Opioids are frequently used for pain management but can be highly addictive. For some, opioids produce a sense of euphoria that is so intoxicating they find it hard to quit. The addiction can stem from other underlying issues like the environment, upbringing, and trauma. Prolonged use of opiates can result in an increased tolerance when used for a prolonged period of time, meaning the person would need more and more to get the same effect. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of individuals relapse and return to opioid use as a form of self-medication—this is where medically-assisted addiction treatment can have a big impact.
Many people are not aware that there is another option, but there is—medically-assisted treatment programs (MAT). Medically-assisted treatment programs transition individuals from painkiller drug dependence or heroin addiction to a safer and more long-term maintenance of this brutal disease.
It’s important to understand that recovery isn’t the same for everyone and a customized treatment approach is ideal. Unique treatment options are critical for individuals fighting addiction and who are looking to regain control of his or her life. While some are able to overcome addiction without medication, other individuals require a different approach and medically-assisted treatment gives the best chance of a full recovery with a lower probability of relapse. According to the National Council of Behavioral Health, this particular treatment “bridges the biological and behavioral components of addiction.”
Research has proven that medically-assisted treatment with buprenorphine (the active ingredient in Suboxone) at least triples rates of opioid-abstinence outcomes, thus decreasing the use of illegal drugs, reducing overdose mortalities, and resulting in a much higher retention rate for treatment.
What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a brand name prescription medicine that contains the active ingredients buprenorphine and naloxone. It is used to treat adults who are dependent on opioids. A 2015 study conducted by Harvard University determined that Suboxone with counseling vastly increases the probability an individual will achieve opioid abstinence during active treatment versus counseling alone.
Is Medically-Assisted Treatment Trading One Addiction for Another?
No, medically-assisted treatment is not trading one addiction for another. Medically-assisted treatment doesn’t rely solely on medication. The medication functions to moderate withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings and in turn, prevent relapses. Coupled with supportive counseling, medically-assisted treatment allows the body to slowly adapt by reducing opioid use over time and aims at treating underlying issues and the physical addiction. Treatment with Suboxone AND counseling allows someone to return to normal day-to-day functions, such as working and parenting while providing a more stable environment.
Medically-Assisted Treatment Reduces Risk of Overdose Mortality
Medically-assisted treatment transitions someone away from life-threatening addiction behavior to a more stable state of physical dependence. Behaviors of addiction include impaired control over one’s drug use, compulsive use, and continued use despite harm and cravings.
When a patient undergoes successful Suboxone treatment, dangerous behaviors of addiction disappear and what’s left is a physical dependence on buprenorphine similar to a diabetic’s need to regularly take insulin to manage diabetes.
In addition, medically-assisted treatment greatly reduces the risk of overdose mortality. When users stop “cold turkey,” their tolerance diminishes for opiates, which reduces the quantity the brain can absorb without fatally overdosing. When an individual recovering from addiction relapses and returns to using opioids, they have a high mortality risk because they may use the same quantity they did before their tolerance dropped and could overdose and die.
Individuals undergoing medically-assisted treatment programs have a much lower risk because they retain higher tolerance levels, and their buprenorphine medication limits the amount of drugs that enter the brain. Thus, they receive no high—or a very limited high—from the relapse.
What are the Benefits of Medically-Assisted Opiate Treatment?
One of the main advantages of medically-assisted treatment is that it can fulfill an individual’s craving, but cannot be taken to achieve the full effect of an opioid — this makes it difficult to abuse. In addition, this method can be used to slowly wean a person off of opioids, to increase their chances of a successful recovery and exhibits only mild opioid effects.
Path to Overcoming Addiction
Like all drug dependence treatment options, medically-assisted treatment isn’t fail-safe, but it has been proven to provide a more reliable and sustainable path to recovery. While the road to recovery is often long and sometimes winding, there are options out there for everyone. Contact an addiction clinic in your area that will provide you with a customized treatment plan to best meet your needs and goals.
Contributed by Phil Atteberry
Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer of BRIGHTSIDE Clinic
BRIGHTSIDE treats addiction to heroin, opiates & suboxone with rehabilitation clinics in Northbrook, Tinley Park and North Aurora, Illinois.