Not everyone can simply end substance use without medical help. Withdrawals, cravings, and even a lack of support system can prevent you from getting healthy. Treatment alone doesn’t always do the trick. Sometimes, our bodies and minds have a harder time and they need a little extra help. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a combination of medication and behavioral treatments.
There’s a common belief floating around that MAT is the “easy way out”. Some people think it’s substituting one drug for another. This stigma is preventing people who are struggling with substance use from getting the kind of help they need. MAT is a safe way to begin your journey into a substance-free life.
Alcohol and opioid use disorders are a growing crisis in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 115 people die every day from opioid overdose alone. In South Carolina, we lost 1,734 lives in 2019 due to opioid overdose. The Covid-19 pandemic intensified our war against substance use, increasing that number by over 500 people in 2020. At Axis I Center of Barnwell, we want to do our part in bringing those numbers down. Providing our community with accessible, affordable, and effective MAT treatment is one of our biggest goals.
It’s important to keep this in mind: When you’re in MAT, your symptoms are being managed while you’re being weaned off of medication. The goal of this treatment is to slowly and safely guide you into a healthier place.
Every journey into recovery is different. Just as each individual has a unique fingerprint, each journey has a unique story. Every person who struggles with addiction has their own traumas, memories, and physiology. For some, stopping their drug of choice may be as simple as walking away from it. For many, there are other factors at play.
The withdrawal process can be brutal on both the mind and body. The desire to continue using drugs or alcohol is stronger in these cases. Because of this, the probability of relapse is higher. Coming off of opioids or alcohol can be dangerous if you’re not careful. The medication provided in MAT can help by allowing you to fully heal without being in danger. Participating in MAT can often mean the difference between life and death for some people.
At Axis I Center of Barnwell, we use two medications to treat substance use disorder, Suboxone and Vivitrol. We know it can be scary to take medication, especially if you don’t know what it is or what it’s used for. Let’s take a look at what our clinicians might prescribe:
Suboxone. Suboxone is a combination of two drugs commonly used in MAT: Buprenorphine and Naloxone. Buprenorphine is known as a partial opioid agonist. This just means it will give you some of the same effects as opioids – but at a milder level. When taken as prescribed, it can lessen your symptoms of withdrawal while curbing your cravings. Sometimes, those withdrawals or cravings are what cause us to relapse. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. It works to reverse the effects of an overdose.
Vivitrol. Vivitrol is a once-monthly injection that helps to block the effects of opioids. This means that, if you try to take opioids on Vivitrol, you won’t experience those traditional “feel-good” chemicals. This medication is great for preventing relapse. People are less likely to turn to their substance of choice if they can’t experience its effects. v
While controversial at times, MAT has proven itself worthy of recognition. This isn’t exactly a “new” treatment style – there are many studies proving its efficacy. Medications like Suboxone and Vivitrol have been shown to reduce the likelihood of overdose, prevent relapse, and decrease symptoms of withdrawal.
One study showed that, when MAT was readily accessible, overdose deaths dropped – drastically. This study, conducted in Baltimore City, had 312 overdose deaths in 1999. When medications like Methadone and Buprenorphine were introduced, that number fell to 118 in 2009. Over the years, we’ve seen more and more evidence that MAT not only works, but it saves lives.
Like most treatment methods, MAT has its challenges. For example, some doctors find it difficult to figure out which medication works best for each patient. No mind or body is exactly alike. These drugs may affect one person differently than another. Throughout the years, however, we’ve learned to recognize the needs of each individual. MAT is also monitored, so your doctor or medical provider will frequently check in on your progress and adjust your dosage as needed.
Your treatment plan will also play a large role in this process. Your clinician will be able to notice any behavioral changes or anything out of the ordinary.
In order for MAT to be effective, it’s important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan. Some of these medications can be risky if they’re not taken correctly. If you mix any of these medications with other substances, for example, you could risk your health or even your life.
Mental health, addiction, and medication have a rocky history in the U.S. They’ve been gossiped about, challenged, and misunderstood for many years. The reason for this is almost always the same: a lack of education.
People often fear what they don’t understand, and something like medication-assisted treatment can be hard to digest. If you’re only looking at the surface, medication looks like “the easy way out” of addiction. The reality is, even in MAT, you’ll struggle. You’ll be working on identifying the triggers that lead you to self-destructive habits, and that isn’t easy. You’ll be cultivating healthy coping mechanisms and following a strict medication schedule. You’ll also be monitored by an expert staff who cares about your journey and wants to get you healthy again.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, but from a young age, many of us are told it’s a sign of weakness. However, we know that substance use affects the way our brains are wired, so individuals often need help to change these deeply wired habits. We also know that MAT has been proven to help in preventing relapse and overdose.
Additionally, it’s important to look at the motivation behind the medication you take. When you’re taking a drug recreationally, you’re taking it to feel the “high” or the euphoria. When you’re taking medication in MAT, you’re taking it to treat and heal from your substance use disorder.
In addition to the medication, what else will I need to do in MAT?
Our assessment process will determine your course of treatment while you’re here. We may recommend individual or group treatment programming. We can also refer you to a residential treatment program or a detox program if we think it’s needed. Our assessment process is designed to provide you with an accurate diagnosis that can help you make informed decisions about your next steps.
How long does MAT last?
Everyone’s treatment program is a little different based on their needs. Some people participate in MAT for a couple of months, others for years. It will depend on how you’re progressing and what your unique goals are.
Can I afford MAT?
Our treatment programs are designed to help people with many levels of financial ability. Treatment is never denied because of an inability to pay for it.
Does Suboxone and Vivitrol have side effects?
It’s rare to take any medication without the risk of side effects. The side effects from Vivitrol and Suboxone are milder than the side effects that come with recreational drug use. They’re also monitored regularly by your physician, who will do everything they can to guide you through this process and make you comfortable.
Should you choose the route of medication-assisted treatment, you’ll be informed every step of the way. We’ll guide you through what to expect along with any challenges you might face. You’ll have a team of people making sure you’re safe throughout this process.
How can I get admitted into medication-assisted treatment?
Please call us at (803) 541-1245 to schedule an assessment or to learn more about our services. We’re honored to serve the residents of Barnwell County, and we can’t wait to help you forge your own path to recovery.