What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Learn more about how medication can be combined with medical and counseling support to beat addiction.

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What Is MAT?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves using FDA-approved medications to treat addiction. However, MAT isn’t only about medication. It’s a customizable, “whole-patient” approach to treating substance use disorders, including alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

MAT combines counseling and behavioral therapies with medications that can reduce alcohol cravings and minimize the “reward” people experience when they drink alcohol.1

These medications make it easier to cut back on drinking or quit entirely. When combined with counseling, this approach empowers people to rebuild their lives and thrive.

Read more about medications for alcohol use disorder

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How Effective Is MAT? 

AUD has a high relapse rate, and we need as many effective options as possible. MAT has proven itself effective in numerous clinical studies. It often has a higher success rate than traditional rehab programs.

For example, the Sinclair Method (a medication-assisted treatment method using naltrexone) has been confirmed effective in more than 90 trials worldwide and has a success rate of up to 78%.2 Similarly, the COMBINE study found that pharmacotherapies like naltrexone, in combination with counseling, can lead to clinically significant outcomes like reduced drinking and increased abstinence.3

That’s why MAT is recommended as a first line of treatment by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, SAMHSA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and other organizations.

Medication-assisted treatment is effective because it targets some of the greatest obstacles to lasting recovery, helping people manage the symptoms of detox and experience fewer cravings. For many people, having a medication that reduces cravings can make a big difference in avoiding relapse.

How Widespread Is the Use of MAT for Alcohol Use Disorder?

MAT was originally developed to treat opioid use disorder in the 1960s, although the use of medication to treat addiction goes further back. For some time, MAT was less visible as a treatment option. As more people come to view addiction as a treatable disorder—not a sign of moral failing or a lack of willpower—the use of MAT is becoming more widespread. However, it is still underutilized as a treatment for alcohol use disorder.

In 2019, 2.5 million people in the United States received some form of alcohol use treatment (according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Of these 2.5 million people, 286,000 (11.3%) received MAT for alcohol use.4

Physicians must be trained and approved to prescribe MAT. While a growing number of physicians can prescribe this course of treatment, it’s not recommended to patients as often as it should be. If you don’t know where to look or what questions to ask, it’s not always easy to access medication-assisted treatment. Telemedicine programs like Ria Health make MAT more convenient and accessible for people who need it.

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Is MAT Substituting One Drug for Another?

One common criticism of MAT is that taking medication—particularly long-term maintenance medication—is simply substituting one substance for another. 

However, there is a significant difference. Medications like naltrexone are FDA-approved, non-addictive, and don’t produce a high. These prescriptions don’t take on the role of alcohol in a person’s life, or help people continue to suppress underlying issues. Instead, they reduce some of the chemical aspects of addiction so people can work toward recovery more effectively. Using MAT is like using medication to manage any other chronic health condition.

MAT in the Ria Health Program

Medication-assisted treatment is a cornerstone of the Ria Health program. Ria Health combines prescription medication with remote medical supervision, coaching support, and a breathalyzer to measure progress. Expert recovery coaches support Ria members through every step of the journey, tracking progress and adjusting treatment as needed.

Learn more about the medications we offer in our program, or our treatment approach in general.

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