Drug Addiction Treatment Basics

Although treatment for drug addiction will vary depending on which type of substance is being abused and what type of patient is being treated, the very best treatments typically involve a variety of therapeutic modalities.

People suffering from drug addiction cannot usually stop using drugs on their own, although they may believe this to be true at the beginning of their journey. In fact, many people must attempt addiction treatment many times before they will actually stay clean. Scientific studies reveal that prolonged drug addiction can actually change brain chemistry, affecting behavior and impulse control, which is one of the main characteristics of addiction. These changes can remain for a prolonged period of time, even after a person has stopped using drugs. Acknowledging that drug addiction has a basic biological component is the first step in understanding why some people cannot stop abusing drugs without drug addiction treatment.

However, biological predisposition is not the only reason someone becomes addicted to drugs. Stressors related to work or family can cause someone to start using drugs, as do psychological illnesses, or chronic pain. Once someone has been in recovery for a period of time, triggers such as meeting people or being in locations from their drug-using days can cause cravings to re-emerge without the person even knowing that a trigger has occurred. Some people will be unable to handle these cravings without relapsing. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if someone is just entering recovery or is facing relapse, being an active participant in drug addiction treatment is absolutely necessary for a good result.

Drug Addiction Treatment Defined

The goal of any drug addiction treatment program is to help drug addicts cease compulsive drug use and drug seeking behavior. There is no one acceptable drug addiction treatment method; treatment comes in many forms, and happens in a variety of settings over various lengths of time. It is important to realize that recovery from drug addiction is a lifelong process and is often punctuated by relapses, making one-time treatment the exception rather than the rule.

Although drug addiction treatment programs come in many different shapes and sizes, they can often be categorized into a few main groups. The actual type of treatment recommended for any individual patient will depend on his or her specific needs and the type of drugs they have been taking. Other factors include the strength of the addiction and whether there have been previous attempts to stop using. Drug addiction treatment modalities include the use of medications, participation in behavioral therapies such as individual or group counseling, cognitive therapy and contingency management, or a combination of the above. Because drug addiction never occurs in a vacuum, other issues such as mental illness, work issues, family problems or legal matters must also be handled while drug addiction treatment is ongoing.

The most successful drug addiction treatment programs blend therapies and services to meet a client’s specific needs related to age, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, pregnancy, co-occurring conditions, employment, housing, and family, in addition to a history of physical and sexual abuse.

Medications such as Methadone and Suboxone can be prescribed to those people who are addicted to opioids (e.g., Vicodin, OxyContin, oxycodone); nicotine products such as nicotine patches, gum, nasal spray, and lozenges and medications such as varenicline and bupropion can be prescribed for those who are addicted to nicotine.

In addition, antidepressants, antianxiety meds, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics may be needed when a drug addict has a dual diagnosis with a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar, or schizophrenia.

Behavioral Therapies and Drug Addiction Treatment

When exploring which behavioral therapy option is right for a particular patient, keep in mind that the goals are to encourage active participation in treatment, develop workable strategies for handling drug cravings, teach how to handle triggers, avoid relapse and deal with it if it occurs.

Most treatments use both individual and group therapies in conjunction with other modalities. Groups can provide social reinforcement and help develop contingencies for living a lifestyle of abstinence. Treatments such as contingency management and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be modified for group work in the adult population to make treatment more affordable.

Effectiveness of Drug Addiction Treatment

Although the goal of any drug addiction treatment program is abstinence, another goal can be to return a patient to the role of a functioning family member and/or employee. Many patients in treatment will cease drug use, decrease criminal activity and improve functioning in employment, familial and social settings. For Methadone users, studies show that participation in the program increases participation in behavioral therapy while decreasing criminal behavior and illicit drug use. The overall success of any treatment program will depend on the totality of the person’s problems, the appropriateness of treatments and relationship between patient and caregivers.

Although addiction can be managed successfully long-term, relapse into drug abuse should be expected and is not necessarily an indication that treatment was not a success. Successful treatment involves ongoing monitoring and treatment modification, as with other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and asthma. For addicts, relapse simply means that treatment needs to be restarted or than another treatment needs to be investigated.

Cost of Drug Addiction Treatment

Drug abuse costs Americans more than a half-trillion dollars per year; drug addiction treatment can go a long way to reducing these costs. Treatment also reduces costs associated with health and social issues related to drug abuse, which are often more than what treatment would cost. Further, alternatives to drug treatment, such as those associated with incarceration are much more costly. For every dollar spent on addiction treatment, roughly five dollars is saved via reduced crime, judicial costs and theft. When healthcare savings are added in, the total approximates twelve dollars.

Duration of Drug Addiction Treatment

Because individuals vary dramatically with regard to how well they progress through treatment, it is impossible to say how long a treatment plan should be. Studies show, however, that positive outcomes depend largely on adequate treatment length. A program that lasts less than 90 days has less of a success rate and a higher rate of relapse. Those who enter a Methadone Maintenance program can expect to be in the program for at least a year, if not more.

Drug addiction is a progressive and deadly disease.

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