Addiction Treatment Guide

Addiction is a complex and often misunderstood subject. If you or a loved one has concerns about substance use, many treatment options are available. Learn more about what addiction is, along with the multitude of treatment options and resources that are available for treating this disorder.

Let’s Talk About Addiction

Addiction happens when a person experiences a compulsion to continue using a substance despite negatively impacting their life. Addiction is also known as substance use disorder and is a chronic, degenerative disease.

People struggling with addiction feel strongly compelled to keep using the drug, cannot limit their intake, and often become agitated when their access to the drug is cut off.

Addiction is different from physical dependence. Physical dependence happens when a person’s body becomes used to a substance (such as alcohol or other drug use). When someone becomes dependent upon a substance, they may experience cravings or withdrawal symptoms when they no longer have access to that substance.

On the other hand, scientists classify addiction by the user’s inability to mitigate their drug or alcohol use regardless of how it negatively affects them. Their lives often begin to revolve around acquiring, using, and/or recovering from alcohol or drug use.

Addiction Risk Factors

Alcohol or drug addiction can happen to anyone, but specific demographics and external forces can make a person more susceptible to developing addiction or substance use disorder. In most cases, individuals that have experienced emotional or physical trauma/abuse are much more likely to develop substance use disorder.

Additional factors can also make an individual more at risk for developing substance use disorder because these characteristics can present additional challenges for people in their daily lives.

These factors include:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Racial minorities (Black, Latino, etc.)
  • LGBTQ+ identifying
  • Poverty
  • Access to health insurance
  • Mental health issues

Additionally, those with a family history of substance use disorder/alcohol use disorder may also be more likely to develop substance use disorder themselves.

Substance Use Disorder Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 10% of adults in the US develop substance use disorder at some point in their lives. That statistic means that 23 million adults in total have struggled with substance abuse at some point in their lives.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also reports the following statistics based on the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health:

  • Of the people diagnosed with substance use disorder, 38% used illicit drugs, 73% used alcohol, and 11% used both.
  • 9.5 million Americans 18 and older had both a diagnosed mental illness and substance use disorder
  • In 2018, the largest group of Americans that sought help for drug addiction aged 26 through 35

Substance Use Disorder Effects

Depending on the substance itself, substance use disorder can lead to many physical health problems—some of which can be deadly. For instance, stimulant drugs can negatively impact cardiovascular health and lead to brain damage, heart attack, stroke, or other permanent damage to the body.

Continued substance abuse can also lead to overdose and death.

However, as asserted by Dr. George Koob, the Director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it is a common mistake to consider substance use disorder as a weakness or a “moral failing.”

The misuse of drugs (either illicit drugs or prescription drugs) and alcohol will also make significant, lasting changes to how the user’s brain functions. Some of these changes to the brain can even be permanent, and other chemical changes to the brain can have a longer recovery time.

Beyond the physical toll that substance use disorder can take on the body, a significant emotional aspect often occurs alongside this disease. Substance misuse begins to take over all aspects of the user’s life and can cause problems in other parts of their lives. Relationships with family members and loved ones suffer, and employment and housing status can become insecure.

Substance use disorder can also lead to legal issues, from a DUI to heavy fines and imprisonment. The impact of running into legal trouble due to substance use disorder can last for years.

Seeking Addiction Treatment

Not sure if you or your loved one should look into getting treatment for substance use disorder? One option is to request a substance use analysis from a doctor or similar healthcare provider.

A substance abuse assessment can help you gauge your substance use and determine whether you show problematic behavior and benefit from treatment services. Additionally, there are hotlines available if you aren’t ready to speak to someone in person.

If you are wondering if seeking substance use treatment is right for you, you may also ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want to cut back or stop using drugs/alcohol, but am I finding it difficult or impossible?
  • Is my substance use impacting my work life?
  • Have family members or loved ones expressed concern about my drinking or drug use?
  • Am I taking prescription medications (yours or someone else’s) outside of their intended use?
  • Do I seek to use alcohol or drugs to feel high or escape unpleasant feelings?
  • Do I spend a significant amount of time obtaining, using, and/or recovering from drugs or alcohol use?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, it may be worth looking into treatment. Many people don’t realize that there are many different types of treatment for substance use disorder, from residential-style inpatient care to moderate outpatient treatment programs. Substance abuse treatment is not a “one size fits all” solution, and doctors can tailor your treatment plan to match your unique needs.

Types of Addiction Drug Rehab

In addition to the different types of therapies available for treating substance abuse disorder, there are also various drug rehab programs that can help. The kind of rehab program that you choose will be determined by your individual needs, including your drug/alcohol use, substance abuse history, external commitments, and so forth.

Inpatient Treatment Facilities

Inpatient rehab is more extensive and requires the recovering addict to stay at a facility, usually for 28-30 days. Inpatient facilities may offer more of a residential treatment setting, while other inpatient centers are focused more on providing inpatient medical care.

Outpatient Treatment Facilities

Outpatient rehab comes in a few different levels of care, depending on your individual needs. A partial hospitalization program (PHP) will act very similarly to a residential program, except the patient can leave at the end of each day. Meanwhile, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides the same therapies and structure of partial hospitalization but with a lesser time commitment.

Some individuals may progress through more than one treatment provider, such as starting with a residential program and then joining an outpatient treatment program once the residential treatment is complete.

