Though medication-assisted treatment has been shown to be effective in reducing relapse and strengthening long-term sobriety, it is sometimes misunderstood. Knowing the facts and reasons for considering medication-assisted treatment can open up new possibilities for recovery.
Recovery for anyone with an addiction is a complex process that often necessitates targeted, professional support and guidance. For some substances however, recovery poses unique challenges that require different methods. Medication-assisted treatment is one such method, using specific medications in combination with behavioural therapy in order to improve long-term treatment outcomes. For those in treatment, medication-assisted treatment can reduce the chance of dangerous relapse and help people effectively manage their recovery.
What Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Involve?
Medication-assisted treatment is an evidence-based type of addiction treatment that is used together with therapy and ongoing education mainly to help people overcome opioid dependency. In some cases, medication-assisted treatment can also be helpful for people struggling with alcohol or tobacco addiction. Medication-assisted treatment works by helping to adjust brain chemistry to normal levels, a critical component of healing a brain that has essentially been rewired by addiction.
Dopamine, Addiction, and Medication-Assisted Treatment
One specific way that medications in medication-assisted treatment work is by blocking dopamine receptors. Dopamine is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in how we experience pleasure, as it is released into our brains when we are anticipating or achieving some type of reward. In an addiction situation, high levels of dopamine are released in response to the substance, which creates a powerful pull towards continued, frequent use.
When this receptor is blocked with the help of medication, it helps to manage the neurological drive towards substance abuse. For example, if someone has a drink while taking this type of medication, they wouldn’t feel the euphoria associated with having a drink in the past. Removing this component can help improve the chances for long-term recovery, and reduce the risk of relapse.
Medication-assisted treatment does not have a specific timeline, and under a doctor’s care can be safely used for several months or for a lifetime depending on the unique needs of the person using them. It’s important to note that these medications are not a standalone cure – rather, they can be a useful component in a holistic approach towards recovery.
What are the Medications Typically Used?
The medications used as part of medication-assisted treatment have been clinically tested and studied in order to determine their efficacy in helping treat addiction. When undergoing medication-assisted treatment, a doctor will carefully evaluate a client’s particular needs or challenges in order to decide which medication is most appropriate. These medications are considered to be safe and effective as long as they are taken as prescribed, and are used under the qualified supervision of a medical professional. Some common types of medications used include:
Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a medication used to treat opioid addictions. Buprenorphine works by producing some of the same effects of opioids, but this medication is weaker than opioids themselves. It helps to reduce or suppress opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, as well as lower the potential for abuse.
Naltrexone: Used for opioid and alcohol addiction, naltrexone works by blocking both the euphoric and sedative effects brought on by substance use. Naltrexone is not an opioid, and has no addictive potential. Also known by the brand name Vivitrol, this medication can be injected and is effective at blocking cravings for up to one month at a time.
Methadone: One of the more widely-known forms of medication used in medication-assisted treatment, methadone is used to treat opioid addiction. Methadone works by reducing the effects of opioid cravings and withdrawal, as well as lessening or blocking the euphoric response to opioid use.
Acamprosate: Used to treat alcohol addiction, acamprosate is prescribed after someone has completed alcohol detox, and is used to help restore brain function and reduce and manage cravings. This medication also curbs the euphoric effects of alcohol.
Disulfiram: More commonly known by its brand name Antabuse, disulfiram is generally used for those struggling with chronic alcohol addiction. Disulfiram works both by blocking neurotransmitters that respond positively to alcohol use, as well as disrupting the body’s metabolic processing of alcohol. This means that those who drink while taking disulfiram will experience a range of uncomfortable side effects
Is Medication-Assisted Treatment Just Trading One Addiction for Another?
Perhaps the most common misconception about medication-assisted treatment is that those using these medications are simply substituting a new addiction for an old one. Actually, these medications are used to treat addiction much as other medications are used to treat chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma. Used correctly, they are safe, effective, and do not produce the highs or drive for compulsive use that other substances do. Medication-assisted treatment can help significantly boost the quality of life for those in recovery.
Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment
Studies have shown that medication-assisted treatment reduces the risk of relapse, especially for those with opioid addiction, and increases the potential for long-term recovery. By reducing cravings, these medications allow people to focus on their personal and professional lives, rebuilding what may have been damaged during their addiction.
Because these medications are used in conjunction with other treatment methods such as therapy, taking these can also help people remain in treatment and fully participate in their work with a counsellor, unearthing the root causes of their addiction and working through ways to effectively manage it.
Considerations Regarding Medication-Assisted Treatment
An addiction specialist or other medical professional will consider a range of factors before deciding whether medication-assisted treatment may be the best option in overcoming an addiction. These factors can include:
- The type of substance that the patient is addicted to
- How long the addiction has been present
- The severity of the addiction
- Whether another condition, such as a mental health disorder, is also present
- History of relapse / repeated recovery attempts
Detailed information regarding each of these factors will form the basis of a professional opinion about medication-assisted treatment, and whether it is the right course of action. It is important to reiterate that the use of these medications should always take place under a doctor’s care, and in strict adherence with the recommended intake.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Addiction at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab in Thailand takes a holistic approach to addiction treatment, working with each client to create a customised treatment plan based on their specific needs. The fundamental objective of our programme is for clients to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by equipping each individual with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges, thereby eliminating the desire to use again.
The Dawn’s innovative addiction treatment programme is delivered by a compassionate, experienced team of psychotherapists and each component of it has been designed to maximise outcomes for the client, from the timeframe to the supporting services available.
24-hour Medical Support and Onsite Detox in Thailand
The Dawn is able to offer medically-assisted detox for our clients. Our 24-hour onsite professional nursing team will carefully monitor the client throughout this process under the supervision of our psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication as necessary to ease withdrawal symptoms. In emergencies, clients will immediately be admitted to hospital.
If you’re thinking about recovery and want to understand what your options are, call The Dawn today for more information about our programmes.