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No matter where you are in the world, opioid addiction has become a serious problem. Death and addiction rates are rising by the year, and there seems to be nothing slowing it down. The good news is that as opioid rates are rising, so are the number of treatment options that can help people overcome their addiction.

Two of the most popular forms of treatment are Abstinence for Opioid Dependence and Medication for Addiction Treatment or MAT. This article will look at what each of these treatments is and its pros and cons.

What is Abstinence for Opioid Dependence?

As its name implies, abstinence-based treatments for opioid dependence consist of staying away from opioids and any medications that contain them. Abstinence is the most common form of treatment in the U.S., and it’s also one of the oldest. It’s also much cheaper than MAT because there are no drugs or medications involved.

There are still many who find the idea of using drugs to fight a drug addiction doesn’t make sense. Abstinence relies on an individual’s willpower and determination to get them through their addiction. Someone trying to quit drug use through abstinence would benefit from joining a program or surrounding themselves with people to help them.

What does an abstinence-based program look like?

An abstinence-based program can take place in a rehab facility or an outpatient setting. In a rehabilitation clinic, you’ll be surrounded by a controlled environment and a team of people who are there to keep you on the path to recovery. Trying to achieve complete abstinence outside of a clinic is much more affordable, but it’s also more difficult.

Pros of an abstinence-based treatment

  • Much cheaper than MAT
  • You can go the path of abstinence alone or with a team of people to help you.
  • Achieving recovery through abstinence will increase your willpower and determination.
  • Many believe that abstinence is safer than using MAT.

Cons of an abstinence-based treatment

  • More difficult than implementing medications into your recovery.
  • There’s a lack of evidence supporting the success of abstinence-based recovery. In other words, you have a better chance of remaining addicted to opioids.

What is Medication for Addiction Treatment?

Medication for Addiction Treatment, MAT, is a form of opioid treatment that includes medications to assist in one’s recovery. As drug numbers rise and the problems that accompany it, doctors and psychiatrists are starting to see that opioid addiction is as much a mental disorder as a physical dependency. Because mental illnesses are treated with medication, it makes sense that opioid addiction should be treated this way.

MAT is always used in conjunction with behavioral counseling therapy. It’s also recommended by the CDC and the National Institute on Drug Abuse as the best way to recover from opioid addiction. They and thousands of doctors and psychiatrists worldwide believe that using the proper medications can reduce cravings and urges for drugs.

Since its approval as a form of addiction treatment, MAT has shown a reduction in deaths from opioid use and higher numbers of recovery. However, that doesn’t mean that MAT is suitable for everyone.

What Medications are Used in MAT?

MAT uses four different medications and drugs as part of its recovery program. Each of them is hand-selected by the doctors who use them and are FDA-approved for treating addictions.

Methadone

While MAT in itself is a relatively new concept, methadone is not. Methadone has been used for over half a century to fight drug addiction. It’s a synthetic drug that reduces the cravings for opioids such as heroin. It also helps prevent severe symptoms of withdrawal sickness when you’re going through detox symptoms.

The reason that methadone is the most popular and successful drug at fighting opioids is that it does the same thing that opioids do. Methadone binds to opioid receptors in the brain and activates them. Essentially, it tricks the brain into thinking that it’s receiving its daily dose of heroin without side effects.

However, methadone has proven to mimic the effects of opioids too well in some cases. Users of methadone run the risk of getting addicted to it, which has led to other drugs being developed for treatments that use medications.

Buprenorphine/Naloxone

You might recognize buprenorphine for its similarity to drugs like morphine. Much like morphine, it’s a painkiller, and it’s usually combined with Naloxone to form suboxone. Suboxone does much the same thing as methadone in that it tricks the brain. However, like methadone, suboxone is an opioid, and using it for withdrawal presents certain risks.

Despite its risks, suboxone is the only drug treatment approved for outpatient use. You’ll have to receive a prescription for suboxone or buprenorphine, but you don’t need a doctor to inject you or monitor your usage.

Vivitrol

Unlike the drugs listed above, Vivitrol isn’t an opioid or addictive substance. This acts as both a pro and a con for Vivitrol. While Vivitrol reduces drug cravings and patients can take it safely without worrying about getting addicted, they can’t take it until two weeks after their last opioid usage. That means you’ll have to go through withdrawal without medications, which is extremely difficult and painful.

Naloxone

Naloxone is the polar opposite of methadone and buprenorphine. While the latter two are opioids and get you high, Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. It will bind to opioid receptors in the brain, but rather than activating them; Naloxone blocks them from stimulation. This means that you can’t get high when you take opioids if you’ve already taken Naloxone.

While Naloxone reduces cravings and isn’t an addictive substance, it doesn’t help with withdrawal symptoms. As a result, Naloxone is usually used after withdrawal to maintain someone’s abstinence rather than for initial recovery.

Pros of MAT

  • MAT has been proven to have a higher success rate and more effectiveness than abstinence.
  • MAT also allows patients to live normal lives while recovering rather than spending it in a rehab facility.
  • Insurance is more likely to cover MAT programs than abstinence ones.

Cons of MAT

  • If insurance doesn’t help you, MAT is more expensive than other forms of treatment.
  • While MAT is more successful than abstinence, there’s always a risk of getting addicted to the drugs used in your treatment.

The road to recovery from opioid addiction is extremely challenging, and you want to give yourself the best chance possible. You should carefully consider whether MAT or abstinence is suitable for you, and start your journey today!