Medication Assisted Treatment for Veterans
Substance use affects veterans at a high rate. Whether it’s to block out feelings from what you’ve seen in combat or to numb pain, substance use can quickly get out of control. The good news is that there are many treatment options available to help veterans get back on the right course.
Medication assisted treatment, or MAT, is one such treatment option. This consists of many different medications that can help you overcome substance use. Many people find that MAT gives them the edge they need to win. Let’s discuss what MAT is, what substances it helps with and whether you will lose your military coverage.
What Is Medication Assisted Treatment?
As a veteran, you want to make sure what you do is effective and able to help you win the battle against substance use. We will talk about the stigma surrounding MAT.
MAT is part of a holistic approach that assists with the biological side of addiction. While some people use only MAT, it is designed to be used in tandem with therapy that aids in identifying your triggers and changing your thoughts about use.
MAT uses medication that prevents withdrawal symptoms, engages your opioid receptors and reduces the pleasurable effects of using. This helps you manage cravings so that you can begin to accumulate positive sober experiences while also detoxing.
Unlike some medications that must be continued once you start them, MAT is meant to be temporary. The length of time you’ll need these medications largely depends on your own recovery journey, but the goal is to reduce your cravings and safely wean you off the medication at the appropriate time.
What Substances Does MAT Help With?
While MAT is effective and helps you overcome substance use, it isn’t available for every type of substance. This is important to know because you don’t want to request treatment methods that may not be available for your unique presentation.
MAT is currently used for both opiates and alcohol. Options for opioid use disorder are plentiful, but fewer options exist if you find that alcohol is your substance of choice.
The good news is that this addresses two of the most common substances. Opiates have exploded in popularity and are commonly overused. Alcohol is easily accessible, and it can be very easy to go from just a few drinks to drinking far more than you intended.
There currently aren’t MAT options for many stimulant substances such as cocaine or meth, but that could change. Even if these are your substances of choice, it’s a good idea to discuss your needs with a doctor so that they can help adjust your current medications to assist with your recovery.
How Does MAT Work?
You might be curious how MAT actually helps you win the battle against substances. The answer depends on what medication you are prescribed as they function differently. Finding the right one depends on your specific needs, your tolerance levels to the medication and many other factors that your prescriber will explain.
The FDA has currently approved three medications for MAT: methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone.
While some people find its name confusing, methadone is used for opioid use disorder. Methadone is a type of opioid that can give you some of the effects associated with opioid use. The effects are significantly lower and reduce cravings while preventing withdrawal symptoms as the medication still engages the opioid receptors in your brain. While there are take-home bottles, you will usually be given a daily dose at the clinic when you first begin treatment.
Buprenorphine is now one of the most popular MAT options. It is similar to methadone in that it also engages your opioid receptors but to a lower extent. This means that the effect isn’t as strong and it’s easier to engage in your everyday life while receiving treatment. Buprenorphine is dispensed as a tablet or a dissolvable film.
Buprenorphine is commonly prescribed under the brand names Subutex and Suboxone. Subutex is just buprenorphine while Suboxone is buprenorphine-naloxone. Naloxone is more commonly known as Narcan, a rescue medication that can save someone’s life in the event of an opioid overdose.
Suboxone has a weaker effect, making it harder for people to use additional opioids as it won’t give any of the feel-good reactions. Many people find that this works best for them. Just like buprenorphine by itself, it can be taken as a tablet or film.
Naltrexone is the last medication approved by the FDA. Unlike the other medications that engage your opioid receptors, this medication completely blocks the effects of opioids. In fact, you will feel withdrawal effects immediately if you do try using opioids. The goal is to prevent opioid use as it’s not pleasurable.
While methadone and buprenorphine are used exclusively to treat opioid use disorder, naltrexone has been shown to be effective against alcohol use as well. Many people report feeling reduced cravings for alcohol when they are taking naltrexone.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol and Opiates
If you are actively using, you may not know what the withdrawal symptoms of these substances are. Some people are worried about stopping their use because they don’t know what to expect. Others have been through withdrawals before and don’t want to face them again.
The common withdrawal symptoms for heroin and other opiates are:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Runny nose
- Body pains and aches
- Vomiting and stomach pain
The common withdrawal symptoms of alcohol include:
- Shaking hands and other body parts
- Headache and sensitivity to light
- Vomiting and nausea
- Heart racing
- High blood pressure
It’s important to note that most MAT options help you overcome withdrawal symptoms, but you need to discuss this with your prescriber to ensure you’re getting the right medication. As stated above, there are numerous MAT options, and the right one depends on your needs, level of use and relapse potential.
Does the VA Cover MAT Options?
If you’re like many other veterans, you might be worried about whether the VA will cover MAT options. You might also feel stigma around getting treatment for substance use and be concerned that you will lose your VA benefits.
The VA currently recognizes MAT as a viable treatment option for those suffering from opioid and alcohol use disorders. They understand that therapy used with MAT is the most effective way to overcome substance use. Because of this, you shouldn’t lose your benefits for engaging in a necessary treatment plan. However, it is important to contact your VA representative to get the most current information.
How Long Does MAT Last?
You likely want to know how long MAT lasts. The truth is that it largely depends on your presentation and the medication you are prescribed.
If you are started on a low or moderate dose and manage your cravings well, you likely won’t be on MAT for too long. However, many people feel their cravings creep up as their medications are tapered down, which means that treatment needs to last longer. This isn’t a bad thing. Because treatments differ for each individual, it’s important that you don’t put value judgments on your recovery.
Some people need MAT for months while others may need it for years, but the ultimate goal is to get you off MAT once you are stabilized. Remember, you don’t stop treatment without a prescriber helping you. Doing so can lead to side effects and significant cravings.
How Do You Start MAT Treatment?
Finding an MAT facility for veterans sounds difficult, but it really is not difficult at all. You simply need to get paired with a facility that understands your unique needs. Finding a facility that takes your insurance is also important. If you’re looking to get treatment now, then head over to VeteransRehab.org. You can get the treatment you need from a facility that respects you for who you are without any forms of judgment.
Be sure to discuss your needs with your prescriber, what you are comfortable with and your level of use so that they know exactly what to prescribe you. This will help you get the best treatment possible.
Keep in mind that MAT is rarely done as the only form of treatment. It has been shown to be most effective with talk therapy. The therapy will help you change your thoughts and emotions while keeping you on the path to recovery. MAT addresses the biological side of addiction, and it helps reduce cravings while preventing you from succumbing to withdrawal symptoms.
Many veterans feel like they need to grin and bear it, but that does not help with substance use. Head to VeteransRehab.org today and start getting the help you deserve. Not only can you learn more about MAT options, but you can learn about other treatment options as well that can help your unique presentation. You served your country, now it is important to take care of your needs.
Recovery is possible. Treatment is there to give you the right equipment and tools you need in order to get a lasting recovery.