about treatment for substance use disorders with medication at We Level Up.

What Is Medication Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Addiction or MAT?

Medicated assisted treatment for alcohol uses medications in combination with therapy, to help an individual end a substance use disorder. Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol addiction is effective and available.

A medical assisted treatment for alcohol alone is ineffective in addressing addiction [1]. But when used in combination with therapy, it can help successfully treat substance use disorders, including opioid addiction.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction and Dependence

Addiction

Addiction occurs due to changes in the brain regions associated with learning, memory, and reward or pleasure. Heavy, chronic alcohol abuse can lead the brain to form ironclad associations between alcohol use and the pleasure it produces. Over time, this can lead to powerful alcohol cravings and changes in thought and behavior patterns. Thus, addiction is characterized by compulsive alcohol use despite negative consequences.

Dependence

Dependence is a physical reliance on alcohol. Initially, alcohol enhances the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of calm and well-being, and reduces the activity of glutamate, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of excitability.

When alcohol use becomes chronic, the brain attempts to compensate for the presence of alcohol by suppressing GABA (calm) activity and increasing glutamate (excitability) activity. As a result, it takes more significant amounts of alcohol increasingly to produce the desired effects. This is known as tolerance, and it’s the primary sign that you may be developing a dependence.

At some point, brain function may shift so that the brain begins to operate more comfortably when alcohol is present than when it’s not. Then, when you stop drinking, regular brain function rebounds, which causes the onset of withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol dependence is characterized by these symptoms, including nausea, tremors, insomnia, headaches, hallucinations, and seizures.

4 Types Of Medication Assisted Treatment For Alcohol Addiction

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Medication assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder relies on four medications to help treat alcohol addiction and dependence. Which type of Medication Assisted Treatment for alcohol addiction is right for you depends on the severity of your addiction and your unique needs.

Medicated assisted treatment for alcohol or MAT makes the alcohol detox treatment as comfortable as possible. MAT treatment treats all types of addictions, from opioid addiction to alcohol dependence.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Program
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Acamprosate Medication assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder potential side effects [1]

Acamprosate: Acamprosate was approved by the FDA in 2004 for treating alcohol dependence. After detox is complete and the individual is abstinent, acamprosate is administered to help normalize the glutamate and GABA systems to reduce long-term symptoms of withdrawal, which often include insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness. In addition, treating these symptoms is effective for helping to reduce the risk of relapse.

  • Diarrhea 
  • Nervousness 
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep 
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

Disulfiram medically assisted treatment for alcohol potential side effects [1]

Disulfiram: Disulfiram was approved by the FDA in 1951 to help keep people off alcohol once detox is complete. This Medication Assisted Treatment for Alcohol works by inhibiting the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase, responsible for metabolizing acetaldehyde, a toxic product of alcohol metabolism. When you drink alcohol while taking disulfiram, acetaldehyde builds up in the body and causes a severe physical reaction, including nausea, vomiting, headache, and weakness. This medication doesn’t affect cravings or help to normalize brain function. Instead, its effectiveness lies in making an individual reluctant to use alcohol for fear of the adverse effects.

  • Sleepiness
  • Metallic taste
  • Headache 
  • The yellowness of the skin or eyes
  • Excessive and severe reaction when alcohol is consumed
  • Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
  • Confusion
  • Losing contact with reality

Naltrexone Medication Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Potential side effects [1]

Naltrexone: Decreases or completely blocks the enjoyable effects of drinking and Decreases the number of relapses

  • Nausea  
  • Vomiting 
  • Injection site reaction (hardening, itching, or swelling) 
  • Headache 
  • Dizziness 
  • Nervousness 
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling sleepy 
  • Decreased appetite
  • The yellowness of the skin or eyes* 
  • Allergic pneumonia with difficulty breathing, coughing or wheezing
  • Suicidal thoughts*

Topiramate medicated assisted treatment for alcohol potential side effects [2]

Topiramate: This Medication Assisted Treatment for Alcohol decreases craving for alcohol and Repairs chemical imbalance in systems of the brain responsible for excitation and reward

  • Abnormal tingling 
  • Nervousness 
  • Feeling tired 
  • Poor coordination 
  • Sleepiness 
  • Pain in belly 
  • Reduced appetite
  • Poor memory* 
  • Confusion* 
  • Slowing of movements* 
  • Difficulty with concentration* 
  • Difficulty finding exact words* 
  • Suicidal thoughts*

Each medication acts differently and has different side effects. Therefore, none of these medications will get rid of symptoms of withdrawal.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Program
MAT for alcohol use disorder allows patients to focus on building healthy behaviors and support systems to recover fully.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Detox

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is distinct from medically assisted detox, though the two treatments are commonly assumed to be one and the same. Each treatment uses a distinct set of medications and behavioral therapies and focuses on helping people overcome different aspects of substance use disorders.

