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What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Substance Abuse?

There is no doubt that those who want to stop abusing drugs and alcohol have several challenges ahead of them. Those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol have a much more difficult time ending their use, as their bodies have become accustomed to the presence of their substances of choice. Therefore, when the use stops, the body kicks into withdrawal mode, which is notoriously distressing and can be highly painful. Those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol can really struggle with dedicating themselves to getting sober, especially when they know that they are likely to experience an upsetting period of withdrawal at the start. That is why medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse is not only popular, but highly-regarded as a tool to help individuals have a successful detox, allowing them to build a strong foundation in the initial stages of their recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Explained 

So, what exactly is medication-assisted treatment? This type of treatment is often widely misunderstood as replacing one addiction with another. However, medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse is anything but that. 

Medication-assisted treatment is designed to provide those detoxing from opioids and alcohol with FDA-approved medications to ease their withdrawal symptoms and cravings. For those detoxing from opioids, medications such as buprenorphine and methadone can be prescribed by a medical professional. Those who are detoxing from opioids may find themselves prescribed benzodiazepines during their detox and then other medications like disulfiram and acamprosate after they have completely detoxed. These medications can help minimize the presence of long-term withdrawal symptoms and continued cravings. 

Medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse is not based solely on providing recovering addicts and alcoholics with prescription medications. While the provision of these medications are certainly a major role in their overall treatment, therapy is also required to supplement the recovery process. This means that those who are obtaining medication-assisted treatment will not only be taking approved medications as directed by their provider, but also receiving evidence-based therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, group counseling, individual therapy, and more. The combination of both approaches provides individuals with the best chance at lasting recovery.

Opioid Addiction and Medication-Assisted Treatment 

Opioid addiction is an issue that is plaguing the entire world. Two out of every three overdose deaths involved an opioid in 2018. Opioids include common drugs like heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. When abused, regardless of if they were prescribed by a doctor or not, opioids can cause serious destruction within one’s life.

When someone is addicted to opioids so much that they are dependent on them, ending use can be challenging to say the least, as withdrawal symptoms can come on fast. Common withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Muscle pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Typically, the severity of the withdrawal reflects the severity of the opioid addiction. Thankfully, there are medications that can help make these symptoms less intense, allowing for an easier detox process. They include the following:

  • Methadone – Methadone is an opioid-based prescription medication that works by acting on opioid receptors in the brain. These are the same receptors that are triggered when opioids are being abused. With the use of methadone, however, individuals are not taking dangerous amounts of opioids or putting themselves in harm’s way, rather they are tricking the opioid receptors in ways that allow for symptoms to lessen. 
  • Buprenorphine – Similar to methadone, buprenorphine also works in concert with the opioid receptors. Buprenorphine contains naloxone, which is the main ingredient in the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan. This helps to not only reduce withdrawal symptoms, but also help curb cravings for continued opioid use.
  • Vivitrol – Vivitrol is available for those who struggle with cravings after they have fully detoxed from opioids. An individual needs to be free of opioids for 7-10 days prior to taking Vivitrol, otherwise it will trigger the onset of withdrawal symptoms. Vivitrol is a once monthly injection and is able to reduce cravings so that individuals can stay focused on their recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Unfortunately, there are no medication-assisted treatment options for people who abuse all kinds of drugs. Instead, these options are only available for those recovering from opioid addiction or alcohol addiction. 

Quitting drinking cold turkey when the body is dependent on it can create fatal effects. That is because the withdrawal symptoms that develop can jeopardize one’s life. Some of these effects include:

  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures 

Other non-fatal alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion 
  • Delusions
  • Uncontrollable shakiness in limbs 

To mitigate both the potentially fatal and non-fatal symptoms that come along with alcohol withdrawal, specific medications can be used. Some of the most common medications used in the treatment of alcohol addiction include the following:

  • Benzodiazepines – Benzodiazepines, such as Ativan and Xanax, can be safely provided to individuals who are experiencing some of the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as seizures. Benzodiazepines can be administered and then slowly tapered down to help see an individual through their detox safely.
  • Disulfiram – Disulfiram is a medication that individuals recovering from alcohol addiction take regularly as a deterrent to alcohol abuse. When on this medication, any consumption of alcohol can produce grossly uncomfortable effects, such as vomiting, chest pain, sweating, anxiety, blurred vision, and mental confusion. 
  • Acamprosate – Acamprosate is often prescribed to those individuals who have detoxed and who are experiencing problems with continued cravings. This medication helps to reduce the desire to drink again.
  • Naltrexone Naltrexone is the pill version of Vivitrol, which is used to treat opioid addiction. Similar to acamprosate, naltrexone is effective in diminishing cravings for continued alcohol use. 

These medications are highly recommended to be taken on a strict regimen as directed by a doctor. Individuals should also participate in therapeutic services at this time to gain the greatest effect from the medications. 

Addiction Rehab in Tennessee 


If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, contact us right now. We can help you learn more about medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse so that you or your loved one can start on a sober journey right away. Contact us today for more information.

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