Three Anti-Craving Medication Options for Treating Opioid Dependence

doctor explaining MAT options to patient

“I wish that all families would at least consider investigating medication-assisted treatment and reading about what’s out there,” says Alicia Murray, DO, Board Certified Addiction Psychiatrist. “I think, unfortunately, there is still stigma about medications. But what we want people to see is that we’re actually changing the functioning of the patient.”

Essentially, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help get a patient back on track to meeting the demands of life – getting into a healthy routine, showing up for work and being the sibling, spouse or parent that they once were. “If we can change that with medication-assisted treatment and with counseling,” says Murray, “that’s so valuable.”

The opioid epidemic is terrifying, especially so for a parent of someone already struggling with prescription pills or heroin use. It’s so important to consider any and all options for helping your child recover from their opioid dependence.

Part of the reason it’s so hard to overcome an opioid addiction is because it rewires your brain to focus almost exclusively on the drug over anything else, and produces extreme cravings and withdrawal symptoms as a result. By helping to reduce those feelings of cravings and withdrawal, medication-assisted treatment can help your son or daughter’s brain stop thinking constantly about the drug and focus on returning to a healthier life.

Medication-assisted treatment is often misunderstood. Many traditional treatment programs and step-based supports may tell you that MAT is simply substituting one addictive drug for another. However, 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 and in conjunction with therapy, the medication will not create a new addiction, and can help.

As a parent, you want to explore all opportunities to get your child help for his or her opioid addiction, and get them closer and closer to functioning as a healthy adult – holding down a job, keeping a regular schedule and tapering, and eventually, stopping their misuse of opioids. Medication-assisted treatment helps them do that.

"MAT medications are most effective when they are used in conjunction with therapy and recovery work. We would never recommend medication over other forms of treatment. We would recommend it in addition to it."

Adam Bisaga, MD, Professor of Psychiatry

The three most-common medications used to treat opioid addiction are:

  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
  • Methadone

Naltrexone, known by its brand-name Vivitrol, is administered by a doctor monthly through an injection. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. Antagonists attach themselves to opioid receptors in the brain and prevent other opioids such as heroin or painkillers from exerting the effects of the drug. It has no abuse potential.

Buprenorphine, known by its brand-name Suboxone, is an oral tablet or film dissolved under the tongue or in the mouth prescribed by a doctor in an office-based setting. It is taken daily and can be dispensed at a physician’s office or taken at home. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist. Partial agonists attach to the opioid receptors in the brain and activate them, but not to the full degree as agonists. If used against the doctor’s instructions, it has the potential to be abused.

Methadone is dispensed through a certified opioid treatment program (OTP). It’s a liquid
and taken orally and usually witnessed at an OTP clinic until the patient receives take-home doses. Methadone is an opioid agonist. Agonists are drugs that activate opioid receptors in the brain, producing an effect. If used against the doctor’s instructions, it has the potential to be abused.


There is no “one size fits all” approach to medication-assisted treatment, or even recovery. Recovery is individual. The most important thing to do is to consider all of your options, and speak to a medical professional to determine the best course of action for your family. The best path is the path that helps and works for your child.

Download the Medication-Assisted Treatment eBook

Learn the details about Medication-Assisted Treatment — what it is, how it’s used and how you can best support your child through treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment eBook
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    Angela Denes

    January 21, 2019 at 8:10 AM

    Naltrexone also comes in an implant. The one we got for our son came from BiocorRX. It lasts 4 months to a year and is implanted in the abdomen close to the navel. We tried everything else available with no luck. We would have buried him by now, as we have so many of our high school football players if it were not for this implant. They cannot sell it, and they don’t have to show up for an injection appt. that they might miss. It denies the addict a window of opportunity to slip through the cracks. It can also be removed if the person needs surgery(trauma), the shot cannot. Please learn about this, advocate for it and really start saving lives.

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    Isabella Graham

    May 21, 2018 at 5:25 PM

    As an anti craving medication the only non opioid one that works is baclofen. I have been using opiates for 30 years and have tried everything including methadone, buprenorphine, mst etc. for the physical addiction. I’ve done a lot of my own research over the years. To stop the psychological cravings I started to use baclofen (off label) after reading about the work of Dr Ameisen a French doctor who wrote a best selling book called “The end of my addiction”. He was a cardiologist who cured his own alcoholism using baclofen & 12 step meetings. Since I moved & changed GPs I’m having trouble getting it prescribed and have to buy them off of the internet. You have to use a fairly high dose. For me it is about 80mg daily split into 2 doses. I’ve been using them on and off for around 10 years now. I don’t know why it has t taken off in the thIs country as I know that it is widely used in France. They have been a lifesaver but can’t always afford them. With gabapentin or pregablin they also work extreme well for opiate withdrawals. This is from experience. Not something that I heard or read in a book.

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    amy shumake

    May 30, 2017 at 8:12 AM

    I do not agree with using methadone as a treatment of pill addiction. Methadone is substituting one drug to another. Mixing methadone with many things kills you. My 19 year old was given methadone in pill form for a abscessed tooth, two and a half hours later he was dead. Methadone can not be given to a person with asthma. My oldest sin was addicted to pills and other things and has been in a methadone treatment program for nearly 3 years, it’s my understanding that you are to reduce the amounts of this medication and then be able to come off of it. This is not the case, they get addicted to the methadone. Methadone kills! This I’d just another way to legally give someone their fix. The methadone clinics are getting rich along with the government, meanwhile young adults are dying each day

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    May 20, 2017 at 9:22 PM

    Different things work for different people.I wish that all of the judgement and criticism would stop! It gets in the way of people trying to get better.In-patient detox, with Methadone, then long term rehab, then intensive outpatient and sober-home living, all with excellent social workers and counselors, saved my loved one’s life.People shouldn’t critique what they don’t understand. May God bless all who struggle, and us who love them.

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      May 22, 2017 at 4:52 PM

      Definitely agree, AnnMarie — sometimes we as a country are so quick to judge and think we know a one-sized-fits-all solution, when like you said, different treatments work differently for different people.

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