Medically assisted detox uses specific medications to treat the withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol use disorder, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Shakes
  • Diarrhea
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Seizures

Alcohol withdrawal can be deadly. Severe alcohol withdrawal can lead to a condition known as delirium tremens, where people experience vivid hallucinations and delusions. When withdrawal symptoms are this severe, people can experience life-threatening seizures.

Fortunately, medically assisted detox can alleviate many of these symptoms and make the path to achieving abstinence much more comfortable.

The use of targeted medications to help calm the central nervous system during the first days and weeks of abstinence can drastically reduce the likelihood of seizures or hallucinations and help people focus on feeling better.

The medications used in medically assisted detox for alcohol use disorder are often the same as the ones used to treat the symptoms of opioid use disorder. Both alcohol and opioid use disorders affect the body’s central nervous system, though the substances target different parts of the brain.

The most common medications used to help people overcome alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines include drugs like Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin. These drugs are commonly used in the treatment of anxiety disorders and affect the same regions within the brain as alcohol does. Specifically, their effect on GABA receptors is similar to that of alcohol.

Benzodiazepines’ effect on GABA receptors gives them an anticonvulsant property that can help prevent the life-threatening seizures associated with substance abuse withdrawal. This also helps people avoid experiencing the vivid hallucinations and delusions associated with delirium tremens.

Barbiturates

Barbiturate drugs are similar in function to benzodiazepines and deliver a strong anticonvulsant effect. They increase the level of GABA activity within the brain, which can help stave off alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Additionally, barbiturates can help promote healthy sleep patterns, which is essential in the early days of substance use disorder recovery.

Blood Pressure Medications

Many people going through alcohol withdrawals will experience high blood pressure events that put them at risk for cardiovascular problems. In medically assisted detox, these health complications can be averted through the use of targeted blood pressure medications, which can help keep a patient’s blood pressure at normal levels.

Blood pressure medications have the added benefit of reducing anxiety during withdrawals, which is a common symptom across all types of substance use disorders. They play an important role in the medically assisted detox process.

Detox Process

The detox process can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks, depending on the severity of the withdrawal symptoms the person entering recovery is experiencing. The medications provided at our medical detox facilities are typically offered on a taper, meaning they start at larger doses and slowly wean down over the following days.

This tapering process helps people feel immense relief when their symptoms are the worst and provides a slow and controlled reduction of medications so that people can achieve sobriety without long-term pharmacological intervention.

Since the medications used in detox are controlled substances and can be addictive in their own right, they are only to be used under direct medical supervision and for limited periods.

The medications used for substance abuse treatment in medically assisted detox are not used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The medications used in MAT are intended to be used long-term to support recovery after a person has broken through the withdrawal process.

For people with polysubstance use disorders, meaning they are addicted to more than one substance, medical detox can also help treat:

  • Opioid use disorder
  • Prescription drug addiction
  • Methamphetamine use disorder
  • Cocaine use disorder

Our healthcare providers can help determine the best combination of treatments to help you overcome substance use problems.

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What’s the Difference Between Medical Detox and Medication Assisted Treatment?

Medical detox is a short-term treatment designed to help people overcome the initial physical effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal, whereas medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is designed to reduce cravings and prevent relapse for long-lasting substance abuse recovery support.

While both methods use medications to assist in the addiction treatment process, they focus on different elements of recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Program
MAT is an evidence-based, first-line opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment. Call us today for more science-based treatment resources!

Is Medication Alone Enough to Treat Substance Use Disorders?

Although there are now several FDA-approved medications used in addiction treatment, prescribed medications alone are not enough to bring about recovery from alcohol use disorders.

Medication-assisted treatment involves the use of supportive medications and behavioral therapies in unison to help people achieve recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) refers to medication-assisted treatment as a “whole-patient” approach to treating substance use disorders.

While there may be some benefits of just taking medications, such as blocking the euphoric effects of drug and alcohol use, this alone is not sufficient to bring about abstinence.

Substance abuse and addiction can affect several aspects of a person’s life. Alcohol problems can impact your ability to function in society, cause serious physical damage, and leave lingering mental health symptoms that need to be treated.

