A Soft Landing in Sobriety

By The Fix staff 02/13/19

After hitting rock bottom, medication-assisted treatment can help people get back on their feet.

Doctor explaining medication to patient, MAT, medication-assisted treatment

Not too long ago, getting into recovery was all about abstinence. However, addiction treatment professionals have realized that merging modern science with counseling and the tenets of traditional 12-step recovery can strengthen people’s ability to remain clean and sober. That’s why medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has taken off, quickly becoming a standard of care in addiction medicine, particularly when it comes to treating opioid use disorder.

“The goal of every recovery program is to generate as many sober days as possible,” said Mark Shandrow, CEO of Asana Recovery, which offers detox, residential treatment and an outpatient program in Costa Mesa, California. “The goal of medication-assisted treatment is to stretch that timeline out, which gives the patient more time to acclimate to sobriety and normal life, and to gain the therapy that will ultimately provide the tools for long term sobriety.”

While abstinence is wonderful, going from actively using drugs to being entirely sober can be overwhelming. Too often, people succumb to the physical and mental turmoil of withdrawal and end up leaving treatment to get their fix. MAT helps mitigate this risk. Using carefully-prescribed medications under the guidance of doctors who are knowledgeable about addiction, patients are able to manage their symptoms and cravings while learning to live a sober life.

Although using medications to overcome addiction and dependency is controversial in some circles, it can be lifesaving for the people most at risk for relapse.

“I see why many people believe that MAT is an easy way, and I would ask them if they learned to ride a bike without training wheels?” Shandrow said.

The more time a person spends engaged with a treatment program, the more likely they are to maintain their sobriety.

“Placing the individual on a MAT program helps to drop the cravings and acts as a deterrent to opioid use, which generally results in the patient spending more time in the treatment center and reduces their likelihood of leaving treatment to go use drugs,” he explained.

Medications can be used at various points in the recovery process. During detox, medications can help manage the violent physical symptoms for people who are getting off of opioids or alcohol. Some people then turn to medications to help them get through treatment, or to stay sober in the long-term.

At Asana, the most common medication used to facilitate treatment is Suboxone, which contains the opioid buprenorphine. Although it is an opioid, Suboxone can be safely used to manage opioid use disorder in the long-term, helping people stay away from more harmful illicit opioids. The drug has a doubled-edged approach to encouraging sobriety: people on Suboxone experience less intense cravings for opioids. And if they do use, they don’t get the euphoric high that they’re seeking.

“If a patient attempts to get high while on Suboxone, they will not feel any of the ‘high,’” Shandrow said.

Because of this, MAT is an especially important tool for people who have been in treatment before but who have relapsed or failed to achieve lasting sobriety.

“Sometimes the MAT is the added tool they need to break the cycle,” Shandrow said.

Using Suboxone can have other, unintended benefits. Many patients arrive at treatment needing dental work or other physical procedures for which they might be prescribed opioids, increasing their relapse risk. At Asana, providers work to schedule these procedures while the client is on a Suboxone regimen, because the medication is already providing pain relief.

Although Suboxone and other medications for treatment can be used long-term, some clients want to be able to transition to an abstinence-based approach to recovery. The staff at Asana work with these individuals to develop a MAT plan that will give them benefits, while also advancing them toward that goal.

“On several occasions we have set up a 30- or 60-day MAT program, which allowed the individual to taper off the MAT before moving to an outpatient program,” Shandrow explained. “This soft landing is extremely beneficial for individuals who have repeated attempts at treatment, but prefer not to go onto a long-term MAT program.”

Just like counseling and other aspects of sobriety, MAT can be tailored to fit the unique needs of each client that Asana Recovery serves.

Asana Recovery offers residential and outpatient treatment in Costa Mesa, California. Learn more by calling 949-438-4504.

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