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Medication-Assisted Treatment

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment at Alcohol Rehab?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is available at many alcohol rehab centers to help people experience a safe, successful recovery from alcohol use disorder. MAT has shown to be effective at reducing alcohol use, treating alcohol dependence, and preventing relapse. But what is MAT, and how does it work?

Here’s what you need to know about MAT for alcohol addiction.

We don’t condone or endorse MAT programs.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

MAT is an addiction treatment that combines the use of FDA-approved medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. At present, MAT can only be used to treat alcohol and opioid use disorder. In Florida, MAT is offered by approximately 24% of alcohol rehab centers.

Each medication used in MAT works differently to treat alcohol use disorder. Some help you stay abstinent by reducing the desire to drink alcohol, while others cause unpleasant side effects when you return to alcohol use after becoming abstinent. The medications used as part of MAT can be safely used on a long-term basis throughout your recovery.

Though medications may be effective at helping you overcome alcohol dependence and cravings for alcohol, counseling and behavioral therapy are often needed to help you change harmful behaviors and thought-processes surrounding alcohol use. Individual therapy, group counseling, and family behavioral therapy are just some therapies used at rehab centers to address and treat the root causes of your addiction and the reasons you started drinking in the first place. MAT and behavioral therapies are included in most alcohol rehab programs.

Which Medications are Used in MAT for Alcohol Use Disorder?

There are currently 4 medications used in MAT to treat alcohol use disorder: acamprosate, disulfiram, naltrexone, and topiramate. Each of these medications work differently and can result in different side effects.


Acamprosate helps reduce symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and repairs chemical imbalances in the brain to prevent people from wanting to drink alcohol. Treatment with acamprosate usually begins on the fifth day of abstinence, though the drug’s effects may not reach full effectiveness until the eighth day. Potential side effects of acamprosate may include weakness, nervousness, diarrhea, sleeping problems, depression, and suicidal thoughts. This drug is also available under the brand name Campral, and is used at 21.7% of addiction treatment facilities in Florida.


Disulfiram acts as a deterrent to drinking by causing unpleasant side effects when people on this medication decide to drink alcohol. Sweating, chest pain, difficulty breathing, nausea, and vomiting are some side effects you may experience if you consume alcohol while on disulfiram. Other side effects may include headache, confusion, sleepiness, and numbness in extremities.

Disulfiram should never be taken by those who are intoxicated and should be avoided for at least 12 hours after the last alcoholic beverage, since this may result in severe reactions such as heart failure, seizures, and death. Disulfiram should not be used with any form of alcohol including mouthwashes and medications that contain alcohol. This drug is also commonly available under the brand name Antabuse, and is used by 20.1% of Florida rehab centers.


Naltrexone blocks feelings of euphoria and intoxication produced by alcohol. This effect helps prevent relapse by making alcohol less desirable. Some potential side effects of naltrexone may include headache, reduced appetite, fatigue, sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, and suicidal thoughts.

Naltrexone is also used to treat opioid dependence and works the same way by blocking feelings of euphoria produced by opioid drugs. Oral naltrexone is used by 30.8% of addiction treatment centers in Florida, while the injectable form is used by 31.7% of Florida rehab centers. Naltrexone is commonly sold under the brand name Vivitrol.


Topiramate reduces cravings for alcohol and helps repair chemical imbalances in the brain triggered by alcohol abuse. Topiramate is not approved by the FDA for use in treating alcohol use disorder, though studies have shown that this drug helps reduce heavy drinking and increases the percentage of abstinent days. Patients who use topiramate for alcohol dependence report that the drug makes it easier for them to drink less and stay abstinent.

Potential side effects of topiramate may include nervousness, poor coordination, reduced appetite, mild cognitive impairment, and suicidal thoughts. Topiramate is commonly sold under the brand name Topamax.

How is Medication-Assisted Treatment Different from Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox is used to treat alcohol dependence and is the first stage of treatment for alcohol use disorder. Alcohol detox can last anywhere between two and 10 days, or however long it takes for the person to withdraw from alcohol. Medications may be used during detox to treat and relieve certain symptoms, but not necessarily the medications used in MAT. In most cases, diazepam is prescribed during alcohol detox to reduce the risk for seizures and other severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Medication Assisted Treatment is more commonly used as maintenance therapy after alcohol detox to help people stay abstinent from alcohol and avoid relapse. MAT usually starts during or after alcohol detox, and may even last for up to several months or years after completion of an alcohol rehab program.

How is MAT Used at Alcohol Rehab?

When you first arrive at alcohol rehab, the facility’s staff will perform an interview and assessment to identify your treatment needs and develop a personalized treatment program. Your eligibility for Medication Assisted Treatment will depend on factors such as your treatment goals, the severity of your alcohol addiction, whether you’ve already received MAT in the past, and whether you’re currently using any medications that could cause adverse effects with those used in MAT. Many alcohol rehab centers will only approve you for MAT if you also agree to receive individual and group counseling.

The most common behavioral therapies combined with MAT include cognitive-behavioral therapy, community reinforcement, motivational interviewing, contingency management, and behavioral family therapy. MAT is shown most effective for relapse prevention when combined with behavioral counseling and peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). MAT is available through a wide range of alcohol rehab programs including inpatient and residential rehab, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and standard outpatient. Many people who receive MAT generally visit outpatient and community treatment centers regularly to prolong their abstinence and stay connected to the recovery community.

What Risks are Associated with MAT for Alcohol Addiction?

People who receive Medication-Assisted Treatment must adhere closely to the instructions for using their medications, since misusing these medications can increase the risk for relapse and adverse effects. Disulfiram and oral naltrexone must be taken daily, while the extended-release injectable form of naltrexone is administered once per month. Acamprosate must be used three times per day as directed on the label. Never skip doses of medications in MAT, and never take more than directed.

Before starting MAT, inform your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing, and if you have any allergies or existing health conditions. Some people may not benefit from MAT on behalf of certain health conditions or because the medications can produce adverse effects when used with others.

Avoid driving and other activities that require you to stay alert until you’re familiar with how your body reacts to these medications, since symptoms like extreme sleepiness and slow reaction times may occur. Also, inform your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing any side effects that are interfering with your physical or mental well-being such as depression or suicidal thoughts. Your doctor will perform an evaluation to weigh the pros and cons of stopping or staying on your medication to treat alcohol use disorder. Lastly, avoid alcohol in any form, including that in mouthwash, foods, and other medications, since alcohol use will compromise your treatment and increase the risk for serious side effects and complications.

Alcohol Rehab at Summer House Detox Center

Summer House offers alcohol detox as part of its many comprehensive alcohol rehab programs that are personalized for each individual patient. If you or a loved one needs help recovering from alcohol addiction, we can discuss your options for Medication-Assisted Treatment and help you experience a safe recovery. Contact us today at 800-719-1090 to learn more about alcohol detox in Florida and begin the treatment process.