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Alcohol & Drug Treatment Options

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Treatment for any substance use disorder is guided by general principles that have been established by research studies, but it is also highly individualized.

Approaches that work for one person may not work for someone else. It is important that you find the program that suits your specific needs, but at the same time follows the basic principles supported by research methods that are shown to be effective in addressing issues with substance use disorders.

Your needs are unique, and your addiction treatment should be too.

Treatment for any substance use disorder is a long-term endeavor. It is not just a few weeks of “rehab” and then you are cured. There is no cure for addiction, but it can be effectively managed for life.

An Overall Approach to Treatment

The basic approach of getting treatment for alcohol or drug abuse involves the following:

  • An evaluation from a physician
  • An assessment from a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker
  • Weighing available treatment approaches
  • Treatment plan development

The first three steps in the above process help to determine your needs, and the final step organizes a formal plan that can address your specific needs.

Although the formal treatment plan is developed by your treatment providers, you should be a part of the process. The treatment plan will include elements of medically assisted treatments (medicines), behavioral interventions, and other therapies.

Evaluation by a Physician

The first step of the process is typically seeing a physician or a mental health professional; however, many individuals also contact treatment providers directly to receive assessments. This step will help to shape your care, ensuring it meets your specific needs.

Because your abuse of alcohol or drugs may have damaged your body, and it is quite possible that you have other medical conditions that need to be addressed, you should have a full physical examination before starting rehab. The physician will assess your overall physical health and identify what areas need to be addressed.

Damage to organs like the liver, heart, and kidneys is common due to drug abuse, lack of self-care, or engaging in risky behaviors. Potential damage should be assessed, so appropriate treatment steps can be taken while you are addressing your addiction.

Assessment by a Mental Health Professional

The second phase of the process to determine your unique treatment needs is a mental health evaluation from a professional like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker.

You should be thoroughly assessed using different types of instruments, such as questionnaires or tests, in addition to interviews. The clinician may also gather information from family members or friends.

This evaluation generally follows a more relaxed format than a physical evaluation, but it will investigate all areas of psychological and emotional functioning. Part of the process will be to formally diagnose you with some type of substance use disorder, and the diagnosis will help to determine the type of treatment you will need.

Weighing Your Treatment Options

Once you have undergone the first two evaluations, your treatment options can be discussed. This will include whether you get inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Based on your current needs, certain treatments will preferable to others.

There are four general levels of care for substance use disorders.rams.

Is delivered for very severe cases where individuals have severe and life-threatening medical conditions, are suicidal, or have severe psychiatric problems, such as psychosis. This level of care can also be used for medical detox in specific cases.

Require clients to live at the facility where treatment is delivered. Inpatient treatment is used when you have medical issues or a severe addiction that requires 24-hour access to medical care. Residential treatment does not provide 24-hour access to medical care, but it does provide 24-hour supervision. This level of care may be appropriate for those with long-term or severe addictions as well as those who have attempted recovery in the past and relapsed.

In IOP or partial hospitalization treatment (PHP), clients receive the same intensity of treatment that they would get in an inpatient or residential unit, but they do not live on the unit. They return home or to a sober living facility ever day following treatment.

Clients are able to function relatively independently while they get treatment. They visit the facility for their scheduled treatment sessions.

Medically Managed Intensive Inpatient Treatment

Is delivered for very severe cases where individuals have severe and life-threatening medical conditions, are suicidal, or have severe psychiatric problems, such as psychosis. This level of care can also be used for medical detox in specific cases: Inpatient or Residential Services, Intensive Outpatient Treatment, Standard Outpatient Treatment.

Your assessing physician, mental health care clinician, and you will determine the level of treatment that is appropriate for your situation. If you begin at one of the higher levels of supervised treatment, such as inpatient treatment, you will eventually transition all the way down to outpatient treatment as you learn to function more independently and without the need for strict supervision.

If you start with outpatient treatment, you need a safe living situation. If your home environment isn’t stable, consider residing in a sober living home for a while. Many sober living homes are affiliated with treatment programs.

The Development of a Treatment Plan

Once the overall mode of treatment (inpatient or outpatient) is determined, you will also be involved in developing an overall treatment plan with your treatment providers. The plan should be based on the principles of effective treatment for substance use disorders, but it should be individualized to meet your specific needs and situation.

The plan will be flexible. You and your treatment providers may change aspects of the plan as you continue through your treatment. What is appropriate at the beginning of your recovery process may no longer be needed once you are more stable in recovery.

The treatment plan will include short-term goals and long-term goals. In addition to the core components of addiction treatment (medications and behavioral therapy), it may involve various interventions, such as case management services, vocational training, job placement help, tutoring for school, assistance with housing, and other services.

Can’t I Just Do This on My Own?

Having a substance use disorder means you likely have difficulty controlling your use of drugs or alcohol. Nonetheless, many people think they can control their behavior and rectify the problem on their own. As addiction is a disease that is marked by uncontrollable use, it is generally rather difficult to simply stop on your own, though not entirely impossible.


Currently, there are no medications that can be used to fully control any substance problem. Instead, medications can help you to tolerate withdrawal symptoms, reduce your cravings for drugs or alcohol, address other co-occurring issues like depression, and treat medical issues. But there is no medication that will totally address all your issues with substance abuse and keep you from relapsing.

Pharmacotherapy is the use of medications to address specific problems. Medications are very useful in the treatment of substance use disorders, but they are not standalone treatments for addiction.

Some people with substance use disorders may reject the notion of using medications in addiction treatment. They are wary of the idea of putting any drugs in their bodies when they are attempting sobriety. Using medication in the treatment of a substance use disorder is not replacing one addiction with another. Medications are often an integral part of recovery.

The use of medications are often best used in conjunction with behavioral therapy.

Behavioral Interventions

Behavioral interventions apply education, psychological principles, group dynamics, and the use of support and other activities to help you learn new skills, rethink your thought processes, and develop an attitude that will help you be free from drugs and alcohol in the long run. Behavioral therapies require significant work from clients, but the results can be impressive.

Standard Therapy

Psychotherapy is the application of psychological principles to a person’s needs or problems. This therapy is an essential component of a recovery program, and it can be delivered in individual or group sessions. There are advantages to both therapy formats, such as intensely working on personal issues in individual therapy and learning from the experiences of others in group therapy. In most cases, people in recovery attend both.

Support Groups

Peer support groups, such as 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, are not formal therapy groups because they are not run by trained therapists. Instead, these groups are run by people who have the same issues you have, but the group leaders have more time in stable recovery under their belts.

Support groups frequently offer a very structured program of recovery as well as significant support. Therapy is often a time-limited intervention, whereas participation in peer support groups is typically ongoing. Many individuals remain in these groups for years.

They should never serve as a replacement for therapy, but peer support groups can bolster the effects of formal substance use disorder therapy.

Complementary or Holistic Treatments

Other types of behavioral interventions include adjunctive and complementary forms of therapy like art therapy, yoga, acupuncture, music therapy, animal-assisted therapy, and mindfulness meditation. These forms of treatment are often referred to as holistic therapies.

They are designed to complement your participation in formal therapy and peer support groups. As with support groups, holistic therapies are not designed to replace traditional talk therapy. They can simply augment your overall recovery process.

The goal of holistic treatment is to address the entire person — the mind, body, and soul — rather than just treating the addiction issue. Today, most addiction treatment programs treat the whole individual, taking all facets of life into account to best support continued sobriety. As a result, most rehab centers incorporate at least some elements of holistic care into their offerings.

Standard Therapy

Psychotherapy is the application of psychological principles to a person’s needs or problems. This therapy is an essential component of a recovery program, and it can be delivered in individual or group sessions. There are advantages to both therapy formats, such as intensely working on personal issues in individual therapy and learning from the experiences of others in group therapy. In most cases, people in recovery attend both.

Aftercare (Continuing Care)

While structured addiction treatment will give you the basis you need to function in ongoing recovery, treatment doesn’t end when you complete the program.

Aftercare is a crucial part of continued recovery, ensuring you have the support necessary to sustain you when things get tough. Like the other phases of addiction treatment, aftercare should be tailored to your individual needs, and no two aftercare plans will be identical.

The ultimate goal of aftercare or continuing care programs is continued sobriety, and all components of the plan support that goal.

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An aftercare plan may involve these types of elements:

  • Outpatient therapy sessions, often on a weekly basis
  • Regular (often daily) attendance at peer support group meetings
  • A good sleep schedule
  • Regular exercise regime
  • A healthy and balanced diet
  • Hobbies and interests that don’t involve any substances of abuse
  • A group of sober friends you can turn to if you are tempted to relapse
  • A plan for what to do if relapse does occur

The specifics of your aftercare plan will be very individual. You can work up this plan with your therapist, and you may find you need to tweak it during ongoing recover. Every part of it should support the ultimate goal of continued sobriety.

Following the Advice of Your Treatment Team

Although the addiction treatment process for alcohol and drug abuse should be personalized, you won’t dictate the full course of your treatment. While you’ll make decisions in conjunction with your treatment team, it’s wise to follow their recommendations.

There may be certain aspects of treatment that you don’t like. Few people enjoy the initial withdrawal stage, but it’s a stepping stone to a more pleasant place in life.

Oftentimes, the greatest gains come with a lot of hard work. That work can be difficult and even painful sometimes, but the end result is well worth it.

Rely on your treatment providers to support you through the parts of recovery you don’t love. And keep communication open throughout the entire process. If a particular therapy isn’t working for you, tell them. The right treatment program for you will be one that is customized to fit your needs and accommodate your growth in recovery.

If you would like to learn about addiction in general,
please view our guide to drug addiction signs, causes & health risks.

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