Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid dependence is a science-based and proven-effective option for teens and young adults. It should be administered with age appropriate psychosocial therapy and drug testing. Unfortunately, it has been subject to controversy and stigma. Yet the neuroscience of addiction and cravings helps explain why MAT, when properly used and overseen, can be truly life saving for adolescents, young adults, and their families. I see it working all the time. When kids come into treatment, their lives are just chaotic. Parents are desperate — they don’t know what to do or where to turn. The most important thing is to bring stability into the situation, and the best way to do that is with medication.
The scientific evidence is incontrovertible: addiction is a brain disease – and can be especially severe when substance abuse starts early in life. Since the brain continues to grow and develop through the twenties, it’s very vulnerable to the effects of any exogenous substance. Early drug use makes almost permanent changes to both the structure and function of the brain, which has profound implications for the rest of a person’s life.
A parent bringing their child into treatment wants to maximize the chance that the child can abstain from the drug so the brain can heal and preclude the lifelong struggles of adult addiction. Scientific studies show that psychosocial treatments alone (i.e. without medication) show relatively poor results. Part of the reason has to do with cravings. Here’s why.
When a person takes a drug, the brain feels an enormous “high” in the reward system. It then implants a memory in the limbic system — the “lizard brain” — where memories of pleasures such as food and sex are stored. Anything having to do with procuring or using the drug becomes part of the memory …read more