Opioid addiction is challenging to beat, largely due to the intense cravings for heroin or painkillers that can last months or longer. For those who want to quit using, the fear of withdrawal often keeps them hooked. But withdrawal doesn’t have to be a nightmare, and in fact, medication assisted treatment prevents and controls withdrawal and cravings, and it’s the most effective way to help people beat an opioid addiction for the long-term, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.1
What is Medication Assisted Treatment?
Medication assisted treatment involves taking a medication instead of illegal or prescription drugs. The medication used for opioid addiction is derived from opioid drugs, but it doesn’t produce a high. What it does do is prevent withdrawal symptoms from setting in, and it keeps powerful cravings at bay. This allows people experiencing an addiction to focus all of their attention on recovery.
While medication assisted treatment will keep withdrawal and cravings from setting in, it will do nothing by itself to address the addiction. Overcoming an addiction almost always requires intensive treatment through a high-quality treatment program, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.2 Through treatment, you will:
- Learn to evaluate harmful thoughts and behaviors and replace them with healthier ways of thinking and behaving.
- Develop essential coping skills to handle stress and other triggers.
- Find purpose and meaning in a life without drugs.
- Learn to have fun and relax without drugs.
- Address the range of issues that led to the substance abuse and addiction in the first place, which may include chronic stress, a history of trauma or a co-occurring mental illness.
The medications most commonly used for medication assisted treatment include:
- Methadone, which is taken every day and must be dispensed by a licensed clinic
- Buprenorphine, which you can take from home daily or every other day
- Naltrexone, which can be taken from home every three days, received through a shot once a month or delivered through an implant placed under the skin
Medication Assisted Treatment is Safe
Medication assisted treatment is safe and effective. Some people mistakenly think that medication assisted treatment replaces one addiction with another, but this is not true. Taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication for diabetes or heart disease. When it’s used properly, the medication doesn’t create a new addiction but rather helps people manage their opioid addiction so they can successfully recover for the long-term.
Tapering from Medication Assisted Treatment
Some people will take medication for a few months, and some may take it for a few years. Some will even take it for life. How long you take the medication depends on a number of factors, including how well-prepared you are to cope with possible cravings.
When you decide you’re ready to taper off of medication assisted treatment, it’s crucial to talk to your doctor first. Quitting cold-turkey can cause intense withdrawal. It’s important to taper off the doses properly, carefully following your physician’s instructions. This gradual reduction over time gradually adjusts your body to the medication’s absence without any side effects. How long it takes you to taper off depends on the medication and the dosage you’re taking.
If you’re struggling with an opioid addiction, medication assisted treatment offers the opportunity to focus on restoring your life and learning the skills you need to stay sober for the long-term. It’s safe, and it works.