In the US, opioid abuse is a serious problem. According to data from 2014, more than 2.5 million Americans suffered from opioid addiction, and 28,000 of them have died from overdoses.
If you know someone who is addicted to opioids, don’t lose hope. Treatments for opioid addiction are widely available, and with professional help, your loved one has a good chance of a full recovery.
Let’s have a look at what treatment options exist for this addiction.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
In most cases, medications help a lot in curbing opioid addiction. These are combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies in a “whole patient approach,” which is known as medically-assisted treatment (MAT).
Some popular medications used to treat opioid addiction include:
- Buprenorphine (Subutex, Suboxone)
- Extended-release Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
MAT is a highly effective treatment, as it allows users to take fewer doses of opioids. In turn, MAT also decreases the number of overdose deaths.
In one case study in Baltimore, heroin overdose deaths plunged by 37% after buprenorphine was made available.
Through MAT, criminal activity related to opioid abuse is similarly brought down. One recent study investigated the effects of extended-release naltrexone in opioid abusers involved in crimes. The study found that this treatment led to fewer relapses, which means most of them were no longer involved in crimes down the line.
At the same time, MAT lets recovering users remain in therapy for longer. For this reason, MAT is widely used in opioid addiction rehab. Also, users receiving MAT tend to function better in social situations.
One myth about MAT
Here’s a fun fact: these three drugs are opioids themselves. It’s kind of like fighting fire with fire. But these drugs do not cause an alternate addiction. Instead, they help reduce cravings for opioids as well as withdrawal symptoms. They allow the brain to heal the circuitry damaged by the addiction. In turn, they also aid in ridding the body of all traces of addictive opioids.
Alongside medications, rehab professionals would provide many different behavioral therapies for recovering opioid users. Here are a few of these approaches:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT was originally designed to prevent relapse in alcohol abusers. Later on, it was also used for cocaine abusers. These days, CBT is employed for treating all kinds of substance abuse.
The main theory in CBT is that substance abuse is a learned behavior. For patients undergoing CBT, they are trained to identify and correct problematic behaviors, often through acquiring new skills. That way, patients can stop drug abuse at the source. Also, any problems that are present alongside drug abuse can be halted too.
Another important part of CBT is helping patients develop healthy coping strategies. This way, if they become stressed, overwhelmed, or filled with any negative emotion, they can control themselves and not resort to drugs again.
In CBT, patients are also taught to recognize signs of their own drug cravings. Also, they learn to identify situations that put them at higher risks for taking drugs. That way, they can avoid getting themselves into those circumstances in the first place.
CBT is popular because it is shown to be very effective. In fact, studies have found out that the skills patients learned through CBT stay with them even after the therapy is complete. Thus, once patients are back to their normal lives, they will remain clean for several years.
Contingency Management Interventions
In this type of therapy, rehab professionals give incentives to patients for staying drug-free. The incentives could be in the form of vouchers or cash prizes, and they increase in value the longer the patients abstain from opioids.
Voucher incentives can be redeemed as movie tickets, food, or other goods and services that constitute a drug-free lifestyle. Patients are given these vouchers each time their urine samples test negative for opioids.
At first, the vouchers are small in value. Over time, as patients consistently have drug-free urine samples, their vouchers become higher in value. But once they test positive, their vouchers drop back to the lowest value.
Alternatively, patients may receive cash incentives. In this case, for every opioid-negative urine sample they provide, they get a chance to win a prize between $1 and $100.
The cash prizes are given through raffle draws, and the more drug-free urine samples patients have, the more draws they get. They may also get extra draws for attending therapy sessions and meeting other recovery goals. But, similar to voucher incentives, any opioid-positive test result will reset their maximum draws to just one.
Some rehab professionals have posed concerns about the cash prize incentive system. They say it promotes pathological gambling, which can make matters worse for opioid abusers. However, studies have shown that cash prize incentives did not actually promote gambling among patients.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
MET aims to encourage patients to have the desire to quit drugs from within themselves. When the change is internally motivated, recoveries are often faster and more effective.
Think of children being forced by their parents to eat vegetables versus children who actually want to eat vegetables. The latter are internally motivated, so they would eat vegetables even if no one tells them to. In contrast, the former would eat vegetables only when their parents are around.
The same concept applies to patients undergoing MET. Therapists would encourage patients to say things that are self-motivational. Through these words, patients build their desire to live a drug-free lifestyle. Therapists also guide patients in healthy coping strategies and help patients plan changes in their lifestyles. These techniques go on for several sessions, and therapists keep on encouraging their patients in their commitment to being drug-free.
In MET, patients are not asked to strictly go through the steps of a recovery process. Instead, therapists do their best to persuade patients to take the lead in their own recoveries.
Based on research, MET is most successful with alcoholics. For users of other substances like opioids, MET is still useful, but it’s more effective in encouraging abusers to go through treatment than in actually stopping drug use. Thus, MET has to be combined with other therapies to treat opioid addiction.