The big picture
Addiction can be the biggest challenge a person can face. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments that can help him or her break the cycle of addiction, regain health and heal the mind.
The exact type of treatment required depends largely on the drug being used, the extent and duration of the addiction, and the individual. Some drugs cause a strong physical dependence that results in a variety of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes the chemical dependence can be so strong that complete and sudden withdrawal can be life-threatening.
Some other substances cause little or no physical dependence, but the user may have developed a very strong psychological dependence that causes him or her to continue to use the drug even though it is clearly damaging to health and relationships. Physical dependence is often accompanied by psychological dependence, which makes it even more difficult to kick the habit.
All addiction treatments incorporate several elements. Detoxification is the initial period when the person stops using the drug. It can be more or less difficult, depending on the type of drug, and it may be necessary to taper off the drug at first, or to temporarily use a substitute medication. The person will also often need psychological and emotional support to help him/her through this detoxification phase.
Equally important, and usually more time-consuming, is a process involving a variety of therapeutic and supportive methods to help the person fight the craving, prevent relapse and encourage new healthy behaviors.
For some addictions, a stay in a specialized detoxification center is the best option.
This is most often the case for drugs that are highly addictive both physically and chemically, such as cocaine, heroin and other opiates. With these drugs, the body may have become so accustomed to the presence of the substance over time that it physically needs it to function “normally.”
In these cases, a stay in a detoxification center allows the patient to monitor their progress and administer medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms when necessary. Sometimes detox is rapid, with a sudden cessation of the drug, while for some drugs and some people, a more “gradual” detox will be put in place to minimize the risks and effects of withdrawal.
In addition to monitoring and supporting patients physically during the detoxification phase, inpatient centers work with them psychologically and emotionally to help them kick their addiction and regain mental balance.
Even people who do not suffer from a strong physical addiction can really benefit from the 24-hour support offered by a specialized inpatient facility. An inpatient treatment program typically incorporates a variety of therapeutic sessions, activities, and support groups, all designed to help the individual through the detoxification process and allow them to develop the skills necessary to cope and develop healthy habits to keep them from relapsing.
While in some cases a stay in a center may be the best solution, depending on the drug and the person, this is not always the case. Not all drug addictions require extensive aftercare or ongoing professional support, and in these cases, an outpatient treatment program may be the best option to help the person overcome their addiction and get on with their life.
Outpatient treatment incorporates many of the same therapeutic and supportive measures as inpatient programs, but allows the patient to stay at home and live a near-normal life. The main difference, of course, is that he or she will no longer be using drugs, and that is what outpatient treatment seeks to preserve.
The exact nature of an outpatient detox program will depend on the substance that has been taken. A treatment program will usually involve a mixture of individual therapy and counseling sessions, support groups and aftercare.
One of the main attractions of outpatient therapy is that it allows the person to be treated for their addiction without the need for inpatient treatment or lengthy separation from friends and family. These programs can usually be tailored, with treatment sessions scheduled during the day or evening on pre-arranged dates.
Although methods may differ, one of the main goals of outpatient treatment is to help the individual identify and eliminate the reasons for their drug use. However, for people who suffer from very strong addictions and use drugs in groups, a stay at a treatment center may be more effective.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Overcoming a drug addiction is not just a matter of stopping taking the drug in question. To be successful, a treatment must determine what caused the person to become addicted to drugs and what behaviors reinforce that addiction. It must then seek to address and change those behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be a very effective method in this regard.
CBT is effective in treating addiction because it focuses on the person’s thoughts (hence the cognitive part) and how they influence their behavior. But where other therapies seek to dig into and analyze the root causes and events of the past, CBT instead seeks to change the thoughts and thus change the behavior that results from them.
CBT is usually done one-on-one with a therapist and can be part of a larger treatment program in the form of inpatient or outpatient treatment or can be done independently. In CBT, a trained physician will help the patient pinpoint the thoughts and behavior that play a key role in the persistence of the drug problem and encourage the patient to adopt other healthy behaviors.
This therapy can have dramatic results, but it is not a “magic bullet” for addiction or any other condition and it all depends on the patient’s motivation and determination to apply what they learn in CBT and stick with it.
In addition to helping the patient get rid of the behaviors that lead to addiction, CBT can also help the patient better cope with broader life issues that may lead to addiction. For example, a person with a social phobia may have turned to drugs to feel more confident and comfortable. CBT will seek to determine the reasons behind the phobia and find a way to alleviate it naturally through alternative thinking.
Counselling and support groups
Addiction is often the result of a complex set of issues. Sometimes these problems may be clearly evident, but they may also be buried deep within the person’s life, or even completely repressed. In addition, the addiction itself may have contributed to the development or exacerbation of various mental health problems and disorders.
Counselling and support groups are two important treatment methods that can be used in conjunction with a broader treatment program to address these issues and help the patient resolve them.
The level of counseling will depend largely on the individual, their problems and the severity of their addiction. Sometimes, simple “talk therapy” may be enough to help the person better manage their addiction and then withdrawal. However, for people with more serious and complex problems, specialized psychiatric counseling may be more appropriate. The latter option may be particularly appropriate for people who have been using multiple drugs in significant amounts for a long time, and especially those who regularly use hallucinogenic drugs.
Regular support groups can be very helpful in conjunction with counseling and other detoxification treatments. Being able to talk about one’s difficulties and progress with others suffering from similar addictions can be very good therapy for addicts seeking to recover and offers much needed emotional support. Listening to the stories of those who have recovered can also inspire and motivate.
By addressing and dealing with the issues that drive drug use, counseling and support groups can help to break addictions and stay sober.