At We Level Up, our team strives to ensure that people work toward a holistic sense of wellbeing in their recovery process, ensuring that they can maintain their abstinence for years to come and build lives worth living in recovery.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is just a part of that process. Supportive medicine can go a long way toward minimizing some of the uncomfortable side effects of an alcohol use disorder. However, it needs to be supported by targeted psychotherapies and mental health services to help people overcome the mental aspects of addiction.

Furthermore, people in recovery from substance abuse need to learn the necessary life skills and coping mechanisms to resist temptation in the real world and build fulfilling routines. Without these vital components, a person runs the risk of getting sober and not finding their life enjoyable. This can quickly lead to a desire to return to active substance use.

Discover more about the medication-assisted treatment and support we offer at We Level Up. Call now.

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Integrated Alcohol Counseling

Medicated assisted treatment for alcohol or MAT treatment for alcohol addiction with therapies is highly advisable. Alcohol counseling is an important and valuable step in treating an alcohol use disorder (AUD). A counselor will be able to offer guidance and support along your journey to an alcohol-free life.

As previously mentioned, there is no cure for alcoholism. As a result, these medications only serve as a portion of the alcohol rehab process. The essential part of MAT treatment is behavioral therapy and peer support.

Throughout treatment, patients participating in a medication-assisted treatment program for alcoholism will be required to actively participate in a comprehensive treatment program that integrates mental health therapy, behavioral counseling, and support groups into one’s recovery.

Some Therapies And Activities Patients Can Expect Include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Group therapy
  • One-on-one counseling
  • Holistic therapy
  • 12-Step facilitation
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Relapse prevention

The purpose of these therapies is to arm individuals with the coping skills and resources they need to stay sober. While medications help reduce cravings, treatment and peer support allow patients to learn about why they abuse alcohol in the first place and how to cope in healthy ways.

Integrated treatment also helps address co-occurring disorders, trauma, family therapy, and more to provide a whole-patient approach. Most importantly, patients will work closely with their primary therapist and a physician to monitor their progress throughout treatment, make necessary adjustments, and further support the individual.

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MAT Treatment For Alcohol Addiction Works

Medication assisted treatment for alcohol disorder works in combination with counseling and behavior therapies, it uses medication to treat alcohol use disorder and sustain recovery. Medication can help to: 

  • Regain a stable state of mind, free from alcohol-induced highs and lows 
  • Provide freedom from thinking about alcohol all the time 
  • Reduce problems of craving 
  • Focus on lifestyle changes that lead back to healthy living 

Medicated assisted treatment for alcohol addiction or MAT is a strategy for combating alcohol addiction that combines behavioral counseling with certain prescription medications. 

Taking medication for alcohol use disorder is like taking medication to treat any other medical condition. It is not substituting one drug for another. Appropriately used medication does not create a new addiction. 

Please note, no existing medicated assisted treatment for alcohol can guarantee that problem drinkers will not return to drinking or relapse.  Ongoing therapy is critical to maintaining sobriety.

  • Counseling can be offered as part of medication-assisted treatment or by itself. It consists of talking with a mental health provider either one-on-one or in a group with others in treatment. Counseling can encourage motivation to stick with treatment and coping skills to avoid relapse. 
  • In group counseling and mutual support groups, people connect with others in treatment and build a network of people to support recovery. 
  • Support from family and friends can be beneficial during treatment and recovery. Some treatment programs offer counsel for loved ones because being close to someone with an addiction can be hard. Counseling is helpful for family and friends to learn about: Addiction, How to help, and How to handle other problems.

At We Level Up, our medical staff works collaboratively with our clients to create a medication regimen that is most appropriate for them. While medicated assisted treatment for alcohol is part of the alcohol detox process, it is not a cure-all. We focus on the lowest effective dose to decrease side effect potential while still maintaining the highest effectiveness of the medication. In addition, our medication-assisted treatment program in Florida not only provides medication to treat a person’s physical addiction but also provides counseling and social support to treat the psychological and emotional aspects of alcoholism as well.

Our compassionate staff understands the path to recovery is not an easy one. At We Level Up, we offer patients a personalized care plan that meets their individual needs. If you believe you or your loved one can benefit from Medication Assisted Treatment for alcohol addiction (MAT) and would like more information, make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment professionals. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.

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Sources: 

[1] Facts About Medication-Assisted Treatment – https://dss.sd.gov/formsandpubs/docs/BH/BHAO10_MAT_Brochure.pdf
[2] MEDICATION-ASSISTED TREATMENT PROGRAMWe Level Up Florida
[3] Medication Assisted TreatmentWe Level Up New Jersey