Again, the type of treatment center you choose will vary based on your individual needs, but they can all be effective in helping individuals work towards a healthier, drug-free life.

Medical Detoxification

Detoxification is also known as detox. Detox occurs when a person stops consuming a specific substance, and the body is allowed time to clear those remaining chemicals from its system.

Detox occurs with or without medical intervention, as it is part of the body’s natural cleansing process.

However, during detox, some individuals may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. Some side effects of withdrawal can be dangerous or even deadly. Therefore, medical detox is often recommended for people seeking treatment for substance abuse so they can be monitored during the detox process and given emergency help if needed.

Treatment with Medication

Sometimes addiction treatment is accompanied by prescription medication to help the patient during their treatment program. This type of treatment is also known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Medication-assisted treatment is ineffective for all types of substance use disorders. Still, in some cases (such as opioid addiction), MAT can be highly beneficial by decreasing some withdrawal symptoms and helping the patient avoid relapse.

Some medication-assisted treatment may also become part of a patient’s maintenance program after completing inpatient or outpatient rehab.

Some of the more common prescription medications used for MAT include:

  • Acamprosate (alcohol use disorder)
  • Buprenorphine (opioid use disorder)
  • Methadone (opioid use disorder)
  • Naltrexone (alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder)
  • Disulfiram (alcohol use disorder)

Types of Therapies for Addiction Treatment

Behavioral health is a significant focus of just about any type of substance abuse treatment program.

There are a variety of approaches used to help patients during their substance abuse treatment. Many of these types of therapies are available in both inpatient and outpatient programs.

However, if there’s a particular therapy that you are most interested in, you would probably want to check ahead to see what is available. Your local alcohol or drug addiction treatment centers may offer different programs compared to one another.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy designed to help the patient identify negative thought patterns and reframe them. Therapy sessions are usually one-on-one between patient and therapist, although CBT may also be a strategy used in group therapy sessions.

As patients work with their therapist, they may receive “assignments” to work on between sessions, such as journaling, meditating, reading, or other healthy activities that promote improved mental and behavioral health.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is another type of therapy that can be very helpful when treating patients with addiction. REBT helps patients identify self-focused negative beliefs and then challenge those beliefs through rational examination.

Ultimately, REBT helps patients set new life goals and develop a more positive view of themselves and the world.

12-Step Programs

Twelve-step programs are available both inside and outside treatment programs. Through a progression of 12 steps, individuals getting help for substance abuse will move through these steps with the support of peers and a sponsor.

Twelve-step programs provide a community of peers that have also dealt with substance use disorder. Through this type of support group, many individuals find hope through the stories of others’ experiences and encouragement in their journey.

Standard 12-step programs include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Contingency Management

Contingency management is a therapy approach designed to reward recovering addicts for good behavior, clean drug tests, and similar positive accomplishments. Rewards might include movie tickets, day passes (in a residential setting), special snacks, or meals. These rewards may also increase over time.

Contingency management helps recovering addicts create short-term goals and receive positive reinforcement for achieving these goals.

Living Post-Treatment

While relapse prevention is taught as a tool and coping skills throughout treatment, sometimes relapse occurs. But relapse doesn’t mean that the recovering addict didn’t receive adequate treatment. Since substance use disorder is a chronic disease, relapse can be an unfortunate reality in the recovery process.

For many addicts, life post-treatment will include continual maintenance, such as support groups (like NA or AA) or through additional individual therapy. Others who battled a more severe addiction may have long-term effects on their health that require further medical care.

Support from family and friends can also be hugely helpful in helping recovering addicts remain sober and continue to choose to live drug-free. The key is to take each day one at a time.

Finally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a free treatment center locator so you can take a look at what type of programs are near you.

Ready to Get Started?

If you or your loved one are ready to take that first step toward addiction recovery—congratulations! Deciding to seek outside help truly is the most critical step to recovery.

You can find out what treatment options are available for you locally using the SAMHSA locator.

Frequently Asked Questions about Addiction Treatment

Can addiction be treated?

Yes and no. Addiction is a chronic and degenerative disease, much like asthma. While symptoms can be treated and mitigated, the addiction may never entirely disappear. However, through continued diligence and maintenance during and after rehab, many people diagnosed with substance use disorder go on to live fulfilling, drug-free lives.

How are medications used in addiction treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment is sometimes used during the initial detox phase to help lessen the adverse side effects of withdrawals. Doctors can also prescribe medication during treatment as a way of helping prevent relapse, and this medication may become part of a patient’s long-term treatment plan.

How many people seek treatment for their addictions?

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that more than 2 million individuals with diagnosed substance use disorder sought addiction treatment. However, this number only makes up 10.4% of all individuals with substance use disorder.

What substances are most likely to lead to addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the most addictive drugs are as follows:

  • Heroin
  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Nicotine

Can addiction come back after treatment?

Addiction doesn’t go away, and as a result, relapse is undoubtedly possible—but it’s important to remember that relapse doesn’t mean the treatment didn’t work. Addiction is a lifelong disease for many, but many addicts find themselves able to lead healthy, everyday lives despite their diagnosis.

How do I find the right addiction treatment facility for me or my loved one?

To find an addiction treatment facility, you can speak with your doctor or similar healthcare provider for recommendations or referrals. Additionally, there are often hotlines available on local and national levels.

Reviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Addiction Guide and ensures the quality of our website’s content and messaging.

Written by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

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