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Alcohol Abuse and Medication Assisted Treatment: 4 Facts

By Manjari Bansal
Medication-assisted treatment helps you quit alcohol through pharmacological and psychological therapies. Here are four useful facts about this form of addiction treatment.

If you want to overcome alcohol use disorder, your doctor may suggest a medication assisted treatment plan. Medication assisted treatment, sometimes called MAT, is a holistic method that involves the use of medications in combination with psychological therapies. Read on to learn four interesting facts about medication assisted treatment and its potential role in treating alcohol abuse.

1. Medication assisted treatment is a combination of medications and therapies.

Medication assisted treatment provides a “whole-patient” approach for the treatment of alcohol use disorder, notes the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“It involves a multi-pronged comprehensive treatment approach including components such as therapy, behavioral counseling, and social support,” Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, a therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“Medication can help individuals abstain from alcohol, but a holistic whole-person approach to recovery is still needed in order to address underlying issues and create lifestyle changes that will lead to long-term recovery,” Sternlicht says.

2. MAT programs are customized to meet each patient’s needs.

Medication assisted treatment is not a one-size-fits-all kind of approach. As such, each patient should receive a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan that can address their specific requirements, SAMHSA notes.

“Every individual is unique, with their own history of alcohol use disorder and other circumstances that indicate their ability to maintain abstinence from alcohol without medication. Some individuals will use MAT for a matter of months, while others may use MAT for years, Sternlicht says.

3. Medication assisted treatment uses drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

MAT uses several FDA-approved medications to treat alcoholism that help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Some of the commonly used medications for alcohol use disorder are naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate. 

“As most of these medications work in unique mechanisms, if one medication does not work for an individual, they can always switch to another agent to see if there is a benefit,” Monty Ghosh, MD, Addiction Specialist at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

These drugs, used alone, may not completely treat alcoholism. They are most beneficial for people who take part in a holistic medication assisted treatment program, reports SAMHSA.

4. MAT helps reduce relapse.

“While some medications do impact cravings, the majority of the medications have been studied through the context of reducing relapse rates,” Ghosh says.

“Medication-assisted alcohol treatment can be helpful to prevent early relapse by treating symptoms people have that could lead to self-medicating conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, psychosis, and cravings,” Alan Thomalla, PhD, a Licensed Psychologist at ABC Resources, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

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