Before choosing an addiction treatment program, you need to know what type of detox is available.  Two terms you will see during your search may cause some confusion.  The terms are similar but are completely different processes: Medically-Assisted Detox and Medication-Assisted Treatment.  Knowing the differences between the two can have a significant impact on your recovery.

Understanding Medically Assisted Detox vs. Medication-Assisted Treatment

Detoxification is the first step in overcoming addiction. Of course, the substance of abuse and the duration of the addiction will determine which type of detox is best.  However, other factors such as age and physical health must also be considered.

Addiction treatment is the next stage of recovery that consists of a comprehensive program of classes and activities that address the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of the addiction.

Here are some the ways medically-assisted detox and medication-assisted treatment differ:

Medically-Assisted Detox

Medically assisted detox (MAD), also known as medical detox, happens in the beginning stage of addiction treatment.  The process allows the body to eliminate all traces of the substance of abuse.  When cravings subside, the individual is ready for rehab.  During medical detox, the withdrawal symptoms are monitored by medically trained professionals to ensure the safety and comfort of the client.  Medications may be used to help manage withdrawals.

In most cases, individuals struggling with alcohol or opioid addictions benefit from this type of detox.  The services are offered in a variety of settings such as hospitals, clinics, and treatment centers.  Also, there are levels of intensity in medical detox programs.  For instance, the individual may need inpatient, partial hospitalization, or outpatient services.  Professional rehabilitation is the next step in treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) differs from medical detox because it occurs during inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment.  It provides a combined approach of counseling, behavioral therapies, and FDA-approved medications to help individuals manage withdrawal symptoms and overcome psychological cravings.  The medication is strictly monitored and in most cases, is intended for short-term use only.  However, some individuals continue on a maintenance program of MAT medication after leaving treatment.

This approach to addiction treatment is controversial due to the potentially addictive qualities of the medications used.

Medications That May Be Used During Detox and Treatment

The primary similarity between medically-assisted detox and medication-assisted treatment are that they use the same FDA-approved medications.

Examples of FDA-approved medications are:

  • Buprenorphine – Controls withdrawal symptoms. Suppresses or reduces cravings. Side effects include headache, drowsiness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and skin rashes.
  • Naloxone – Blocks the effects of opioids and reverses the effects of narcotic drugs.  Used in emergency treatment for a narcotic overdose.  May cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, runny nose, muscle weakness.
  • Naltrexone – Helps prevent relapse in people who have been clean for at least seven days.  This drug is slow-acting and can cause appetite loss, aches, pains, irritability, restlessness, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Methadone – A synthetic opioid used primarily in opioid addiction treatment.    The effects are long-lasting.  May cause shallow breathing, high blood pressure, cardiac issues, coma, or death.  People refer to methadone maintenance as “trading one addiction for another” because sudden discontinuance causes severe withdrawal symptoms.
  • Suboxone – A combination of buprenorphine and naloxone to treat opioid addiction.  May cause headache, dizziness, blurred vision, anxiety, depression, nausea, diarrhea, and shallow breathing.
  • Benzodiazepine – Helps with alcohol withdrawal by controlling withdrawal systems.  This MAT drug can alleviate anxiety and acts as an anticonvulsant and muscle relaxer.
  • Disulfiram – Used after detox to deter drinking alcohol.  May cause unpleasant side effects if the person drinks even a small amount of alcoholic beverages.  The side effects include headache, nausea, vomiting, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.
  • Acamprosate – Stabilizes the chemical balance in the brain of recovering alcoholics to prevent future drinking.  May cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, stomach distress, decreased sexual ability, and muscle or joint pain.
  • Naltrexone – Blocks the euphoria produced by alcohol or opioid consumption. It helps people reduce drinking and avoid relapse.  May cause side effects such as insomnia, headache, dizziness, nausea, anxiety, and fatigue.

Find the Best Addiction Treatment for Your Needs

It is important to note that we are not advocating or promoting the use of medication in detox or addiction treatment.  Healthy, drug-free alternatives are available.  The above information is simply to help clarify the differences between medically-assisted detox vs. medication-assisted treatment.

If you are in the process of evaluating treatment options, please contact us at New Beginnings.  One of our representatives can help you determine which approach is right for your situation.


  • – Pharmacologic Treatments for Opioid Dependence: Detoxification and Maintenance Options