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5 Types of Opioid Treatment Programs, and How They Work

By Jon McKenna
Your opioid addiction recovery will likely combine features of more than one treatment.

If you are struggling with dependency on or addiction to opioids, being aware of it and having a desire to get well are important first steps. Next, you can learn about five general types of opioid treatment programs, according to the National Institutes of Health. Elements of these often are combined in a holistic recovery plan.


Contrary to popular misconception, the three approved types of medications that many doctors prescribe to minimize opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, or to prevent an opiate high, are not themselves addictive. 

Methadone targets the same areas of the brain that other opioids do, but without producing a high. It is usually taken once per day in pill, liquid, or wafer form.

Buprenorphine acts on the brain the same way that methadone does to make withdrawal symptoms less severe and reduce cravings. It is typically taken daily as tablets or film, and doctors often have people in opioid recovery use it along with an overdose-treatment drug called naloxone.

Naltrexone blocks opioids from acting on the brain, so it helps prevent relapse but is not that effective in stopping cravings. Doctors often insist a patient undergo 7 to 10 days of withdrawal from opioids before allowing naltrexone. It is taken either regularly in pill form or in a monthly shot at a medical office.

Counseling and Behavioral Therapy

Different kinds of counseling in opioid use disorder treatment can help you change your attitudes and behaviors, and build healthier life skills. A doctor or treatment professional may refer you to a behavioral or motivational therapy, which can be tailored to your needs. You also may be steered to group counseling to hear about others’ fights with opioid dependency or addiction, or to family counseling to help improve those relationships.

Counselors may also recommend other resources, such as: 

  • A 12-step program like Narcotics Anonymous 

  • Spiritual groups

  • Case management specialists

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

This “whole patient” approach combines medicines, counseling, and behavioral therapies in a single recovery strategy. After previous skepticism, most treatment providers now “fully embrace MAT, which has been shown to cut down on overdoses by 50% to 60%,” Evan Haines tells WebMD Connect to Care. He’s a co-founder of Alo House, a group of recovery centers in Southern California.

“Having said that, more research needs to be done on what various MAT therapies might do to the brain’s pleasure and reward systems. We would also need to consider that most addicted people today, especially young people,” may be dealing with dependency on or addiction to other substances than prescription opioids at the same time. Left untreated in MAT, those problems will continue afterward. 

Residential Programs

You would live with others receiving opioid use disorder treatment along with housing, with residents supporting one another’s recovery.

Hospital-Based Treatment

A number of hospitals offer either inpatient addiction treatment services as a specialty unit or as an adjunct to health care, or very structured outpatient treatment.

“Many individuals do well starting treatment directly in an outpatient clinic. Others may need short-term or long-term residential programs for detox and treatment, depending on their overall needs,” says Steven Powell, MD, chief medical officer with PursueCare, a telehealth company in Middletown, CT. “The goal is for inpatient programs to stabilize a patient and transition them to outpatient treatment, once able.”  

Also, although it is too early to consider them a treatment, researchers are working to develop various vaccines to target opioids in the bloodstream and keep them from affecting the brain. “I am optimistic that a vaccine will be available for use in humans within the decade,” says Jeffrey Zipper, MD, the CEO of iRecovery USA, a telemedicine program in Boca Raton, FL.

Get Help Now

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

Life After Treatment: General Information