Watching someone grapple with substance abuse is one thing. Helping them through treatment is another. In this WebMD article, Mindpath Health’s Julian Lagoy, MD, explains how to provide support and reassurance.

female nurse caregiver holding older person's hand in medical room

Going through medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse can be challenging for anyone. Watching a loved one go through it may even be more challenging.

What is medication-assisted treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the utilization of medication concurrent with other therapies to provide a pathway to recovery for an individual with an alcohol and/or opioid use disorder,” says Zach Ludwig, LPC-S, NCC.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, MAT provides a “whole patient” approach to the treatment of people struggling with substance use disorders. It is a customized program comprising of FDA-approved medicines and behavior therapies that help resolve issues of most patients.

How does medication-assisted treatment work?

“Medication- assisted treatment works by helping to sustain recovery in substance abusers,” Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, says.

“The medications used in MAT are designed to either reduce withdrawal symptoms, decrease cravings, block the effects of the substance, or cause an adverse physical reaction to the individual if the substance is ingested,” Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC says.

It’s also highly likely that your loved one will be enrolled in one or more types of psychological and/or behavioral therapy as a part of their MAT program. You may see that they have a regular schedule of meetings, which could include individual and/or group sessions.

How do you help support a loved one who is undergoing this form of treatment? Read on for tips.

1. Go with them to appointments/sessions.

People need to feel supported when going through a treatment program, so showing your support by being with them can have a huge effect.

A family educational group session is an example of a group where people in similar circumstances come together to support each other on their recovery journey.

2. Be patient.

Recovering from substance or alcohol use disorder is a long process, and your patience is critical in your loved one’s success.

You may need this patience due to seemingly slow progress or because your loved one has relapsed during their medication-assisted treatment.

Showing your loved one that you are there to support them through any setbacks will increase the chance they continue and complete their treatment.

3. Create a healthy environment.

A calm and peaceful environment at home can go a long way in helping your loved one stick to their treatment process.

Reduce friction and unnecessary arguments. Family stress can contribute to a drug or alcohol relapse, and/or exacerbate underlying mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

4. Do not judge.

Above everything—you cannot think negatively of your loved one or judge them as they go through medication-assisted treatment.

Any negative thinking/judgment can make you start to distance yourself from your loved one when they need you the most. Keeping close to the family is important to maintaining overall health. Emotional, mental, and physical health can all be affected if you do not stay close to your loved one, especially in a time of need like the medication-assisted treatment process.

5. Take care of yourself too.

“Addiction doesn’t just affect the individual, it causes everyone around the addict to develop unhealthy behaviors and coping mechanisms,” says Deena Manion, PsyD, LCSW.

Engage in self-care such as through proper nutrition, exercise, sleep, routine, and hobbies.

6. Be prepared for setbacks.

“Give some grace for setbacks in the treatment and know that the MAT team is prepared and equipped to deal with that. Whether that means more frequent appointments or adding therapy, clinics are prepared,” says Daniel Hochman, MD.

“Learn the signs of relapse, including red flags to look out for that one might be headed towards a relapse, as well as signs and symptoms that one is under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Although relapses can still occur when under MAT, early intervention will always be important in helping your loved one get back on track,” Sternlicht says.

Read the full WebMD article with sources.


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Julian Lagoy, M.D.

San Jose, CA

Julian Lagoy, M.D. is a board-certified psychiatrist. He received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his medical degree from St. George’s University. Dr. Lagoy completed his psychiatry residency at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Dr. Lagoy has published in multiple medical journals and has presented his research at the American Psychiatric Association National ... Read Full Bio »

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