Understanding Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use

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Written By Berry Mathew

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol consumption, and a negative emotional state when not drinking. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 14.5 million adults in the United States had AUD in 2019. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a recommended approach to treating AUD that combines medication with behavioral therapy and counseling.

The Impact of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) on Health

AUD can have a significant impact on an individual’s health, including physical, mental, and social consequences. Heavy alcohol use can lead to liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and digestive problems. It can also increase the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast, liver, and esophageal cancer.

Mental health consequences of AUD may include depression, anxiety, and memory loss. Social consequences may include job loss, financial problems, legal problems, and strained relationships.

The Role of Medications in Medication-assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use

Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use involves the use of FDA-approved medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies. Medications help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and promote abstinence. They can be used to manage AUD in various stages, including detoxification, relapse prevention, and long-term maintenance.

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Types of Medications Used in Medication-assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use

There are three FDA-approved medications used in MAT for AUD:

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse): Disulfiram works by causing unpleasant symptoms when alcohol is consumed, including nausea, vomiting, headache, and flushing. It is used to deter individuals from drinking alcohol and promote abstinence.
  • Naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol): Naltrexone works by blocking the pleasurable effects of alcohol and reducing cravings. It is available in pill or injection form and can be used for short-term or long-term treatment.
  • Acamprosate (Campral): Acamprosate works by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is used in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies and is most effective in individuals who have already achieved abstinence.

How Medications Work in Medication-assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use

Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Acamprosate all work in different ways to reduce alcohol consumption and promote abstinence. Disulfiram discourages alcohol use by causing unpleasant physical symptoms. 

Naltrexone and Acamprosate both reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, but they work in different ways. Naltrexone blocks the pleasurable effects of alcohol, while Acamprosate helps to restore balance to the brain’s neurotransmitters.

MAT for AUD has been shown to be an effective approach to treating AUD. A review of clinical trials found that patients receiving MAT had higher rates of abstinence and fewer days of heavy drinking than those receiving a placebo or no treatment. 

However, MAT is not a one-size-fits-all approach and should be tailored to the individual’s needs.

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Benefits and Drawbacks of Medication-Assisted Treatment for AUD

MAT for AUD involves the use of medications to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms while promoting abstinence from alcohol. The primary benefit of MAT is that it increases the chances of achieving and maintaining sobriety, which is critical for long-term recovery. MAT can also reduce the risk of relapse, overdose, and other health complications associated with alcohol addiction.

However, MAT is not without drawbacks. One of the main challenges is finding the right medication and dosage that works for each individual, as different people have different levels of tolerance and response to medications. 

Another challenge is the potential for abuse or diversion of medications, which can be a risk for people with a history of addiction. Moreover, some people may experience side effects such as nausea, headache, and dizziness, which can affect their quality of life.

Integrating Medications with Behavioral Therapies in MAT for AUD

Behavioral therapies are an essential component of MAT for AUD, as they help people address the underlying psychological, emotional, and social factors that contribute to addiction. The most common types of behavioral therapies used in MAT for AUD include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET), and Contingency Management (CM).

CBT helps people identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that trigger alcohol use. MET is a client-centered approach that encourages people to explore and resolve their ambivalence about change. CM provides incentives, such as vouchers or prizes, to motivate people to stay sober and attend therapy sessions.

The Importance of Individualized Treatment in MAT for AUD

Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s essential to provide individualized treatment that meets each person’s unique needs and circumstances. Individualized treatment involves a comprehensive assessment of the person’s medical history, addiction severity, mental health status, social support, and other factors that can influence treatment outcomes.

The choice of medication and dosage should be based on the person’s response to previous treatment, medical conditions, and potential drug interactions. The selection of behavioral therapies should be tailored to the person’s preferences, motivation, and readiness for change. Additionally, ongoing monitoring and adjustment of treatment are critical to ensure that it remains effective and relevant to the person’s changing needs.

Accessing Medication-Assisted Treatment for AUD

Access to MAT for AUD is essential to ensure that people receive timely and appropriate treatment for their addiction. MAT is available in various settings, including outpatient clinics, residential treatment programs, and primary care settings. However, access to MAT can be limited by various factors, such as cost, stigma, and lack of provider training.

To improve access to MAT for AUD, several initiatives have been developed, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline, which provides free and confidential information and referrals for people seeking treatment for addiction. Additionally, insurance companies are increasingly covering the cost of MAT, and more healthcare providers are receiving training in MAT.


Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a valuable tool in the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD). By reducing withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and the rewarding effects of alcohol, medications can help individuals overcome the physical and psychological aspects of addiction. 

However, medication should always be used in combination with behavioral therapies to address the underlying causes of AUD and provide patients with the coping strategies needed to maintain sobriety in the long term.

If you are looking for a trusted provider, you can reach out to Confidant Health. Confidant Health is an app that offers expert help for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for alcohol use disorder. Confidant understands that seeking help can be difficult, so they provide a confidential and discreet way to access support from licensed professionals.