In January of 2023, the White House released a statement stating there were “107,477 predicted overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in August 2022.” Believe it or not, these are numbers that actually represent a decrease in overdose deaths in the United States. Well, decrease or not, this statistic makes it clear that substance abuse poses a serious mental health crisis in this country.
When a serious crisis presents itself, it often takes serious measures to combat it. Further, when dealing with mental health, one of those serious measures involves medication-assisted treatment (MAT). However, MAT often faces two obstacles in the public sphere. First, people minimize its severity because “it seems like everyone is on something for their mental health,” which is simply untrue. The second obstacle is that people demonize MAT, because they see it as an “easy” alternative to non-medication treatments, which is also untrue.
MAT is highly effective in treating those with mental health disorders, including substance use disorders (SUDs) such as alcohol use disorder (AUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD). However, MAT is also most effective when it is administered alongside other forms of evidence-based treatments. In fact, we here at The Phoenix Recovery Center argue that MAT should always be administered alongside other treatments. Ultimately, it has been shown that MAT integrated with behavioral therapy or counseling can be a highly useful approach to combating the co-occurring mental health disorders of addiction.
The Importance of a Customized MAT Plan for Mental Health Recovery
First of all, it is important to get a unified grasp on what exactly MAT is. This is because it is much more than simply taking medication as a “quick fix”, as many people misunderstand it to be.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines MAT as, “The use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Medications used are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are clinically driven and tailored to meet each patient’s needs.”
There are a couple of stand-outs in this definition. One is the importance of MAT being administered “in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies.” Another is the importance of tailoring a MAT recovery plan according to the individual’s mental health needs.
Utilizing Every Option for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery
Just as no individual is the same, no individual’s mental health or addiction is the same. So if that maxim holds true, then no individual’s recovery plan should be the same, either. When it comes to MAT, this also holds true in two ways: the pharmacological and the psychological.
Several medications can be administered for those utilizing MAT, but as SAMHSA stated earlier, these medications must all be approved by the FDA. That is why it is so crucial that MAT be first administered in a close clinical setting by a MAT-specialized therapist or doctor. From there, the continuation of MAT must be closely and medically monitored, as some of these medications can have side effects. This is especially true with individuals that have other mental health comorbidities.
The second aspect of MAT to consider is the psychological, or potentially even the neuropsychological. This is the mental health or behavioral therapy portion of MAT. It allows the individual to delve deeper into the underlying mental health issues of their addiction. This is made much easier because MAT can quell the other side effects of an individual’s substance withdrawal.
The Benefits of Medication-Assisted Therapy
There are several benefits to a program involving MAT, and these should all be taken in a pros and cons analysis when weighing them against potential pharmacological side effects. According to SAMHSA, some of the benefits of MAT are:
- Increased rate of client survival
- Improvement in client treatment retention
- Marked improvement in overall mental health
- Decrease in criminality and contracting physical ailments
- Reduction in relapse
SAMSHA also concluded that there is one more critical benefit to MAT, explaining, “A key advantage of MAT is that it can be offered in primary care practices and not just specialized treatment programs, making treatment more accessible to people with substance use disorders.” Accessibility can be key to recovery.
Addiction and Mental Health Recovery for the Long-Term
The goal of MAT is not to keep an individual on medication forever. Rather, it is meant to ease the beginnings of treatment, so that a more well-rounded long-term recovery can be attained and, more importantly, maintained.
For those with substance use disorder (SUD), or a mental health disorder, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be a highly effective recovery tool. However, MAT should not be utilized on its own, rather it should be utilized in tandem with other forms of treatment. This may include psychological, psychoneurological, and behavioral therapies. It is also important to understand that MAT should be closely monitored and requires close work with clinicians and healthcare professionals. If you feel that you or someone you love may be struggling with SUD, please know that you are alone. Whether with MAT, another therapy, or a combination of both, there are many great options to get the help you need today. For more information, call The Phoenix Recovery Center at (801) 438-3185.