A Comprehensive Review of Treatment for Drug Addiction

By The Fix staff 01/21/15

A Comprehensive Review of Treatment for Drug Addiction

Drug Treatment

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9.2% (23.2 million) of people older than age 12 have used illegal drugs at any given time within the past month. However, only 2.4 million individuals actually received the treatment they needed for drug addiction. Furthermore, 17,000 people die in the U.S. annually due to the use of illicit drugs.

The process for obtaining treatment for drug addiction begins with an intervention or when someone makes the decision to seek professional help for the treatment of his addiction. Many people choose to utilize an inpatient treatment center for substance abuse issues; however, outpatient treatment centers and substance abuse programs continue to provide additional resources for those who have already completed inpatient hospitalization or who are unable to attend inpatient treatment.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse identifies a unique set of principles that should be followed in order to make substance abuse treatment as successful as it can be.

Drug Treatment Options

Several drug treatment options are available to help someone who wants to break free from his or her drug addiction. Drug addiction treatment options vary depending upon the severity of the addiction, the drug being abused, and other health conditions that may influence the course of treatment. You need to know what to look for in credible drug treatment programs and drug treatment centers.

Drug Treatment Programs

Drug treatment programs are designed to follow the progression of a person with addiction throughout the entire course of treatment. Drug treatment programs offer a variety of outpatient and inpatient resources to assist in overcoming drug addiction. According to the Mayo Clinic, most chemical dependence treatment programs offer therapy sessions in group, solo, or family settings; education regarding the nature of drug addiction; and levels of care to meet the requirements of each type of addiction.

Drug Treatment Centers

When making the decision to attend drug treatment, the person suffering from the addiction will be faced with the choice of an inpatient or outpatient treatment center. In cases of severe addiction, such as alcohol, prescription medication, cocaine, methamphetamine, or opiate addictions, an inpatient treatment center will provide the necessary treatment for withdrawal symptoms while decreasing the risk for relapse during the detoxification and withdrawal process.

Drug Treatment Process


Some people may feel they do not need any treatment or assistance for their substance abuse disorder. In such cases an intervention may be the best option for convincing your loved one that he or she needs help. You will need to make a plan for your intervention, rehearse what you will say, take notes on your plans, keep the time and location of the intervention secret from those who may reveal the plan to the person suffering from the addiction, prepare a list of consequences for the person if he or she does not attend treatment, and actually go through with the intervention.


When someone first enters the treatment process, he or she will first undergo a complete mental and physical evaluation. The physician or licensed medical practitioner will perform a series of lab tests on someone with an addiction to gain a thorough account of all the drugs currently being used as well as any other health conditions. Furthermore, the mental evaluation will let the practitioner know what symptoms of other mental health illnesses to address while treating the drug addiction.

Detoxification and Withdrawal

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines detoxification, or detox, as a forced withdrawal from the removal of drugs or other agents in the body causing distress. Most persons suffering from a drug addiction will need inpatient hospitalization in order to safely undergo the withdrawal symptoms of overcoming drug addiction depending upon the class of the respective drug. Detoxification usually involves lowering the levels of the chemical or drug in the body over a period of time that helps prevent the body from going into shock. Furthermore, the additional symptoms of anxiety, depression, and emotional discourse can be addressed throughout the course of inpatient hospitalization.

Medication Treatment

Medications, such as methadone or benzodiazepines, can be used to effectively treat the withdrawal symptoms of drug addiction. For some, a medically induced state of sedation may be required as well. For example, someone going through treatment for prescription medications, opiates, or heroin will benefit from controlled dosage of methadone throughout the detoxification process. Once the detox process has ended, the person suffering from the addiction may take the medication naltrexone to block the receptor sites that bind opiates in the brain. This greatly reduces the chances for relapse by removing the means of attaining the effect from the respective drug. In cases of combination with alcoholism, naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram may be used to further help with treating addiction and opiate use. However, these drugs are best used for the short term. 

Treatment of Other Diseases

Part of an effective treatment for drug abuse includes the treatment of other health disorders. Mental health disorders often have symptoms that mirror the symptoms of drug detox, and medical staff need to know which symptoms will respond according to your diagnosis.

The licensed medical practitioner may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to address feelings of nervousness, restlessness, or the development of substance-induced anxiety disorder. Furthermore, the practitioner may prescribe SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs, antidepressants, or event tricyclic medications to assist with chronic low-mood feelings of depression following treatment of drug addiction.

In addition, persons will be able to receive treatment for mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Some of the common medications used to treat these diseases include mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and antidepressants, and close monitoring of blood levels may be required as medications are switched, discontinued, or added to your treatment regimen. You will have the opportunity to meet with your treatment team regularly to address any issues arising during your addiction treatment.

You may have heard of social rhythm therapy in the past, and this form of therapy seeks to reestablish structure into the lives of people who have problems with addiction or mental health. This encourages the body to return to a natural Circadian rhythm and return eating habits to healthy times and amounts.


In most cases, patients benefit the most from a combination of medication and psychotherapy treatment. Many different types of psychotherapy exist for the treatment of substance abuse disorders. During the course of all counseling sessions, a therapist will go over the development of coping skills to address drug cravings, help you create strategies for avoiding drugs, offer suggestions on relapse, talk about issues in life, and include family members or friends to help you if you are in agreement with this tactic. For privacy reasons, you will need to give written consent in order for family members or friends to be part of your treatment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been used to successfully treat drug addiction by changing the irrational or negative thought processes that lead to the decisions to use drugs.

The initial session of cognitive behavioral therapy begins with a detailed discussion between you and your therapist about your thoughts, actions, and feelings in relation to your substance use disorder. You will also need to be honest and inform the therapist of any other medical or mental health conditions you may have. This will give the therapist a thorough understanding of how to help you. You will also be given a realistic expectation of how long your therapy sessions will be expected to last, which tends to be around three months.

Additional Support

After being released from a drug addiction treatment facility, you have some responsibilities in order to maintain your path toward a drug free lifestyle. Avoid the situations that previously encouraged you to use drugs, which may include changing social circles or spending more time with more family members. However, family members who have problems with current drug use should be avoided.

You may benefit from joining local support groups who have personally dealt with the type of addiction you have endured. You may also want to find an additional, outside therapist to visit if you would like to see someone else. However, remember that your previous therapist already has all of your information about your state of mind and will likely be the best equipped person to continue supporting you in your course of drug treatment.

You may also benefit from attending community outreach groups sponsored by the treatment facility that you attended. These group sessions may have a label for the type of substance abuse, but continuing the discussion of drug addiction treatment will help you.

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