The Science Behind MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment)

MAT (medication-assisted treatment) is the use of prescription medicines, like Suboxone or Naltrexone, to treat opioid or alcohol addiction. The medications, prescribed and supervised by medical professionals, eliminate the desire to take opioids and reduce withdrawal symptoms. The use of MAT for addiction treatment has been approved by the FDA and is supported by the U.S. Surgeon General.

In fact, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a report in 2016 that said:

“The science is clear: Medication-assisted treatment works. The research clearly demonstrates that MAT leads to better treatment outcomes compared to behavior treatments alone. Moreover, withholding medications greatly increases the risk of relapse to illicit opioid use and overdose death. Decades of research have shown that the benefits of MAT greatly outweigh the risks associated with diversion [sharing prescription drugs].”

Buprenorphine, a part of Suboxone, is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines, which are defined as addressing priority health care needs. MAT has been shown in several studies to lead to decreased levels of:

  • Opioid use
  • Overdose deaths
  • Criminal activity
  • Infectious disease transmission

How Do Opioids Work?

Opioids work by penetrating the brain area and latching onto certain brain cells, causing a flood of neurotransmitters in the brain, which produces a euphoric effect or high in the body. This can translate into a physical need for more of the drug. If a person has the right combination of genetics and psychological makeup, drugs can have a more powerful impact leading to addiction.

Suboxone, a key medication used in MAT, is made up of an opioid “agonist” (buprenorphine), which activates the brain’s addiction centers, and an “antagonist” (naloxone ), an opioid blocker. Since Suboxone contains a mild opioid, it attaches to the same brain cells as opioids. However, it also contains a component to counteract the normal effects of opioids, preventing cravings and reducing withdrawal symptoms.

Scientific Studies on MAT

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says MAT has “proved to be clinically effective and to significantly reduce the need for inpatient detoxification services.”

MAT is often used in conjunction with rehab or addiction treatment therapy. But MAT can be successful Several studies have shown that with or without traditional counseling, MAT is effective in helping in treating opioid use disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, adding psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy did not improve the effectiveness of MAT in several research cases.

One breakthrough long-term study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse demonstrated the effectiveness of MAT. Researchers looked at abstinence rates in MAT patients and found that after 18 months, 50 percent of patients reported being off drugs. The really interesting result is that after 3.5 years, the number of drug-free subjects had risen to 61 percent. And less than 10 percent of the patients could be medically diagnosed as addicted.

MAT Is Safe and Effective

Medications used in MAT have been approved by the FDA. And the American Medical Association has pushed to make MAT more available and acceptable. Citing alarming fatal overdose rates due to opioid use and alcohol use, Patrice A. Harris, M.D., chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force, said:

“We know what works. We can point to states where making access to medication-assisted treatment has been a priority, and the mortality rates are going down. This epidemic will not be reversed until we deal with access issues and stigma associated with opioid misuse.”

If you have been living with addiction and are seeking a route to recovery, consider medication-assisted treatment. For more information about our MAT program, call one of our compassionate advisors: (888) 660-6470. Or email us at

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