Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT)

If you or someone you know struggles with a substance use issue, you’re not alone. In 2021, nearly 30 million people in the U.S. were estimated to have had an alcohol use disorder in the past year, while another 24 million had a drug use disorder.1

Fortunately, alcohol and other substance use disorders are treatable conditions. Medications are an essential part of the treatment for certain substance use disorders, and in this article, you will learn about addiction treatment medications—what they are and how they can help with substance use disorder recovery.

What Is Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT)?

The concept of medication for addiction treatment (MAT) refers to several FDA-approved medications used in addition to behavioral therapies for treating substance use disorders.2

While the term “medication-assisted treatment” has also historically been applied to the same concept, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, the term is potentially misleading because it “implies that medication should have a supplemental or temporary role in treatment” rather than it being a core component of an ongoing treatment plan, as many psychiatric medications are for other chronic conditions.3

As our understanding of the role medication may play in certain types of SUD treatment evolves, the preferred terms are “addiction medication,” “medication for a substance use disorder,” or similar substance-specific language. This terminology acknowledges how critical medication is in a person’s substance use treatment plan.3

How Does MAT Help With Substance Use Disorders?

Addiction treatment medications, combined with behavioral therapies, are a proven way to treat substance use disorders and sustain recovery. MAT medications are a key element of the “whole-patient” approach to therapy, primarily aiming to achieve full recovery from substance use and addiction.2

Medications for addiction treatment combined with therapy have been shown to:2

  • Enhance patient survival.
  • Strengthen treatment retention.
  • Reduce and even prevent opioid overdose.
  • Improve a person’s ability to find and maintain work.
  • Decrease criminal activity associated with substance use.
  • Improve birth outcomes among pregnant women with substance use disorders.
  • Reduce the risk of contracting hepatitis C or HIV by decreasing possible relapse.

Addiction treatment medications are used for both alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder—2 commonly treated substance use disorders.1,2

Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder (MAUD)

There are multiple FDA-approved medications for alcohol use disorder (MAUD). When alcohol addiction medications are combined with behavioral interventions, some of the benefits can include:5

  • Reduced cravings.
  • Less impulse drinking.
  • Ease of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Increased dedication to treatment.
  • Improved motivation for abstinence.
  • Promoting a belief in the ability to change.

Before most MAT therapy for alcohol use disorder can be administered, it is necessary for a person to stop drinking alcohol. When stopping alcohol use, it’s important to understand that significant alcohol use may require a medically managed withdrawal to ensure safety and comfort.7,8

Alcohol withdrawal is a serious medical condition that can be life-threatening when left unmanaged. Symptoms usually begin 24–48 hours after alcohol cessation and can last up to a week or more.7

During a medically managed alcohol detox, care providers will closely monitor patients to ensure their comfort and safety while managing withdrawal symptoms.8 Addiction treatment professionals employ medications specific to relieving withdrawal symptoms.7

After detox, many patients continue treatment in an outpatient or inpatient setting. It is at this point that treatment will resume with a combination of behavioral health therapies—administered in both individual and group settings—with alcohol addiction medications to manage recovery efforts.7

These two important elements of care complement each other—counseling and other psychosocial therapies can help to improve treatment engagement and adherence to the prescribed medication regimen, while the medications may increase receptivity to psychosocial interventions by reducing cravings and helping a person remain abstinent.7

FDA-approved medications for alcohol use disorder can help people in recovery to better reduce their alcohol use, maintain abstinence, and avoid relapse.9 They include the following:

  • Disulfiram
  • Acamprosate
  • Naltrexone

These medications are discussed in greater detail below.

Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD)

Opioid use disorder can also be effectively treated with MAT therapy in combination with behavioral therapy. Through various mechanisms, different medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) may be used to:4

  • Reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms.
  • Reduce cravings.
  • Diminish or block the effects of any misused opioids.

Multiple medications for addiction treatment are FDA-approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder, including:4

  • Methadone.
  • Buprenorphine.
  • Naltrexone.

Extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms commonly accompany the cessation of opioids. These symptoms can be a major stumbling block for those attempting to recover from opioid addiction, and relapse is not uncommon.

