Substance Abuse Treatment


addiction (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

Effective Substance Abuse Treatment can mean different things for different people. The treatment of substance abuse definitely ain’t a “one size fits all” type of thing, some things work for some people, some things work for other . . . it’s just how it is!

What you’ve gotta’ remember is that drug addiction and other types of substance abuse are a complex illness, often characterized by an uncontrollable (at worst) and intense (at best) craving for the substance. It’s this compulsive drug seeking which can drive people to act in seemingly unbelievable ways, often resulting in devastating consequences. Okay, so drug addiction can start off as a voluntary act, but pretty soon these people lose the ability to choose and and seek to consume the substance no matter what the consequences. Addiction is a disease of the brain which can affect multiple circuits – those which involve learning and memory, reward and motivation, behavior and inhibitory control – it is these many dimensions which make substance abuse treatment such a complex business.

The Major Principles of Effective Substance Abuse Treatment

Whereas there are many different types of substance abuse treatment programs, research has shown that all programs need to be based around the following major principles if the patient (yes, remember it’s an illness) can have any chance to stop using harmful substances, avoid relapsing and be able to fully recover and continue with their lives.

  •  Addiction is treatable, even though it is an illness which affects not only the behavior, but also the brain function.
  • There is no single type of substance abuse treatment which is appropriate for all people.
  • Substance abuse treatment must be readily available.
  • Effective substance abuse treatment must deal not only with the addiction and substance abuse, but with every need of the individual on every level.
  • It is critical that the individual receives substance abuse treatment over an adequate period of time.
  • The most commonly associated form of substance abuse treatment is some type of counseling, as well as individual or group behavioral therapy sessions.
  • Medications are an important part of substance abuse treatment, just so long as they are used in combination with other methods of behavioral therapy and counseling . . . drugs alone ain’t the answer to fighting drug addiction or other forms of substance abuse.
  • Continual assessment of the individual’s needs are vital. The needs of an individual are ever changing as they work their way through a substance abuse treatment program.
  • It’s important to realize that many people who become addicted to drugs and other substances do suffer from other mental disorders.
  • Although the first stage of substance abuse treatment is often medically assisted detoxification, this alone does very little as a long term treatment for substance abuse. It’s definitely only step one on a long journey.
  • Substance abuse treatment programs also need to monitor individuals for the presence of HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, Hepatitis B & C . . . any infectious diseases really which the individual may have put themselves at risk of contracting.

Effective Approaches of Substance Abuse Treatment

We’ve already said that substance abuse treatment takes many forms, (with the above principles), and that no one part of substance abuse treatment can work alone.  Medication combined with behavioral therapy are the most important elements of the overall substance abuse treatment programs which begin right after detoxification. For treatment to be effective it’s important to ease withdrawal symptoms which can help with the all important part of preventing a relapse. It’s important that individuals are subjected to a continuum of care, including their own customized regime of treatment which address all of the different aspects of the individuals life, not just the substance abuse.

  • Medical and mental health services
  • Follow up options like family or community based support systems – these are crucial for the success of the person to achieve, and maintain a life free from drug or substance abuse.

Behavioral Treatments for Substance Abuse

 Behavioral treatments are an important part of any substance abuse treatment program, helping patients to really engage and become involved in the treatment process, modify their behaviors and attitudes and increase their healthy life skills. These types of treatments can be delivered in many ways, in many settings, with different approaches very often being used in different settings.

Outpatient Behavioral Treatment

Most of these are therapy sessions for individuals or groups of people who visit their treatment clinics regularly. Different types of behavioral treatment may be on offer;

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – patients need to be able to recognize and avoid situations in which they may be encouraged to go back to their old ways of substance abuse, and have the ability to cope with such situations without succumbing to the temptations.
  • Motivational interviewing – is a technique which capitalizes on the individuals when they are ready to work to change their behavior and begin treatment.
  • Motivational incentives – uses some type of positive reinforcement to encourage the patients to abstain from drugs or other harmful substances.
  • Multidimensional family therapy – nobody can beat substance abuse on their own . . . nobody. These family therapy sessions are particularly helpful for adolescents with substance abuse problems, and their families to address a whole range of influences on the patterns of drug abuse and can hopefully improve the function of the whole family.

Residential Substance Abuse Treatment

These types of substance abuse treatment programs are particularly useful for those with more severe problems. Some patients need to be in residence on these programs for a couple of months, others are in residence for a full 12 months, it just depends on the individual and on their response to the substance abuse treatment program. Hopefully, when these patients leave the residential substance abuse treatment programs they are ready to be resocialized into a drug-free, substance free, crime-free life.