Simply put, Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, consists of a combination of medication and therapeutic counseling. This method has been a staple of drug and alcohol treatment since the 1960s. It’s often misunderstood and sometimes maligned. Historically, it was most commonly used for opioid addiction. But it has also proven effective for alcoholism and other chemical dependency disorders.
Here is a breakdown of some of the myths about MAT and the facts that counter them.
MYTH: MAT just trades one addiction for another.
FACT: It’s an all too common refrain. Someone enters a suboxone program after years of heroin addiction and they are told they are “taking the easy way out” or just “trading one drug for another. This is a viewpoint rooted in ignorance and misunderstanding. The science on MAT is conclusive. It dramatically improves patients’ chances of remaining in treatment and recovery. (1). Opiate addiction is incredibly powerful and the truth is before MAT, the recidivism rates were more dire than they are today. MAT is, without question a crucial treatment tool. In the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic, the last thing anyone should be doing is shaming someone who is trying to build recovery.
MYTH: If you are in an MAT program, you aren’t really “clean”.
FACT: This is perhaps one of the more damaging myths about MAT. The fact is that recovery is about behavior and intentions. A person who is participating in an MAT program and following protocols is doing the work. They are taking a medicine to aid them in their recovery and prevent relapse, which is tragically common, especially in early recovery for opiate abuses. MAT programs unquestionably save lives. One might go as far as to say that a person who criticizes someone for participating in an MAT program ought to examine the quality of their own recovery.
MYTH: There’s no proof that MAT is any more effective than “cold turkey”.
FACT: This is also completely refuted by the evidence. Opioid addicts and alcoholics consistently put together more time when on MAT programs on average than without. Not only are there reams of anecdotal evidence for this in the field, but substantive research supporting this conclusion. In fact, The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is currently running a study of over 1,000 patients at 65 locations across the U.S. to research MAT outcomes for opioid use disorders.(1) This will be the largest study of its’ kind ever done. The final findings will be published in Summer 2021.
MYTH: MAT will hurt a person’s recovery or hold back their progress.
FACT: MAT programs assist in recovery, particularly early on. They mitigate cravings which drastically lowers the chance of relapse, particularly when opioid blockers are involved. They allow the patient to focus on the work of recovery, which is the most important part. Recovery is an inside job, it has been said. It truly is about working on oneself and it is hard work. Anything safe and legal that can be done to help people stay alive and stay off of their drug of choice while they do the work of recovery is a net positive.