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Opioid Use Disorder and Medication Assisted Treatment: 3 Facts

By Ashley Hinson
Medication-assisted treatment takes a holistic approach to combat opioid addiction and the opioid crisis at large. How does it work?

The opioid crisis has hurt individual lives and ravaged communities, but medication-assisted treatment can help quell opioid withdrawal symptoms and end opioid addiction. Medication-assisted treatment takes a comprehensive approach to end substance abuse by incorporating drugs like buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone, but how do treatment plans work? Read on for three key facts about using medication assisted treatment to recover from opioid use disorder. 

Medication-assisted treatment takes a "whole-patient" approach to treatment.

“Medication-assisted treatment is a term for a range of treatment options that use medications to help address the physical and psychological factors linked to addiction,” Hank Green, Associate Professor at Indiana University’s School of Public Health, tells WebMD’s Connect to Care.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medication-assisted treatment effectively treats opioid use disorders and can help prevent relapse

“In the short term, it dampens cravings and limits withdrawal symptoms while the behavioral therapies begin to unravel the root causes of substance use that led to dependence...in the long term, the medications help to maintain sobriety and protect an individual in circumstances that might trigger or encourage substance use,” Green says.

Medication-assisted treatment drugs relieve withdrawal cravings and symptoms.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), FDA-approved medication-assisted treatment drugs like methadone treat opioid use disorders by relieving physical withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings that cause chemical imbalances. 

“However, the level of pain relief is less intense and, in general, any related euphoria or sedation is reduced or eliminated,” Green says. “These medications often bind more strongly to the opioid receptor sites in the body and thus their effects are longer-lasting, which reduces cravings and allows for better long-term management of any physical dependency.” 

Behavioral therapy enhances medication-assisted treatment’s effectiveness.

Medication-assisted treatment drugs suppress opioid withdrawal symptoms, but they don’t get to the root cause of substance use disorder. That's why the presence of behavioral therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy, is an important part of holistic treatment. 

“Studies have shown that medication-assisted treatment alone is not as effective as in combination with behavioral therapies that address the root causes of the addictive behaviors, assess ongoing triggers for addictive behaviors, and modify attitudes and behaviors related to substance use that have led to dependence,” Hank says.  

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.