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Medication and Counseling: How to Know the Impact on Your Brain

There is no “one size fits all” method when it comes to addiction counseling. Some people benefit from counseling alone. Others also need things like support groups, outpatient services, etc.

Many recovering addicts also benefit from medication. Using appropriate medication and counseling together can be an effective way to treat a substance abuse disorder. When the two treatments are combined, it’s considered a whole body approach.

Managing the depression or anxiety that often comes with early addiction recovery is very important.  Medications that target the brain’s dependence and craving is also important, but a very different issue.

And you need to know the difference.

Why would I need both counseling and medication?

Simply put, it’s because medication and counseling affect different parts of the brain.

Understanding each treatment’s impact on your brain can motivate you towards a better response. It can also give you a better knowledge of the benefits when it comes to addiction counseling.

Understanding Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the general name given to using medications to treat substance abuse disorders. But the name makes it a bit confusing since any medication used to help in your treatment might be thought of this way. And that is not what MAT actually means. Medications that treat anxiety, depression and sleep might also be part of your addiction treatment, but they are not what we call MAT.

Most MAT medications are specifically aimed at helping with cravings the symptoms of active withdrawal. Some function to essentially “trick” the brain into thinking the original substance is still there. Others suppress craving over a longer period allowing the brain to “heal” and grow stronger.

All Medication-Assisted Treatments Are Not The Same

As mentioned earlier, medication and counseling treat different parts of the brain. This is true and some of these may boost your overall chance of success. But it’s important to know that some of these medications are full agonist opiates, some are partial agonist opiates and some have no addictive substances in them at all. Using the right kind of medications, the right way, together with professional counseling can really help you in your recovery  So make sure you ask your doctor to explain what the medications are, the mechanics involved in how they work and all of the potential risks and benefits.

Additionally, ongoing use of some of these medications, sometimes called “maintenance treatment” poses a lot of concerns. These treatments are highly controversial and scrutiny asks whether or not they actually represent a drug replacement rather than a treatment.

What Should Be The Goal

Actual recovery should always be the goal for any physician or counselor helping a patient address addiction through counseling with the use of medication. There is a lot of research out there. Some has shown that the combination of some medications along with counseling can reduce a person’s chances of relapse. But it’s hard to know what research to follow and whether or not the sources you are asking are referring to the same thing.

It’s important and completely okay to ask for clarity. Find out whether they are talking about medications to help with anxiety and depression or MAT medications originally intended for detox and early recovery.

How Medication Impacts the Brain

Using medication for substance abuse treatment helps because it affects the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that controls things like problem-solving and making decisions. It also impacts self-control, which is a huge factor when it comes to addiction.

Using medication to treat a substance abuse problem can help to level out the imbalances in the brain that might be causing you to struggle with addiction.

It’s not a “quick fix,” by any means. Yet, medication can motivate recovery when it’s chemical imbalances that fuel your addiction struggle. Then, counseling can step in to take a more long-term approach.

How Counseling Impacts the Brain

We humans have a “limbic brain.” It is often referred to as an emotional brain. Our limbic system is where we feel empathy and express our emotions verbally and non-verbally.

Counseling touches on this limbic brain by helping you to regulate your emotions. It goes beyond what medication can do.

Most people trying to recover from addiction need counseling for a variety of reasons.  However, the most important benefit of counseling is that it can help you to stay away from drugs on a more long-term basis.

Since counseling touches on your emotions and feelings, it can also help to identify your individual triggers when it comes to drug use. Once you know what they are, you can work through different ways to avoid or manage those triggers.

Counseling can also help you to deal with issues in your past that may have caused your initial drug use and may still be a stressor today. These events don’t cause addiction, but treating addiction is less difficult and more likely to be successful when you address the core conflicts.

Using MAT to Beat Addiction

The easy way to look at it is this; medication helps to quickly balance out the chemicals in your brain, allowing you to make more rational cognitive decisions. Adding counseling to the mix can help you to stay in recovery and work through conflicts and challenges that may hold you back.

Yes, there are many different ways to battle addiction. And using both medication and counseling gives you better odds at coming out ahead. Just remember, medications for mood and medications for withdrawal or cravings are very different considerations.

Combining medications and counseling, along with emersion in a recovery community (12 Step, Refuge, SMART or others), helps different areas of the brain. This level of diversity in your treatment approach may offer you the best chance at beating your addiction and lowering your risk of a relapse.

Where We Stand On Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)

When it comes to MAT medications, I tend to be on the conservative side. I believe the least amount of risk paired with the most amount of benefit to be the preferred approach. And as different MAT medications pose very different risks, I am more supportive of some and much less so of others.

In terms of the use of non-abusable mood medications to address anxiety, depression and symptoms that often accompany trauma and PTSD, I am generally very supportive of these. Given that they are taken as prescribed and under the care of a physician who is boarded in psychiatry or addiction medicine.

I work closely with my clients’ prescribing physicians.

One Final Comment

Everyone has an opinion.

Friends, family, sponsors, on the web and so on. These are only opinions. Only some are informed by experience. Many are limited to personal (singular – doesn’t fit for everyone else) or gathered (hearsay, media, etc) information. Please, speak to a professional before you make a decision. Even better, speak to more than one – get a second or third professional opinion.

After all, this is

your health,

your family and

often a matter of your life.

So, take the time to gather the facts and make the informed decision that is right for you.

If you’re struggling with addiction or know someone who is, please contact me today. Or, visit here for more information on my approach to addiction recovery.