Treatment Addiction

Is Medically-Assisted Treatment Trading One Addiction for Another?

Anxiety. Vomiting. Insomnia. These are just a few of the symptoms that people recovering from opioid addiction experience as they go through withdrawal. It’s no wonder that 40 to 60 percent relapse and turn back to drug and opioid use as a form of self-medication, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

But, there is another option: medically-assisted treatment programs that transition people from pain killer drug dependence or heroin addiction to a safer, long-term maintenance of this disease that is opiate addiction.

It’s important to understand that recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and unique treatment options are critical for someone with an addiction who is looking to regain control of his/her life. Sure, some users are able to overcome their addiction without medication. But for some, including those who have tried and relapsed, medically-assisted treatment with Suboxone (or buprenorphine) provides new hope. And proven success.

Research has proven that medically-assisted treatment with buprenorphine (the active ingredient in Suboxone) at least triples rates of opioid-abstinence outcomes1, thus decreasing the use of illegal drugs, reducing overdose mortalities and resulting in a much higher retention rate for treatment.

Some opponents say this treatment option simply substitutes one drug for another. But, the truth is that medically-assisted treatment doesn’t rely solely on medication. The medication simply moderates withdrawal symptoms and cravings to prevent relapses, thus helping to keep someone in supportive counseling and allowing the body to slowly adapt by reducing opioid use over time.

The result? Treatment with Suboxone and counseling allows someone to return to normal day-to-day functions, such as working and parenting, while providing a safer and more stable environment.

Medically-assisted treatment transitions someone away from life-threatening addiction behavior to a more stable state of physical dependence. It’s important to understand the difference. Behaviors of addiction include impaired control over ones drug use, compulsive use, and continued use despite harm and craving2. When a patient undergoes successful Suboxone treatment, dangerous behaviors of addiction disappear and what’s left is a physical dependence on buprenorphine similar to a diabetic’s need to regularly take insulin to manage diabetes.

In addition, medically-assisted treatment greatly reduces the risk of overdose mortality. When users stop “cold turkey,” their tolerance starts to drop for opiates, which in turn reduces the quantity the brain can absorb without overdosing. When an individual recovering from addiction relapses and returns to using opioids, they have a high mortality risk because they may use the same quantity they did before their tolerance dropped and could overdose and die.

However, those in medically-assisted treatment programs have a much lower risk because they retain higher tolerance levels, and their buprenorphine medication limits the amount of drugs that enter the brain. Thus, they receive no high – or a very limited high – from the relapse, which reduces overdose risks, and continues the positive behavior of staying in treatment and continuing their path to recovery.

Like all drug dependence treatment options, medically-assisted treatment doesn’t provide a fail-safe process for recovery, but it has been proven to provide a more reliable, sustainable option for a road to true recovery for an increasing number of individuals recovering from addiction.

While the road to recovery is often long, and sometimes winding, the Brightside Clinic team is dedicated to guiding, supporting and encouraging patients every step of the way.


1. Connery, Hilary Smith MD, PhD. “Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder: Review of the Evidence and Future Directions.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry. March/April 2015. Web. 27 June 2016.

2. “Is buprenorphine treatment just trading one addiction for another?” The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. Web. 27 June 2016. <>