When most people envision addiction treatment, they typically think about 12-step programs popular in the past.
But despite the long-standing tradition of treating addiction solely with group talk, an appeal to a higher power, and other essential aspects of conventional 12-step programs, research shows that using evidence-based therapies like medically assisted treatments actually garners far superior results.
Let’s take a look at what the science says and why non-12 step rehab and medically assisted detox are so successful.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Addiction is a chronic and physical disease according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA). And while there is currently a fair amount of debate over the use of the term, most institutions and addiction specialists have started treating a substance dependency as a disease rather than as a moral failing or lack of willpower.
This often goes directly against the teachings of 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Some recovering addicts are even shamed and ridiculed directly for opting for programs that have a heftier repository of data supporting their effectiveness.
These treatments come in several varieties, most of which apply to opioid addiction, one of the biggest health concerns of addiction specialists today. One approach is using longer-acting and less potent opioids to help reduce the severity of drug withdrawals, thus leading to a more successful detox and a significantly lower chance of relapsing.
These therapies usually consist of methadone and, more recently, combinations of buprenorphine and naloxone branded as Suboxone and Subutex. These drugs help opioid-dependent users get through the incredibly uncomfortable detoxification process.
Another method is to use other compounds in the long-term in order to reduce cravings, hold off withdrawals, and remove the incentives for abusing drugs again. These treatments can be especially lengthy and may last as long as months or even years. Essentially, rather than bridging the gap between addiction and sobriety, they instead trade off one addiction for another.
How Effective Is Drug-Assisted Detox?
The results are clear – medication-assisted treatments (MATs) are far more effective than traditional detox. According to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA:
I don’t think that there’s any areas where the data is shaky. It clearly shows better outcomes with medication-assisted therapy than without it… Studies have shown that outcomes are much better when you are on medication-assisted therapy. For one, it decreases risk of relapse — significantly. Second, MAT has also been shown to be effective in preventing infectious diseases like HIV. Third, medication-assisted therapy has been shown to be effective in preventing overdoses.
One study, in particular, found that incorporating MATs into addiction treatment in Baltimore resulted in a decrease in heroin overdose deaths by a whopping 37%. What’s more, it was also directly responsible for reducing criminal activity in the area, opioid use in general, as well as the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
Unfortunately, despite the effectiveness of these therapies, many treatment centers still do not utilize these powerful and beneficial drugs. According to NIDA, less than half of treatment programs actually offered MATs.
Partnering with a Pro-MAT Facility
Given the proven effectiveness of MATs in treating addiction, it’s critical that you seek out facilities that support a medication-assisted treatment program rather than one that relies solely on outdated therapies.
Doing so will make detox far more comfortable, reduce the risk of relapsing, and help ensure your overall chances of a successful recovery are as high as possible.