There is no cure for addiction. Over thousands of years and across cultures, doctors and researchers have dedicated their lives to finding a vaccine or magic pill that will erase the urge to drink or use drugs and eradicate addiction from the human population.
What they found instead was a huge array of exceptional therapies and treatment tools that are most effective when combined and applied on an as-needed basis contingent on a client’s individual experience before and during addiction as well as the goals that the person has for treatment and beyond. Though it is not possible to overcome addiction overnight, drug addiction treatment programs can be effective in helping a person who is willing to change to stop drinking and getting high. Learning how to live a life that is not characterized by compulsive substance use and abuse and the negative consequences that result starts with effective drug treatment.
But with so many drug rehab programs to choose from, how is it possible to know which will be effective and which ones will not? The fact is that not all rehab programs are created equal. The treatment programs that will be most effective will share certain characteristics, including:
1. An Understanding of Addiction as a Chronic Medical Disorder
The first reason why treatment for drug and alcohol addiction works is that it is understood by the medical community as a medical disorder and not a moral failing or character flaw. This is significant because it removes the notion that people who are living with drug addiction are at fault when relapse strikes or that they are somehow unworthy of care or treatment. Individuals who feel that they are not supported in recovery or that the pain and hardship caused by addiction is their “fault” rather than a disorder caused by a medical issue may not be able to avoid the urge to turn back to their substance of choice in order to escape the feelings of guilt and shame.
Similarly, the view that addiction is a moral issue contributes to stigma against people who are struggling with active addiction as well as those who are in recovery and seeking a better life for themselves and their families. This stigma can stop individuals from connecting with safe housing, steady employment, and other opportunities that will serve to help them stabilize in recovery. The fact that the treatment community has come to recognize the nature of addiction as a medical disorder means that there is better access to services, and continued support and understanding of the nature of addiction during relapse, making treatment easier to access at any level of substance use or abuse and therefore more effective.
2. Provision of Comprehensive Care
Medical and therapeutic care are both necessary to treat addiction effectively, and rehab programs that offer both medical detox and traditional, alternative, and holistic treatments are more likely to help clients to lay a strong foundation in recovery. Though physical dependence on a certain drug may play a role in a person’s experience in addiction, medical detox alone is not enough to treat the disorder. Similarly, attempting to create a new life in recovery solely by attending peer-led 12-Step meetings is not effective either.
Rather, comprehensive care that provides treatment for every issue that contributes to the urge to drink and get high is necessary. Though this is different for everyone, it may include the following:
- Medical detox: Medical care – in some cases, including medication – is the first step toward stabilization in recovery if withdrawal symptoms are an issue.
- Personal therapy: Meeting regularly with a therapist can provide the client with a safe place to discuss any issues that may arise with the treatment plan and make adjustments as needed.
- Artistic and alternative therapy options: Exploring the issues underlying addiction can take the form of a range of different experiential therapies outside of building a dialogue between client and therapist. Art therapy, sports therapy, animal-assisted therapies, and more can be incorporated into a comprehensive treatment plan.
- Group therapies and peer support: Connecting with other people in recovery is a critical piece in comprehensive care, and it starts with meeting others in drug rehab. Support groups and peer groups can help to begin the process of creating a strong support system in recovery.
3. Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders
It is very often the case that a person living with an addiction that requires treatment is also living with a co-occurring mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, and others. In fact, about half the time, when a substance use disorder is present, there also exists a mental health issue, and the reverse is true as well.
In these cases, one of the tenets that defines effective addiction treatment is a program that also provides treatment for the co-occurring mental health disorder as well as for the addiction disorder. Because many feel triggered to use drugs and alcohol due to the symptoms they face as a result of a mental health disorder, if those symptoms go untreated, relapse becomes more likely. However, when a person has the tools to manage their mental health disorder while also learning coping mechanisms that allow them to avoid relapse, they are more likely to experience a more balanced life, which in turn contributes to their ability to remain drug-free.
4. Emphasis on Individualized Care
A unique treatment plan that is created for each individual in treatment is one of the keys to an effective drug rehab program. This means that there is no such thing as a standard treatment protocol for addiction that will work equally well for all clients. Rather, every client must undergo an evaluation and assessment at the onset of treatment, working together with a treatment team to create a therapeutic and medical plan that addresses all the issues that could present challenges to sustained recovery. While this means a thorough detailing of medications (if needed), and therapies and treatment for co-occurring disorders mentioned above, it can also include attention to personal, social, and other issues that can trigger relapse.
For example, depending on the situation, a unique treatment plan could include:
- Treatment for learning or behavioral disabilities or disorders
- Holistic management of chronic pain
- Peer support for chronic illness
- Job skills development
- Parenting classes
- Couples counseling and/or family therapy
- Financial and household management classes
The more directed and specified the treatment plan, the more likely it is that treatment will provide the coping mechanisms to stay clean and sober for the long-term.
5. Provision of Aftercare and Support
Stopping use of all substances and then learning how to remain sober are the main foci of treatment, but the key to recovery is remaining engaged with those principles of healthful living and consistently implementing the new coping tools when crises arise. Without continued and ongoing engagement with support groups, therapies that are effective and helpful, and holistic stress reduction treatments, cravings can quickly become unmanageable in independent living. The more therapeutic support a client has in recovery after leaving treatment and the longer that continued connections are maintained with a strong support network, the better equipped that person will be to manage the urge to relapse when it arises.