Medication Assisted Treatment Can Help with Opioid Addiction

    Opioids include prescription pain medications like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin as well as the illicit drug heroin and synthetics like Fentanyl, and are a group of drugs known for high risks of misuse and addiction.

    Medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) is the use of medicines such as naltrexone (Vivitrol), buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, Zubsolv) or methadone to help treat opioid use disorder, by reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings and helping to prevent relapse. Research has shown that these medications are the most effective means of treating opioid disorders and maintaining long-term recovery.

    Understanding opioid addiction

    Many teens and young adults first use opioids when they are prescribed them following an injury or routine procedure like the removal of wisdom teeth. Common prescription opioids include Codeine (for example, Tylenol with Codeine), Fentanyl, Hydrocodone (Vicodin or Lorcet), Morphine and Oxycodone (Percocet or OxyContin).

    For a variety of reasons — to “get high,” to avoid hangovers and calories associated with drinking, to deal with emotional pain or to cope with stress — some teens and young adults intentionally misuse opioids. The vast majority of those misusing prescription drugs are getting them from the medicine cabinets of friends, family and acquaintances. Some young people start misusing prescription opioids and then switch to heroin as it becomes cheaper or easier to acquire.

    Opioid use and misuse changes the brain in ways that can lead to addiction. A person who becomes addicted develops an overpowering urge, or craving, for the drug. The person also experiences a loss of control, making it more difficult to refuse the drug, even when use becomes harmful. Most people who are addicted to opioids cannot taper off (use less of the drug over time) without professional help.


    “With a strong motivated family, a treatment system that sees to medication and psychiatric care and social supports, there is tremendous hope — no child has to be lost.”

    Dr. John Knight

    Director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Boston Children’s Hospital

    How MOUD can help

    When people become dependent on opioids, they feel sick when there are no or fewer opioids in the body. This sickness is known as withdrawal. Along with intense cravings, withdrawal is a hallmark of opioid addiction, and can make recovery especially difficult.

    By helping to reduce cravings and withdrawal, MOUD can help the brain heal. This allows the person to focus on returning to their life activities, responsibilities and relationships in healthier ways, without opioids getting in the way.

    In addition to tailoring medications to address cravings and withdrawal, a comprehensive treatment approach may also include therapy or counseling to address behavioral issues, support recovery and prevent relapse. Family therapy is especially effective for teens and young adults to address substance use along with other issues that often affect youth who are at risk, such as mental health problems.

    Physicians Discuss Treatment Options

    We sat down with a variety of addiction treatment professionals to learn more about medication-assisted treatment options including naltrexone (Vivitrol), buprenorphine (Suboxone) and methadone.

    Misunderstandings about MOUD

    Some people in treatment programs for addiction, or who are seeking help through a 12-step program, may be told that using medication to treat opioid addiction is simply substituting one addictive drug for another. This is not true.

    Taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication for any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or asthma. When it is used according to the doctor’s instructions, MOUD is the best known treatment for opioid addiction.

    As a parent, you are responsible for helping your child be healthy and safe, no matter what others think or say. You are your child’s biggest advocate, so never let others’ opinions stand in the way of getting your teen or young adult the help they need and deserve.

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    Last Updated

    April 2023