Medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder substantially helps ease uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and cravings with the help of medications that serve as opioid inhibitors. However, addiction is a chronic illness with a neurobiological basis, which means that cravings, triggers, and similar aspects of the disease can persist throughout a person’s lifetime, even while in recovery. For patients in the early phases of treatment, psychological cravings linked to compulsive behaviors surrounding substance use can be challenging to overcome. Finding the right coping methods to deal with these feelings can make all the difference when someone embarks on their journey towards long-lasting recovery.
Many patients enrolled in MAT begin taking medications like methadone or Suboxone®, maintaining their dose for an extended period, or sometimes taper off gradually. These drugs help with cravings and withdrawal, but some patients will still experience frequent relapse due to uncontrollable cravings. Sometimes called opioid inhibitors, opioid antagonist medications such as naltrexone block the effects of opioids once they enter the body, preventing any euphoric high or sensation, helping discourage chronic relapse.
Mental Health Management
While patients who chose to take opioid inhibitors can reduce their risk of accidental relapse overdose, they’re still not immune to relapse altogether. Studies show that stress and anxiety significantly increase the intensity and frequency of cravings in patients who receive doses of opioid antagonists and can promote non-compliance. Patients who experience these circumstances would benefit from managing stress and anxiety-induced mental illness through psychotherapy and pharmacology based on medical diagnosis.
While each patient enrolled in MAT has access to substance use counseling as well as group therapy sessions, those who struggle with frequent and intense cravings may benefit from specialized help from a therapist that deals with addiction. By honing in on the physical, emotional, and social aspects of life during treatment, therapists can offer exercises such as the HALT method to help patients deal with intense cravings episodes. The HALT method focuses on addressing craving feelings as they’re happening by having the patient evaluate whether their urges come from feelings of hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness. Those feelings are considered to be the four “risk states” a person can encounter that can heavily affect their mood and behavior, especially in treatment and recovery.
People in opioid use disorder recovery often have to deal with complicated feelings that can put them under stress and cause cravings to arise and test their strength to stay on course. These challenges are to be expected, and effective addiction treatment that involves MAT along with substance use counseling can equip patients to deal with craving-related relapse triggers as they occur. There are various other tools available to the patients who feel they need a little extra help to combat their issues surrounding cravings to ensure they can healthily address and combat them productively from early treatment and long into the future of an opioid-free, fulfilling life in recovery.