Medication-assisted detoxification, also known as medication-assisted treatment or MAT, uses FDA-approved prescriptions to help you through the withdrawal process from drugs and alcohol. MAT is done under the supervision of a licensed doctor or medical professional.
With nearly 8% of Californians struggling with substance use disorders from methamphetamine, alcohol, opioids, and designer synthetic drugs (MDMA, for example), medication-assisted treatment has become an important part of the recovery process.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Medication-assisted detox is using FDA-approved medications in combination with counseling and other therapies to treat substance use disorders.
It is one of the cornerstones of drug and alcohol treatments at Cornerstone of Southern California. We have been helping people who struggle with substance use disorders since the 1980s.
Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?
Short answer: Yes.
Our evidence-based medication-assisted treatment programs have helped thousands of people avoid the uncomfortable, painful, and life-threatening side effects of withdrawal from alcoholism and drug use.
The next two sections will explain how MAT programs work.
Why Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Think back to when you first started using drugs or alcohol. You used much less than you do today, and over time, you’ve had to increase your self-dosage and might even combine one substance with another, in order to feel the same level of high.
As our bodies get used to drugs and alcohol it is common to build a tolerance. Your body has adjusted its chemistry to depend on those substances, so if you suddenly stop feeding it, it can be a life-threatening shock to your system.
So, when you give up drugs and alcohol, your body needs to gradually adjust to an alcohol-free or drug-free state. Medication-assisted therapies help with that.
There are two very important reasons that we prescribe FDA-approved medication-assisted treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
- To Save lives: Going through the withdrawal process from alcohol and drug use can be dangerous. Quitting drugs and alcohol cold turkey is dangerous and can result in seizures, hallucinations, unconsciousness, cardiac arrest, and even death. MAT reduces your risks for these severe withdrawal symptoms and increases your chances of surviving the withdrawal and detoxification process.
- To Prevent relapse: People who struggle with substance use disorders are less likely to relapse when they’ve gone through the MAT detox process. The withdrawal symptoms can be so severe and uncomfortable that some patients can’t tolerate the effects, so they self-medicate and return to abusing substances.
Withdrawal Symptoms from Drugs and Alcohol
Symptoms vary from person to person and depend on a number of factors including what substance they’ve used; if they’ve combined the substances with anything else, and how much they’ve used. Symptoms also are affected by age, genetics, and other risk factors including your overall health.
- Flu-like symptoms: overall body ache, fatigue, runny nose/watery eyes, sweats, nausea, and vomiting
- Mental/emotional symptoms: anxiety, agitation, nervousness, depression, anger, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, panic attacks
- Other physical symptoms: heart palpitations, sleep disorders, gastric upset, headaches, irregular heartbeat
- Severe symptoms: hallucinations, seizures, cardiac arrest, delirium tremens, and fevers.
How Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work
You will meet with the doctors and health care providers on your team, and they will do a complete history and physical. Based on your history, overall health, age, and other factors, they will prescribe FDA-approved medications to help you through the withdrawal process.
Your doctor will prescribe one or a combination of medications to be administered:
- Orally (pill, tablet, or capsule)
- Subdurally (through a patch)
- Sublingually (a lozenge under the tongue)
- Intramuscularly (injection)
The FDA has approved medications for the treatment of cravings and withdrawal symptoms. For example, the generic drugs buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol) may be prescribed to ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and curb drug cravings.
In conjunction with your MAT, your doctor and recovery team will recommend other therapies and treatments as well, which may include individual and group therapy, nutrition and diet counseling, exercise, and other therapies — hence the name medication-assisted treatment.
MAT is designed to ease withdrawal symptoms so you and your recovery team can work on the deeper reasons behind your substance use and help you identify triggers and develop strategies to cope with temptation and prevent relapse.
As you transition from an in-patient to an out-patient program, your team will continue to monitor and adjust the doses for your MAT.
If you have questions about the specific medications, their generic names, or brands, speak to one of our addiction and recovery specialists. They are standing by to answer your questions and address your concerns.
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Anti-Seizure Medication for Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol dependence is the most widely reported substance use disorder in California. The California Health Care Foundation estimates that about 6% of Californians are dependent on alcohol and 3% on drugs.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms range from mild to moderate to severe. Severe symptoms include seizures and delirium tremens, which kill about 1 in 20 who suffer from severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, according to Drugs.com. Some doctors may prescribe anti-seizure medications.
Alcohol withdrawal medication may include (some may or may not be part of Cornerstone’s physicians’ treatment plans):
- 5HT3 receptor antagonist drugs to help prevent nausea and vomiting (not only with MAT but also for patients suffering from other disorders like cancer)
- Acamprosate to balance brain chemistry but not for withdrawal symptoms
- Antabuse to prevent cravings and produce a negative effect when alcohol is consumed
- Naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol) to prevent cravings and reduce side effects that occur during withdrawal
Anti-seizure medications or Anticonvulsants may be used in rare cases when a patient is suffering from seizures caused by alcohol withdrawal. It’s best to discuss your questions and concerns with your doctor before undergoing treatment.
Medication-Assisted Treatment with Methadone
Methadone is one of the oldest and best-known heroin withdrawal medications. It is also used for opioid substance use disorders. It must be administered under the supervision and care of a doctor or licensed medical practitioner. It works by helping to block the euphoric effects produced by opioids and other drugs and reducing cravings.
Methadone can be given as part of an in-patient recovery program, or it may be dosed through an out-patient methadone clinic setting. Common questions (and answers) about methadone:
- Is methadone addictive? It is a myth that using methadone to treat addiction is merely trading one addiction for another. That said, methadone doses need to build over time and then be weaned as you go through the recovery process.
- How long do you take methadone? Because of the gradual dosage of methadone to treat substance use disorders, methadone treatment programs typically last 12 months, but they can be adjusted based on individual needs.
- Is methadone covered by insurance? Most insurance plans cover methadone, and our team will verify this with your insurance.
Suboxone and Buprenorphine for MAT
Buprenorphine is the generic name for a drug that is used to help with medically assisted treatments. It is sold under the brand Suboxone. It can help alleviate the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that arise when someone stops using opioids.
Naltrexone (brand Vivitrol)
Naltrexone is a monthly injected drug that is administered after someone has stopped using for two weeks. It helps to prevent cravings and reduce side effects, as well as prevent overdoses.
Naloxone for Opioid Overdose
You may have heard of the medication Naloxone, which has been used in emergency situations to diagnose and treat people who have overdosed on opioids and fentanyl. It has been known to save the lives of people who may have overdosed on opioids. It should be administered only by a doctor or medical practitioner who is licensed to prescribe this class of medication.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Treatment Medication
If you are dependent on “benzos” or benzodiazepine drugs such as Valium, Tranxene, Xanax, Halcion, Librium, or Ativan, your doctor may prescribe medications that are specifically designed to help with the withdrawal symptoms from these drugs.
These medications have a variety of prescribed uses, including treating anxiety and depression, sleep disorders, seizure disorders, and muscle relaxation. They can also be used for anesthesia.
Medical Assisted Treatment in Los Angeles and Orange County
If you live in Southern California or are seeking help with your addiction in Orange or Los Angeles counties, Cornerstone has been a strong presence in the recovery community for more than 30 years.
Our medication-assisted treatment and evidence-based practice have helped thousands of people like you or your loved one get safely through the detoxification process and live long lives free from alcohol and drugs. Talk to us about medically assisted alcohol treatment, medically assisted opioid treatment, and other questions you have about drug rehab medication.
More Information About Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox