Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder in Nevada

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a chronic medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to control alcohol consumption, cravings and physical dependence. It’s a serious condition that can lead to life-threatening consequences if not addressed.1

The primary signs of AUD are cravings for alcohol, drinking in large amounts or over a long period of time, developing tolerance so the struggling individual needs more and more alcohol to feel its effects, having withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit drinking, and spending a lot of time thinking about drinking or trying to get it.1

Other signs include neglecting personal obligations such as work or school, engaging in risky behaviors when using alcohol, being unable to stop using it despite the harm it causes, and physical health problems due to excessive drinking.1

AUD can have far-reaching impacts on all areas of life. Chronic excessive drinking increases the risk of developing several serious health conditions like cirrhosis of the liver, stroke, heart disease, and cancer. Additionally, individuals with AUD often struggle with financial instability due to the money spent on purchasing alcohol and the potential loss of earnings due to an inability to maintain employment.1

Individuals who suffer from AUD can also experience legal issues related to their behavior while under the influence, such as driving while intoxicated or assault due to aggressive behavior while intoxicated. Finally, mental health issues can arise, as coping mechanisms for dealing with stress worsen due to drinking habits.1

Although AUD is treatable through behavioral therapy, medication management, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), if left untreated the consequences can be severe. Therefore, identifying specific signs and seeking help when needed is essential in order to prevent these negative outcomes.1

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for alcohol is an evidence-based approach to helping treatment-seeking individuals recover from this disorder. It’s a combination of pharmacological and behavioral therapies that have been proven effective in facilitating long-term sobriety. The goal of MAT for alcohol use disorder is to reduce the physical cravings associated with alcohol, as well as any anxiety or depression that may worsen the addiction.2

This treatment plan also helps reduce the risk of relapse by helping stabilize the struggling individual’s mood so they can better cope with their environment and better manage their cravings. MAT for alcohol typically consists of medications such as disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone (Vivitrol), acamprosate (Campral), and/or oral naltrexone/buprenorphine (Suboxone).2

These drugs all target different brain pathways that are involved in alcohol consumption, thus reducing its rewarding effect and decreasing physical cravings for it. In addition to medication, these treatments usually involve counseling sessions led by an experienced therapist. The therapist works with the patient on developing healthier thought patterns, behaviors, and lifestyle habits that can help support recovery from alcohol addiction.2

Furthermore, MAT for alcohol abuse disorder can offer the treatment-seeking individual access to 12-step programs or other forms of social support from peers in recovery facilities if needed. Ultimately, its goal is to provide an individualized approach tailored specifically for each struggling individual’s unique needs that may lead them on a path towards long-term sobriety and improved psychological well-being.2

What are the Components of MAT?

One of the primary components of MAT treatment for alcohol is psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals struggling with AUD identify the causes of their disorder and triggers for their drinking or cravings, develop coping strategies to resist those temptations and make positive lifestyle changes.2-4

Many medication-assisted treatment programs also include group counseling sessions so that treatment-seeking individuals can share experiences and support one another as they work on staying sober. Another component of MAT for alcohol is medications that are prescribed by a qualified doctor. The most common medications used in MAT for alcohol use disorder are Naltrexone, Disulfiram, Acamprosate, and Vivitrol. They each have a different mechanism of action:2, 5

  • Naltrexone helps reduce craving for alcohol by blocking certain receptors in the brain; it does not cause intoxication or impair mental functioning when taken as prescribed. 
  • Disulfiram works by causing intensely unpleasant physical reactions when someone drinks alcohol; this acts as a deterrent to further drinking and encourages abstinence from alcohol. 
  • Acamprosate works similarly to naltrexone but affects different receptors in the central nervous system linked to cravings, anxiety, and depression caused by alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Vivitrol is a once-monthly injection of naltrexone; it helps individuals who are unable to take daily oral medications due to forgetfulness or who need a longer duration of effect for their treatment regimen.

Overall, medication-assisted treatment for alcohol can provide significant benefits for individuals suffering from AUD who may be struggling with cravings or find themselves relapsing frequently while attempting abstinence on their own. Combining medication with psychotherapy may provide important psychological support while also helping some of the treatment-seeking individuals reduce cravings and maintain sobriety.2

An important reason why MAT for alcohol use disorder has a large rate of effectiveness is the medication effects such as aversion to the substance or blocking brain receptors associated with addiction pathways. While not all treatment-seeking individuals will respond equally well to all medications, having multiple options available allows clinicians more flexibility when designing individualized treatment plans for each struggling individual’s specific needs.2

What are the Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment?  

The primary benefit of MAT for alcohol is that medications used in this form of treatment have been proven to effectively reduce the desire for alcohol in some individuals struggling with AUD. As mentioned above, naltrexone reduces pleasure and satisfaction derived from drinking and its effects, while disulfiram causes unpleasant side effects when combined with alcohol, making it less desirable. These effects can be significantly helpful in recovery.2

Additionally, medications available as part of MAT for alcohol use disorder may increase the chances of preventing relapse, as they decrease the likelihood of returning to drinking once the struggling individual has stopped or reduced their consumption. Medication-assisted treatment may also provide greater access to recovery services and support for struggling individuals who didn’t benefit from traditional forms of treatment alone.6

What are the Risks of Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Despite the many benefits associated with using MAT for alcohol, there are some risks involved as well. Some common side effects linked to medications used in this type of treatment include nausea, headaches, fatigue and anxiety.7-9

Additionally, if taken incorrectly or without proper monitoring by a healthcare provider, there is a risk that these medications could cause serious harm or even death due to increased levels of intoxication or overdose. For example, Disulfiram can cause severe, life-threatening health conditions or death if consumed with a large dose of alcohol.7-9

It’s important to note that individuals should only engage in MAT for alcohol use disorder when prescribed by a qualified medical provider after an assessment has been conducted to ensure it is the right choice for them.2, 6

What is the Length of MAT programs?  

The typical length of MAT for alcohol is usually based on the struggling individual’s progress in their recovery. Generally, the basic framework of treatment for both alcohol and drug addiction treatment consists of three phases: initiation, stabilization, and maintenance. Each phase may last anywhere between six months to a year or even longer, depending on the treatment-seeking individual’s response to treatment. The doctor may adjust the dosage or completely change the medication if they conclude that the struggling individual isn’t responding to it as expected.10

Does Insurance Cover MAT Treatments?  

Most insurers cover some form of MAT for alcohol use disorder, but there are differences in coverage levels among plans. For those with private health insurance, coverage can vary from plan to plan depending on the insurance company and the type of policy purchased. Many insurers will cover the cost of medications deemed medically necessary for treating AUD, as well as psychotherapeutic services associated with treatment.11

However, certain medications used in the medication-assisted treatment program may not be covered by certain plans or require prior authorization from a provider before being prescribed. Those who have government-funded insurance such as Medicaid or Medicare may also have access to MAT for alcohol provided that all other criteria are met under the particular program’s guidelines.11

Furthermore, specialized clinics dedicated to providing affordable and accessible care may provide services at a reduced fee, through sliding scale payment and a variety of other payment options. All that a treatment-seeking individual has to do is discuss their situation with a rehab navigator and they’ll introduce them to their options.11

How to Find MAT Treatment in Nevada?  

Visitors to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website can access their Rehab Locator, which offers a directory of all addiction treatment centers, mental health care providers and state-funded options throughout Nevada.12

Alternatively, for individuals struggling with AUD who are seeking private treatment, American Addiction Centers (AAC) offer a network of facilities with specialized staff professionals ready to help. AAC’s helpline is open at all times for treatment-seeking individuals experiencing symptoms of AUD who are looking for information or want to be admitted into treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions