what makes drug treatment effective?

What does your loved one need to overcome a substance use disorder and establish a new life in recovery?

1. Medical Care

Medical detox is an important first step in drug addiction treatment. For those who experience withdrawal symptoms – physical symptoms, mental health symptoms, or both – it is a critical period of transition from active drug use to sobriety. It is not a treatment unto itself, however; thus, if a medical detox program is chosen for treatment, it must be followed with outpatient therapeutic treatment or inpatient care if it will be effective on a long-term basis.

Depending on the drug of choice, the dose at the time of detox, potential for medical complications, and goals for the treatment experience, there are different types of detox that may stand out as a more effective choice.

Medicated detox, or the long-term use of so-called “replacement medications,” may be an option for some patients. For example, when low-dose opiate addiction is the primary issue, Suboxone or Subutex (drugs with buprenorphine as the active ingredient), may be used. They work by binding to the opiate receptors in the brain that are used to binding with a steady influx of opiates (e.g., heroin, prescription painkillers, etc.) without creating the same high. This can help the person to avoid the bulk of the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate detox and streamline the transition into therapeutic treatment.

Though the goal is to slowly taper down the dose of the medication, for some patients, it may be necessary to continue some use of the medication for years if not indefinitely. There is no hard and fast rule as to how quickly medicated detox can or should progress. Clients are encouraged to pay close attention to their own comfort levels and to work closely with the prescribing physician and therapeutic team while taking the medication.

Many people living with addiction are tempted to undertake detox at home alone without the assistance or supervision of a professional program. This is not only an ineffective choice; it can be exceptionally dangerous as well. Professional treatment is always recommended in order to ensure that the patient always has access to emergency medical care should complications arise, medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, and the therapeutic support necessary to see through the process of detox to freedom from physical dependence.

Remember: Detox must always be followed by intensive and long-term therapeutic treatment in order to be effective.

2. Individualized Treatment

Each person’s experience before addiction and during the active drug and alcohol use period is unique, and the treatments chosen in treatment should be tailored to address the challenges and needs that arose as a result of that unique experience. With the help of a team of substance abuse treatment professionals, every client in recovery can create a unique treatment plan that is comprised of the medical and psychiatric treatment needed to get back on track.

The process of creating a unique treatment plan starts with a thorough evaluation and assessment process. This can include:

  • Medical exam, screenings, and tests: These are intended to identify all underlying medical issues.
  • Medical history: Diagnosed medical and mental health disorders will inform treatment for addiction.
  • Drug history: The drugs of abuse and the reason for using them can inform the types of therapies that will be helpful.
  • Screenings: In the absence of a formal diagnosis but in the presence of certain mental health, behavioral, and/or medical symptoms, certain tests and screenings can help to identify the cause of certain issues.

All of this information, together with the individual’s goals both for the treatment experience as well as life after treatment, can help to determine the best course of action.

A treatment plan is truly a collaborative effort. Medical professionals, therapists, and alternative treatment providers who specialize in substance abuse treatment should work together with the client to create a treatment plan that will be workable by the individual, capitalizing on strengths and working on any challenges. A team of professionals with different perspectives who work together and analyze the results of data acquired through treatment can ensure that all are doing the most possible to help the client move forward in treatment.

Remember: What works for someone else may or may not work for you. Consider all your options as well as your personal needs and challenges to create a unique treatment plan that will be most effective for you.

3. Regular Check-Ins

Regular Check-Ins

As the individual invests time and effort into therapy, the original treatment goals that informed the first treatment plan choices will be met. It is important that, as this occurs, new treatment goals are created and new therapies are chosen, or changes to therapies are made in order to avoid stagnation in treatment. Additionally, if there are any issues that are preventing progress from occurring in treatment, they should be caught early and changes should be made to jumpstart the recovery process.

Regular meetings with a case manager or personal therapist can give the client a consistent forum where any questions can be answered, concerns addressed, and possible changes can be discussed. Rather than waiting for a specific issue to trigger the need for a meeting, regular get-togethers that start with asking how the client is feeling about treatment and what changes have occurred can facilitate an ongoing discussion throughout the treatment process. Similarly, regular meetings held among the treatment team to discuss the needs of individual clients can identify obstacles noted across therapies and allow for a collaborative effort to address the issues.

Clients are encouraged also to check in with themselves daily, even multiple times a day, to assess how they are feeling and what situation or experience may have triggered those feelings. Though it is important to note what issues may contribute to feelings of discomfort or lack of focus, it is also important to identify the situations that trigger positive feelings. Both will inform the choices that can be made to encourage positive feelings and manage or keep to a minimum any negative feelings that can arise.

Remember: Your voice matters. Talk to your therapist and share your concerns and hopes. Ask any questions you have about recovery.

4. Inclusion of the Family

Addiction does not just impact the individual living with the disorder; it also harms those who are closest to that person. For this reason and because family members have the opportunity to play a uniquely positive role in a person’s recovery, it is important that family education and support be made available. This can include:

  • Educational workshops for family that illuminates some aspect of addiction and/or treatment
  • Support groups solely for family members seeking to support someone through addiction
  • Family therapy sessions
  • Personal therapy sessions, often with a focus on mental health issues, such as PTSD, trauma, depression, anxiety, and/or co-occurring substance use disorders

Just as the person in drug addiction treatment is an individual with a unique experience, so too is the family member, and a range of support options should be available.

Living with and loving someone who is struggling with a potentially fatal disease is traumatic, and it is impossible that close family members will be unscarred by the experience. Personal recovery and growth are necessary, but the person living with addiction may not be in a place to begin that process and help to facilitate that healing for a very long time. Thus, it is important for the family member to seek a personal path to recovery, one that includes personal therapy sessions and support groups that center on the individual challenges faced after living with someone in addiction and while supporting that person in recovery.

Family therapy is an essential component for growth and healing for everyone after an addiction. Meeting in a safe place with the objective guidance and assistance of a therapist can help both parties to speak freely about concerns, fears, and feelings that may have started before or during addiction and not yet been resolved. Additionally, learning how to positively communicate with one another can help both people to get their needs met without further harming the other person. Over time, it may be possible to rebuild trust, reconnect, and enjoy a healthy relationship together. In other cases, therapy sessions can help to facilitate mutual understanding that will inform a healthy parting of ways.

Remember: Family members can be a great support in recovery – as long as they are positive, free from addiction themselves, and actively working to grow and heal on their own as well.

5. Long-Term Aftercare and Support

As important as monitored medical detox and long-term, intensive therapeutic treatment are to facilitating foundation-building in recovery, aftercare and support are critical to helping clients remain relapse-free. Without an ongoing dedication to continued mental health treatment and interaction with others who are also living clean and sober lives, recovery can quickly grow stale and lonely. But with continued engagement with treatment services and support groups, clients will have the support they need to avoid drugs and alcohol as they transition into independent living in recovery and build new lives for themselves.

Meeting others in recovery and building positive relationships can feel challenging at first, but with regular attendance at 12-Step meetings and other support groups, these connections are often authentic and happen spontaneously. Clients are encouraged to share their personal experiences at these meetings, go out for coffee afterward with groups, and talk to people on breaks as well as exchange phone numbers for support.

Continuing to actively pursue health and wellness through therapy and meeting with a doctor regularly if taking medications for mental health symptoms is a must for ongoing stability in recovery. It can take time to make real headway on some issues, including trauma and mental health disorders, and a 30-day treatment program, no matter how intensive, is not designed to serve as a comprehensive lifelong treatment for ongoing symptoms. Learning how to manage symptoms begins during drug addiction treatment, but lifelong healing occurs through ongoing, comprehensive care.

Similarly, because addiction is a chronic disorder that is too often defined by relapse, it is essential to continue to engage regularly with therapy and treatment that addresses the issue. Personal therapy, alternative therapies that were effective during rehab, and holistic treatments can all be effective parts of an aftercare plan.

Remember: Slowly cutting back on the number of therapy sessions and support group meetings per week as you feel ready is recommended, with the option to increase the same should stressors arise or the urge to relapse recur.

What Treatment Will Be Most Effective for You?

If you are struggling with addiction or if someone you love is in need of treatment, reach out to the drug rehab programs that offer the treatment services that will be most beneficial and ask questions. Make sure that individualized treatment is provided, that aftercare and support are included in the program, and that family members will have access to support groups and other options.