Two of the three FDA-approved OUD treatment drugs may be initiated as part of a medically supervised withdrawal (detoxification) from opioids. For example, methadone or buprenorphine can be used to first manage opioid withdrawal symptoms and stabilize a person so that over time they can advance into further treatment.4

Unlike methadone and buprenorphine which can be used during detox, naltrexone is only administered after a period of abstinence to help prevent relapse.4

Much like alcohol use disorder treatment, continued inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment can support a person’s extended recovery. Treatment that combines behavioral therapy and medication for addiction treatment allows a person to learn the skills needed for lasting recovery.2,4

MAT Medications List

Employed throughout recovery, and through their various mechanisms of action, MAT medications can help manage acute withdrawal symptoms during detox, reduce cravings during recovery, and prevent relapse. They may also promote treatment compliance and reduce the risk of harmful behaviors.6

The following drugs are FDA-approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorder:7

  • Disulfiram. Disulfiram can deter drinking due to the adverse physical reactions—nausea, vomiting, skin flushing, heart palpitations, etc.—it causes should alcohol be consumed while taking it.
  • Acamprosate. This medication helps to minimize some of the lingering and troublesome symptoms of protracted alcohol abstinence to help people maintain sobriety.
  • Extended-release naltrexone injections. Extended-release intramuscular naltrexone injections are administered monthly. By blocking opioid receptors, naltrexone is thought to reduce the rewarding effects of continued drinking as well as to minimize cravings for alcohol. People who stop drinking before beginning naltrexone treatment may see the drug’s most significant benefit.
  • Oral naltrexone. This version of naltrexone is administered daily and blocks opioid receptors for a shorter duration than the extended-release naltrexone.

MAT medications approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder include:4

  • Methadone. An opioid agonist, methadone may be used both during medically supervised withdrawal from opioids and as a maintenance medication. It works to effectively reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and cravings to use opioids. Methadone also blunts or blocks the effects of illicit opioids in the case of relapse. Well-supported evidence-based research also shows methadone keeps people involved with treatment. Among these benefits, it helps reduce dangerous drug-related behaviors and overdose deaths.4
  • Buprenorphine. Used both during opioid detox and for long-term maintenance treatment, the partial agonist buprenorphine is either injected or administered under the tongue or along the inner cheek. Like methadone, buprenorphine reduces or eliminates withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings and blunts or blocks the effects of illicit opioids.4 In combination with naloxone, buprenorphine may be prescribed under the trade name Suboxone. This formulation aims to prevent intentional misuse of buprenorphine by precipitating withdrawal symptoms if it is used via untended routes, such as being first dissolved in solution for injection or nasal use.4
  • Naltrexone. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. Its role in treating opioid use disorder is to block the opioid receptors in the brain, reducing the opioid’s rewarding, pleasurable effects.4

Are Medications for Addiction Treatment Covered By Insurance?

Yes, medications for addiction treatment are often covered by insurance. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) ensures no further restrictions are applied to mental health and substance use treatment than other surgical or medical treatment.12

The extent of your coverage will vary depending on what type of health insurance you have and your specific plan benefits. As with other medical expenses, insurance plans may require you to meet a deductible and make co-payments.

To check your insurance coverage for rehab and addiction treatment medications, you can contact your insurance provider directly or complete our . You can also call us at .

How Long Does MAT Last?

The duration of MAT therapy depends on the drug taken and each person’s recovery course. Medical care providers work closely with patients to tailor the length of treatment to their individual needs.5,4

Some people may use medication for addiction treatment over a shorter timeline while others may use medication long-term. For example:

  • Naltrexone may be used as a short-term intervention for stable people (AUD and OUD) to prevent relapse.5
  • In cases of severe opioid use disorder, methadone or buprenorphine maintenance treatment may be used indefinitely, even lifelong. This can enable a person to live a full life and can also help to prevent them from returning to opioid use.4

Medication for Addiction Treatment at Recovery First

Located in sunny Hollywood, Florida, Recovery First Treatment Center is a premier alcohol and drug rehab near Miami. The facility offers several levels of addiction treatment and customizes care to ensure each person’s individual needs are met.

Medication for addiction treatment is provided by experienced addiction treatment clinicians who work with patients to help them achieve lasting recovery.

Recovery First, as well as the other AAC facilities across the country, also offer specialized treatment tracks like the Veteran and First Responder Program. Such programs address concerns specific to certain experiences.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

The Price of Not Getting Help
When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Contact Recovery First, and we will help you or your loved one get the treatment needed to stop the dangerous, progressive effects of addiction.