The treatment of “addiction” has always been somewhat controversial. Only in recent decades have doctors and the public come to accept substance use disorder as a medical condition rather than a moral failing that should be punished with incarceration and stigma.
To many, addiction is a choice and people with substance use disorders can stop using drugs if they really wanted to. This idea can often be harmful. Addiction is an illness that affects the brain and changes the way it functions. Once an individual crosses the line into addiction, their control over their behavior is greatly diminished. They become consumed by the need to use.
With this understanding, many behavioral health specialists and addiction counselors are realizing that addiction should be treated like other illnesses—with medication. Additionally, this has led to the utilization of the term substance-use disorder instead of the term “addiction”.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), use of FDA-approved medications in combination with evidence-based therapies can be effective in the treatment of substance use disorder and may help recovering users stay in treatment longer, extending periods of sobriety and paving the way for successful recovery.
Medication-assisted treatment has become one of the most important and effective treatments for substance use disorder. This form of treatment helps people using substances to regain control of their lives and achieve their goals–whether those goals are housing, employment, and/or recovery.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment is a proven method of treating substance use disorders like opioid addiction or alcoholism. It involves the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to help people stop or moderate the use of substances and reduce the risk of overdose.
Medication-assisted treatment provides a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. To ensure the best possible outcome, treatment should be tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual patient. The clinician and patient work together to assess strengths and challenges to develop an individualized treatment plan.
Medication-assisted treatment is now considered one of the most important and effective treatments for substance use and alcohol use disorders. Medications can stabilize a person so they can become a productive member of society and move towards wellness.
What are the Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment?
The benefits of medication-assisted treatment include:
- Facilitating safer withdrawal by relieving physical and psychological symptoms.
- Controlling cravings.
- Increasing retention in treatment with controlled medications.
- Decreasing illegal drug use and, with it, the potential dangers and legal consequences.
- Preventing relapse when integrated with counseling and behavioral therapies.
- Being safe and cost-effective.
How Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?
Of all the challenges faced by those in recovery, perhaps the most common form of relapse is thinking that, “maybe this time is different; maybe I can just have one drink or one hit and I’ll be okay.” This is why medication-assisted treatment can be so beneficial; it removes the craving and ensures that the chances of staying clean remain strong.
Medication-assisted treatment combines behavioral therapy with medicines such as methadone or buprenorphine. These medications block the effects of opioids and reduce cravings, making it easier for people to stop abusing drugs and get their lives back on track. These medications can replace the need for substance use as safely as insulin replaces pancreatic function in people with diabetes.
According to the American Medical Association, the prescribed medication works in terms of brain chemistry by blocking the euphoric effects of the drugs used, to reduce physical and psychological cravings and normalize the body chemistry over time.
It’s important to understand that medication-assisted treatment isn’t just a replacement for drugs—it’s a treatment that works alongside other therapies and lifestyle changes to help people recover from their addiction.
Research shows that a combination of medication and psychotherapy treatment, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is more effective in treating substance use disorders than either approach alone.
What Medications are Used in Medication-Assisted Treatments?
Medication-assisted treatment is effective for substance abuse because it helps people control their cravings and withdrawal symptoms while they work on other aspects of their recovery.
The most common forms of medication-assisted treatment include:
- Naloxone (Narcan): This medication is used to quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
- Methadone Maintenance Therapy: Methadone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking the euphoric effects of opioids.
- Disulfiram: Disulfiram is the most effective medication for those who have already completed the detox process and are entering into the early stages of recovery. Disulfiram serves as a deterrent by producing unpleasant side effects when/if an individual consumes even the smallest amount of alcohol.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects of alcohol intoxication. This medication helps individuals disassociate alcohol from pleasurable feelings and experiences.
How the Integrated Services at Father Joe’s Villages Help
Father Joe’s Villages offers a whole range of services all aimed toward helping clients accomplish their goals, including behavioral health, mental health and medical services through our Village Health Center.
The depth and breadth of our services gives clients the tools tailored to their own individual needs so they can triumph over any complexities and barriers they may face in their journey out of addiction. We offer a Harm Reduction approach to overcoming substance use disorders, and recommend medication-assisted treatment plans based on each individual’s unique needs.
- Village Health Center: Offers medical, dental, addiction counseling and mental health resources to help clients to live their healthiest lives. We help our neighbors reach their goals and overcome mental health, physical health and substance abuse barriers to income, housing and happiness. Learn more >>
- San Diego Day Center: Offers dignity services such as showers, mail and a safe environment. We connect people living on the street to resources: local substance abuse groups, detox and rehabilitation centers, medical services or Father Joe’s Villages’ housing programs and supportive services. Learn more >>
- Emergency Shelter & Transitional Housing: Provides clients a warm bed, clean linens, storage for their belongings, hot meals and access to the wide range of services, which allows them to reflect on their goals and future instead of just survival and safety. Clients can then work with Father Joe’s Villages’ supportive services to remove barriers to more permanent income and housing. Learn more >>
- Permanent Supportive Housing: Supports people living with disabilities with housing and coordinates services based on individual needs, abilities, goals, and preferences. Learn more >>
Recovery is possible. It’s never too late. Medicated-assisted treatments help individuals struggling with addiction regain control of their lives, relationships and futures.