Medical-assisted treatment (MAT) is a type of pharmacotherapy that treats drug and alcohol addiction through the administration of drugs. Pharmacotherapy can be very beneficial for individuals who are abusing drugs or alcohol and seeking treatment for this substance abuse. Like all alcohol and drug treatment programs, there are pros and cons to pharmacology.

If you are considering pharmacology as part of a drug or alcohol treatment program, you may have many questions about what to expect and how effective this treatment technique will be. Below are the answers to four of the most frequently asked questions about pharmacology for drug and alcohol treatment:

#1: How can pharmacotherapy help someone who is using drugs or alcohol?

As part of a comprehensive treatment program, pharmacotherapy has been show to:

  • Improve survival rates
  • Increase retention in treatment
  • Decrease illicit drug use
  • Improve birth outcomes for perinatal addicts

Methadone, for example, is a drug that helps treat heroin and morphine addiction.

When administered at a stable individualized dose, methadone eliminates an individual’s desire to inject illegal drugs, which significantly reduces the risk for needle-born diseases including HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis.

#2: What medications are available for alcohol dependence?

Currently, there are three primary medications available for treating alcohol dependence. These medications are:

  • Naltrexone (available under the names (ReVia, Vivitrol and Depade)
  • Disulfiram (available under the name Antabuse)
  • Acamprosate Calcium (available under the name Campral)

These drugs are designed to reduce the body’s desire and dependence on alcohol.

Naltrexone, for example, diminishes the neurological pleasure of using alcohol by reducing dopamine release. Studies show that Naltrexone reduces the body’s craving for alcohol in both alcohol-dependent individuals and social drinkers.

#3: What medications are available for opioid drug dependency?

The U.S. Drug and Food Administration has approved three medications for treating opioid dependency:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine (available under the names Suboxone and Subutex)
  • Naltrexone

Both methadone and buprenorphine are opioid-based drugs. These drugs are typically prescribed for individuals with a moderate to severe opioid drug addiction (e.g., serious heroin or morphine abuse).

These drugs are used to take away the body’s craving for heroin or morphine. Naltrexone is not an opioid-based drug; it works by blocking the effects of heroin and morphine. Naltrexone is most effective for individuals who are in the early stages of heroin and morphine addiction.

#4: What are the risks of pharmacotherapy for treating alcohol and drug dependence?

While drugs like methadone offer many important treatment benefits, since methadone is an opioid medication, there is a risk of dependency. Methadone has been used for more than 45 years to treat individuals with heroin and alcohol addiction.

However, methadone should only be used in conjunction with a comprehensive program that includes drug counseling and close behavioral monitoring.

In some cases, individuals have developed a co-dependency for both methadone and heroin, or replaced their heroin addiction with an addiction to methadone.

Additionally, it may take some initial experimentation to determine the correct treatment dose for methadone. When used at the proper dose under medical supervision, however, the outcome is generally positive.

A medical professional or qualified substance abuse specialist can answer additional questions you may have about the benefits of pharmacotherapy for the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse.