If someone in your family is battling an addiction to opioid drugs, you probably feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster.

If someone in your family is battling an addiction to opioid drugs, you probably feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. You want them to get the help they need to beat addiction, but it’s heartbreaking when you see how sick they feel any time they try to stop. They’ll experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and very strong cravings. The side effects of withdrawal are often so severe, and the cravings so strong, that they drive most addicts to start using the drug again – even if they want to quit. 

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) can help. You may never have thought about the benefits of replacing one drug with another, but MAT has been proven to be an effective – and compassionate – way to overcome addiction.

“Medication-assisted therapy reduces withdrawal symptoms and gives the person a fighting chance against their cravings,” said Stephen J. Paolucci, M.D., chairman of psychiatry at Geisinger Health System. “It can help them focus on the hard work of recovery.”

MAT treats the whole person
“MAT is so much more than taking a medication to reduce cravings in the hopes that it helps the person overcome their addiction,” said Dr. Paolucci. “The person addicted to the drug is treated holistically, which means all issues related to their addiction are addressed.”

The medication can help with the physical withdrawal and cravings, but that’s only the beginning. As a part of treatment, patients are connected to drug and alcohol counseling and behavioral therapies designed to provide the tools for living a productive life while avoiding relapse. Often, family members are involved in the treatment process, which can help everyone in the addict’s life begin the healing process.

In fact, federal law requires that people receiving MAT as part of an opioid treatment program must also receive medical assessment and treatment, plus referral for counseling. 

How MAT helps
When MAT is combined with counseling and therapy, it’s clinically proven to improve addiction treatment and recovery in the following ways:

  • It improves the person’s chances for success in beating the addiction and staying healthy.
  • It increases the amount of time they’ll stay in recovery programs, which means addicts are less likely to leave treatment ahead of schedule.
  • It decreases future drug use among addicts, helping them to gain employment.
  • It helps addicts who are pregnant to give birth to healthier babies.

“Addiction creates other problems beyond the negative effects of the drug,” said Dr. Paolucci. “Medication-assisted therapy reduces the likelihood of relapse and helps them avoid contracting diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C.”

Isn’t is just trading one addiction for another?
“Family members of someone addicted to opioids should take comfort in fact that MAT is supervised by a doctor with the end goal of becoming substance free,” said Dr. Paolucci. “Doctors working with addicts always have their best interests at heart and do all they can to help them get healthy.”

Keep in mind that addiction is a chronic disease  just like asthma or cancer are chronic diseases , and it can require medication in much the same way. The likelihood of becoming addicted to the medicine used during this type of therapy is greatly reduced under the watchful eye of a doctor. Couple this supervision with the other aspects of MAT – counseling and therapy – and that likelihood is reduced even further.

“For patients committed to the recovery process who need additional help to overcome their addiction, MAT can be a lifesaver,” said Dr. Paolucci.

If you or someone you love is suffering with an addiction, contact your doctor today to see if medication-assisted therapy could be right for your recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call Marworth at 800-442-7722 or visit Marworth.org for more information.