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Am I Really Sober if I’m on Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Opioid addiction is a chronic and progressive condition that affects 16 million people worldwide and more than 2 million people in the United States.[1]

If you struggle with opioid addiction, you know how difficult it can be to recover. Unfortunately, relapse is prevalent among individuals in early recovery. And, as the opioid epidemic continues to worsen with the introduction of illicit fentanyl into a wide array of street drugs, relapsing on opioids has become increasingly lethal.

Because of the dangers of relapse, people working in the addiction recovery field knew they had to come up with a new and unique form of treatment for their patients. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) was their answer. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has reported that medication-assisted treatment provides an array of benefits, including improved patient survival and lessened chances of relapse.[2]

Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma surrounding medication-assisted treatment. Some people believe that people on MAT aren’t actually sober because they are “swapping one drug for another.”

The truth is that MAT can save lives, and the medications used are backed by clinical trials, decades of research, and FDA approval. The idea that you aren’t sober if you’re on MAT is extremely harmful to the people who can benefit most from this life-saving treatment approach.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a type of addiction treatment that includes the use of FDA-approved medications in combination with traditional and evidence-based behavioral therapies. MAT programs use the same forms of treatment that a typical substance abuse recovery program would, while adding FDA-approved medications that make the recovery process easier on you (the patient).

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Services reports that MAT programs provide the following benefits:[2]

  • Improved patient survival
  • Increased retention in treatment
  • Decreased illicit opiate use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders
  • Increased patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment
  • Improved birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant
  • Lessened risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C by lowering your chances of relapse

Some medications are intended to be used during the detox and withdrawal stage of recovery, like methadone and buprenorphine. These substances lessen your symptoms of withdrawal and prevent cravings from occurring, helping you stay sober during the earliest stages of your recovery.

Many people also use these medications on a more long-term basis as relapse prevention medications. Medications like naltrexone and buprenorphine block the opioid receptors in your brain that cause you to experience cravings. They reduce cravings without activating opioid receptors, preventing you from getting “high” on the medication.

Are You Sober If You’re Participating in a MAT Program?

While many people criticize medication-assisted treatment programs, saying patients are just “swapping one drug for another,” this is far from the truth. Addiction is a chronic disease that requires consistent treatment, just like diabetes or depression. No one would tell someone with one of those conditions that they couldn’t take their medication, so why perpetuate a stigma against a form of addiction treatment that is proven to save lives?

If you are currently participating in medication-assisted treatment and not abusing opioids, you are sober. The belief that taking medication to treat addiction means you are not sober is not only harmful but highly misleading. These medications do not cause mind-altering effects when taken as directed by your doctor and are only provided by licensed and trained professionals.

MAT medications do not provide you with psychoactive effects. According to the South Dakota Department of Social Services, these medications work to:[3]

  • Block the euphoric effects of opioids
  • Relieve cravings
  • Normalize brain chemistry
  • Normalize physical functions without withdrawal effects

When you are in a MAT program, you participate in extensive individual therapy, group counseling, addiction education groups, and much more. The medication you take is only there to make it easier for you to remain focused in the recovery process and prevent you from experiencing an unnecessary relapse.

How to Deal With Family Members and Friends Who Disagree With MAT

While there is plenty of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of medication-assisted treatment, there will still be people who don’t support it. If your family members or close friends are having a hard time understanding how your MAT program is helping you, there are a few things you can do.

First, try and educate them about what medication-assisted treatment programs actually entail. Remind them that the medication is only a small aspect of the recovery process and explain the extensive therapy and counseling that you are participating in. You could also show them statistics on the success rates of MAT programs.

If providing them with the facts yourself does not work, consider asking your therapist to bring them in for a family session. Sometimes, hearing that the program is safe and effective from a professional will ease their worries. After all, they did watch you deal with the effects of addiction and suffered from some of those effects themselves.

Lastly, if you cannot gain their support despite providing them with education and endorsements from professionals, you need to remember that your recovery and happiness are more important. If you are sober, happy, and living a productive life, eventually they will realize that medication-assisted treatment was the right choice for you.

Find out if Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is Right for You

If you or a loved one suffer from opioid addiction, medication-assisted treatment may be right for you. Opioid addiction is difficult to overcome, especially when you consider the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms you’ll have to endure during the detox stage of recovery. Thankfully, MAT medications can lessen these symptoms and prevent cravings from occurring entirely – allowing you to focus on the emotional and psychological aspects of recovery.

To learn more about medication-assisted treatment and how it can help, contact Carolina Center for Recovery today.