Addiction Treatment: What It Is & How It Works

Substance abuse treatment is designed to help those struggling with addictions to drugs or alcohol end their continued misuse of substances. Treatment may occur in several different settings, include different treatment modalities, and last for varying lengths of time. Each person in treatment will have a treatment plan that is determined based on their specific individual needs.1

Addiction increases the risk of developing other mental health disorders, physical illnesses, and experiencing serious social and economic repercussions. Continued substance misuse can also lead to death, which is why treatment is so important. This article will help you learn about different ways to treat drug or alcohol addiction and how rehab works.

Can You Treat Drug or Alcohol Addiction?

Yes, addiction is a treatable medical condition. While there is no single approach to treating addiction that works for everyone, there are many forms of effective treatment.2

Often the first step in treatment, detoxification (or “detox”), works to safely rid the body of drugs or alcohol and ensure a person is ready to transition into formal drug rehab treatment. For people with severe substance use disorders or who have misused certain substances, a medically supervised detox is helpful so that healthcare providers can monitor potentially dangerous symptoms of acute withdrawal and ensure patient safety and comfort.2

Some patients go from detox right into therapy, while it might be more appropriate for others to begin therapy at the start of their treatment. Behavioral therapy, including individual and group counseling, are foundational aspects of addiction treatment and commonly used, as they help patients identify and address core issues related to their substance use disorders.2

Additionally, these and other therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy) can also provide care for those with co-occurring substance use disorders and other mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Those misusing opioids or alcohol may also be prescribed medication that can reduce cravings and further protect against relapse.

Staying engaged and completing treatment for the appropriate amount of time is important, as research shows better outcomes are associated with longer durations of treatment.2 The patient and their treatment team work together to determine the ideal length of stay.

Once treatment is completed, patients will have an aftercare plan to promote sustained recovery. This plan may include sober living houses, individual therapy, and/or community and peer support groups, such as 12-step or other mutual help groups. These resources  provide a way for people to remain engaged in recovery and practice the skills learned in treatment. Social support from family and peers can help protect against relapse after an initial treatment or rehab program has been completed.2

How Effective Is Addiction Treatment?

Well-supported scientific evidence shows that addiction treatment can be effective.3 It is important that the type of treatment for addiction addresses not only a person’s substance misuse, but also any additional physical or psychological conditions, as well as social, vocational, or legal issues.2  Effective treatment involves the whole person and can help them develop healthy coping skills and relapse prevention strategies so that they can have long-term success.

Currently, relapse rates for addiction are comparable with relapse rates associated with other common diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension. Roughly 40-60% of substance use disorder patients experience a relapse, which means that not only is it possible for a relapse to occur, but also that it is likely.2 Like the disease of addiction itself, relapse should not be considered a moral failing of any kind. Rather, understand that it is a possibility directly related to the nature of the disease. Relapse is more likely to be avoided through continuing the therapeutic efforts and gains made during rehab.

How Can You Treat Drug or Alcohol Addiction?

There are many ways to treat drug or alcohol addiction. However, there is no one approach that is appropriate for everyone. Only about 1 in 10 people who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder actually receive treatment, although it has been shown that addiction treatment/rehab is more cost-effective in the long run than no treatment at all.2 The right rehab or treatment program for a person will be based on multiple factors, including the severity of their substance use disorder, which substances they used, and how long they were misusing substances, as well as a person’s health history and other individual factors.3

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) developed a comprehensive set of guidelines for treatment placement of people who have substance use disorders.4 It is the most widely used set of guidelines in the U.S. to determine the appropriate level of care for people seeking addiction treatment.4

The levels of addiction treatment are complex and range from early intervention and prevention to medically managed inpatient care. Some of the major care levels have been broken out and summarized below:4

  • Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient rehab services allow a person to continue their daily routines and live at home while receiving treatment, which typically involves individual and group counseling as well as behavioral therapy.
  • Intensive Outpatient and Partial Hospitalization Programs: Intensive outpatient programs include more hours of counseling or therapy each week than traditional outpatient, but still allow a person to live at home and continue in their daily routines. Partial hospitalization programs are often considered “day treatment,” where people spend several hours in a hospital setting in treatment but also continue to live at home.5
  • Residential/Inpatient Treatment: Our inpatient addiction treatment facility in New Jersey is typically reserved for people who have more severe substance use disorders, however there are several other factors that may make a person a good fit for this type of program. Patients reside at the rehab facility while in treatment. It is a structured environment with medical staff and other healthcare providers who are on staff 24 hours a day.6

For people with addiction to alcohol or opioids, treatment may involve one of a number treatment medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating opioid or alcohol use disorder.7

What Happens After You Leave Addiction Treatment?

Recovery doesn’t end after rehab. An important aspect in the recovery process is maintaining abstinence and the other initial gains made during treatment. Aftercare (or “continuing care” as it is often called), can help people remain engaged in recovery after they leave rehab or complete a treatment program. Remember, addiction is a chronic disease, and like other chronic illnesses, it means that relapse is possible. Therefore, when you leave addiction treatment, following an aftercare (or continuing care) plan can help you stay on track with your recovery, as well as avoid (or limit the severity of) relapse and provide you with other aspects of support, including employment, recreation, housing, and involvement in other meaningful activities.8

Rehab aftercare often includes mutual support groups to reinforce relapse prevention skills. They focus on helping patients understand and manage triggers, stay motivated to continue a sober lifestyle, be accountable, and develop social support. The value of community and connection should not be underestimated, as establishing a bond with others who can relate to your situation is priceless during this vulnerable period of time in your recovery.8

Patients, including those who have already completed a treatment program, can participate in an alumni program, too. A treatment facility may host past patients to continue building upon relationships, forge new connections, and offer support to people months or years after they have completed the program.

How to Get into Addiction Treatment

Finding the right treatment services for yourself or a loved one can feel overwhelming, but there are things you can do to get the process started.

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to provide resources to help you find the best available treatment options to fit any person’s needs. They can help you with details regarding the rehab admissions process, ways to pay for addiction treatment, and insurance coverage for rehab. You can also call for more information.



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