With any chronic illness, finding the right treatment is the first step toward disease-management and living a productive and happy life. Addiction is no exception. Research has shown that when people with addiction seek and complete a substance use treatment program, the odds for successful management of the addiction are high.1

Every person’s experience with substance use disorder is unique, so treatment plans are most successful when they’re tailored to individual needs. However, all substance use disorder treatment usually includes some combination of the following components:

  • Detoxification
    For most types of substance use disorder, treatment includes an initial detoxification, in which the drug is eliminated from the body. This may take place at an inpatient treatment facility under the care of a medical professional. Certain medications may be used to assist with the detox and to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal.
     
  • Behavioral therapy
    Since drug treatment plans address both addiction and the cause of addiction, behavioral therapy is an important part of nearly every plan. There are a wide range of behavioral therapies available, and a medical professional will determine which is most appropriate based on the type of addiction and other issues being treated.
     
  • Medication
    In addition to medication that’s administered to help with withdrawal symptoms, research shows that some substance use disorders are best managed with a medication treatment plan2. There are currently highly effective medications that are used in the treatment of tobacco, alcohol, and opioid use disorders.
     
  • Support groups
    According to many studies, support groups can be tremendously effective for long-term recovery maintenance3. This includes 12-Step Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, as well as programs that utilize SMART recovery approaches or other peer-counseling programs. These programs provide opportunities where people in recovery can connect with one another in an environment that promotes and supports long-term recovery.

Just as every person who has arthritis or diabetes gets a unique treatment plan, a person with substance use disorder will work with a physician or addiction specialist to determine which treatment options will best support a successful recovery.

The ultimate goal of substance use disorder treatment isn’t simply to eliminate the use of a specific substance – it’s to help the person with addiction move forward to become a productive member of the community who can maintain steady work and healthy relationships. As you or someone you love works toward that goal, it’s helpful to keep the following considerations about substance use disorder treatment in mind.

Addiction is a disease, and it can be treated.

Research shows that addiction affects brain function and behavior, and overcoming it has nothing to do willpower or weakness4. Drug use causes physical and permanent changes to the brain5, and those changes must be addressed to become substance-free.

Every addiction is unique – so every treatment must be unique.

Not only does treatment depend upon the type of drug involved, but it also depends upon the person with the substance use disorder. Personal and family history with drugs, mental health concerns, and other factors must be taken into consideration to form an effective treatment plan.

Treatment should address both the substance use and the whole health of the patient.

Detoxification isn’t enough to manage a substance use disorder. A holistic approach to addressing the mental health, personal health, family, work and other relationships and environmental factors must also be addressed to ensure long-term success.

Treatment takes time and commitment.

Recovery from addiction usually requires multiple steps – from initial detoxification to behavioral therapy and support programs. As with other chronic illnesses, there may be relapses or additional types of treatment may be needed. Understanding and accepting that a person must stay in treatment for as long as necessary is critical for maintaining recovery on a long-term basis.

Relapse does not mean failure.

With every chronic disease, there’s the chance that a patient will relapse and require additional treatment. This is as true for people with asthma or diabetes as it is for a person with substance use disorder6. Relapse is not due to lack of willpower or resolve. It just means that additional treatment is needed.

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1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide”
2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction: Facts for Friends and Family.” HHS Publication No. (SMA) 09-4443. 2011
3. National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence. https://www.ncadd.org/people-in-recovery/hope-help-and-healing/self-help-recovery-support-groups “Self Help Recovery Support Groups
4. Brain Facts/Society for Neuroscience. http://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-disorders/addiction/ “Addiction”
5. University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/brainchange/ “Drug Use Changes the Brain Over Time”
6. JAMA, 284:1689-1695, 2000