Medication assisted treatment, or MAT, means using FDA-approved medications as part of an integrated treatment plan. For people with opioid addictions, this typically means taking methadone or buprenorphine, a strategy called opioid replacement therapy. Among people who study opioid addiction, MAT, along with therapy or counselling is considered the gold standard of opioid addiction treatment. Yet it remains controversial. Most addiction treatment centers don’t offer MAT, neither do most jails and prisons. 12-step programs such as AA or NA completely dismiss the idea that someone on MAT could legitimately be considered sober. Some people glibly dismiss MAT as replacing one addiction with another. This resistance is often born of misunderstanding and the people who really want to recover from opioid addiction pay the price. Here’s why MAT isn’t simply replacing one addiction with another.

Dependence is not the same as addiction.

Dependence and addiction are often used interchangeably, but they are not quite the same thing. Dependence is when your body physically adapts to the presence of a substance. For example, when a certain dose of opioids no longer has the desired effect of pain relief or euphoria, that signals dependence. You need to use the drug at that dose just to feel normal. Addiction, on the other hand, is more about your attitude toward a substance. It’s when you’re preoccupied with it. You need it. You are willing to do things you would normally consider unethical to get it. You would rather use that substance than go to work or talk to your friends. Dependence is often a powerful element of addiction, but people often become dependent on opioids without showing the classic signs of addiction.

Someone on MAT is technically dependent on the medication, in that they would experience withdrawal if they quit, but the medication helps to forestall the addictive behavior. It’s only trading addiction for dependence, a trade many people can live with.

Chronic conditions require long-term treatment.

One of the unfortunate truths about addiction is that some of the changes it makes to your brain may be permanent. Certainly, they last a long time, especially for powerful drugs like opioids. Although the brain is plastic and always changing, addiction cuts a deep groove and sometimes therapy and positive life changes aren’t enough to protect you from relapse. This is why addiction is typically considered a chronic condition. Like other chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, addiction often requires ongoing treatment. In fact, studies have shown that relapse rates for addiction are comparable to those of diabetes and heart disease, reflecting the challenge of making any major life change.

Medication allows people to function.

Perhaps the most important thing about MAT is that someone on methadone or buprenorphine can function normally, while someone with an active opioid addiction can’t. They can go to work, they can drive, they can meet their family responsibilities. Perhaps most importantly, they can keep breathing. While it is possible to overdose on methadone, it’s far more likely to overdose on whatever opioid you bought on the street. MAT gives people their lives back and lowers their risk of fatal overdose. Having to take medication every day is a small price to pay.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.