Is Medication Assisted Treatment Right for Me?
When it comes to addiction’s damaging effects, most drugs follow the same course in terms of how they diminish a person’s physical and mental well-being over time. However, some drugs leave behind certain “aftereffects” that can persist long after a person stops abusing drugs.
By far, opiate-type drugs, be it heroin or prescription pain pails, are notorious for producing aftereffects that exert a “hold” over recovering addicts long into the recovery process. This is especially the case for people with long histories of opiate abuse.
In order to address the long-term effects of addiction, treatment programs provide recovering addicts with the option to receive medication assisted treatment throughout the course of the recovery process. If you (or someone you know) are considering medication assisted treatment options, understanding how opiates attack the body and the role medication assisted treatments play can go a long way towards determining whether this approach is right for you.
Effects of Drugs on the Body
Most all addictive drugs produce psychoactive effects, altering essential neurotransmitter chemical processes in the brain. Neurotransmitters make it possible for the various regions of the brain to communicate, so any abnormalities in chemical levels can greatly disrupt normal brain and body functions.
Under normal conditions, certain brain cell sites secrete neurotransmitter chemicals on an as-needed basis. When a person abuses drugs, each dose causes cell sites to release massive amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals. Over time, the drug’s effects take a considerable toll on overall brain function.
In effect, the longer a person abuses drugs, the more out of balance brain chemical levels become. Along with widespread chemical imbalances, individual brain cell structures undergo considerable damage in the process. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when a person enters treatment, the damage brought on by drug abuse may warrant medication assisted treatment.
Medication assisted treatment options are designed to alleviate the “aftereffects” that so often threaten a person’s attempts to maintain abstinence in recovery. Addiction’s aftereffects stem from damaged brain cell structures, which over time can affect entire regions of the brain. This degree of damage essentially reconfigures the way the brain functions as a whole.
The widespread chemical imbalances brought on by long-term drug abuse also warp a critical region known as the brain reward system. This system coordinates learning processes and for the most part determines what keeps a person motivated through the day.
Once a drug’s effects start to alter chemical processes within the brain’s reward system, addiction has taken hold. In the absence of medication assisted treatment, many long-time drug users will fight a losing battle against addiction’s aftereffects.
The Role of Medication Assisted Treatment
Opiate addictions are well known for their high relapse rates. It’s not uncommon for people who’ve maintained abstinence for years at a time to relapse, seemingly out of nowhere. Medication assisted treatment provides a much needed physical support for damaged brain functions during most any stage of the recovery process.
Addiction’s aftereffects can make it especially difficult for those in recovery to understand and implement the tools and strategies offered in treatment. In effect, medication assisted treatment enables recovering addicts to feel normal again and function effectively in daily life.
Types of Medication Assisted Treatment
Addiction’s effects within different peoples’ lives can vary considerably depending on:
- Duration of drug use
- Drug treatment history
- Potential for relapse
- Level of motivation to get well
Each of these factors influences treatment outcomes as well as the likelihood of a successful recovery. For these reasons, medication assisted treatment approaches work with a wide selection of treatment medications, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.
Some of the more commonly used medications include:
Each of these medication assisted treatments offers its own set of therapeutic benefits. Where methadone, Subutex and Suboxone work to relieve withdrawal and drug cravings effects, naltrexone works as a counteractive measure in the event a person does succumb to relapse. Ultimately, a person’s individual treatment needs determine which medication will best address the challenges he or she faces in recovery.
Stage of Treatment
While medication-based remedies often play a critical role in helping to relieve uncomfortable detox symptoms, medication assisted treatment approaches can be used within any stage of the recovery process. Methadone, in particular, offers considerable relief during the detox stage, however it’s most often used as a maintenance-type treatment during the later stages of recovery. Likewise, Subutex, Suboxone and naltrexone can also be used during most any stage of recovery.
People who’ve been in and out of drug treatment with little to no success may well benefit from the therapeutic benefits afforded by long-term maintenance therapies, whereas someone at the early stages of addiction may not require medication assisted treatment at all. Ultimately, the severity of your addiction will likely have a significant bearing on whether medication assisted treatment is right for you.
More oftentimes than not, the effects of chronic opiate abuse make a person more susceptible to developing psychological problems, such as bipolar, anxiety and/or depression disorders. For someone struggling with mental illness on top of an addiction problem, maintaining abstinence in recovery is even more difficult because of how these two conditions aggravate one another.
Both addiction and mental illness stem from chemical imbalances in the brain. When both conditions exist, brain chemical imbalances run rampant leaving a person helpless to control the urge to use drugs.
Under these conditions, medication assisted treatment can prove invaluable in terms of helping a person manage withdrawal and cravings aftereffects. In the process, recovering addicts are in a better state of mind to benefit from treatment obtained to address a co-occurring disorder.
While medication assisted treatment does offer a range of therapeutic benefits that ultimately improve recovery outcomes, this approach does come with drawbacks. Many of the drugs used in medication assisted treatment contain synthetic, opiate-type ingredients and so carry a low potential for addiction.
As withdrawal and cravings aftereffects result from the brain’s ongoing dependence on opiates, synthetic opiate medications does a good job at managing these symptoms. In effect, medication assisted treatment works to manage the aftereffects of addiction rather than as a treatment “cure.”
While the risk of becoming addicted is low, it’s still something to keep in mind when deciding whether a medication treatment approach is right for you.