Last updated: 03/24/2020
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Addiction treatment encompasses a range of stages and interventions that can help you recover from substance use disorder, as well as provide help for loved ones. Rather than offering a cookie-cutter approach, addiction treatment is always tailored to the unique needs of the patient.
The Addiction Treatment Process
Whether you’re dealing with a drug or alcohol problem, or a behavioral addiction such as gambling, gaming, or sex; addiction treatment entails a process of healing on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. How long this process takes depends on a number of factors, including your primary substance of use, any co-occurring mental health disorders you may have, and how long you have been actively addicted.
The treatment process unfolds in stages, with each stage designed to help you continue working on recovery as you grow and change. Throughout this process, a team of addiction counselors, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and psychologists will be there to create your individualized treatment plan and aftercare plan, and to provide ongoing, expert support from day to day.
Drug and Alcohol Detox
Stopping substance use altogether is, of course, the first step in the addiction treatment process. If you’ve abused drugs or alcohol on an ongoing basis, you probably already know how difficult it can be to abstain from using for prolonged time periods. A professional drug and alcohol detox provides you with the treatment supports needed to make it through this difficult stage. These supports can vary depending on the severity of your addiction and may include:
- 24/7 medical care and monitoring
- Medications, such as methadone, to counteract withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings
- Good nutrition and hydration—detoxing in a hospital setting will ensure you remain hydrated and supplied with the necessary nutrients, even if you are physically unable to keep down food or liquids
- Therapy as soon as you are mentally and physically ready to benefit from sessions
Inpatient Rehab vs. Outpatient Rehab
While most people entering addiction treatment will require some form of detox treatment, the need for inpatient versus outpatient rehab depends on your individual circumstances.
Inpatient rehab offers the most intensive level of care and is usually the best form of treatment for anyone seeking addiction recovery. Inpatient programs remove you from your usual environment and the stressors and triggers that encourage your substance use, and because you are living at the treatment facility, you benefit from a full-time healing environment where you are always surrounded by supportive treatment professionals.
Outpatient rehab provides a less intensive level of care but may be the right choice if you have personal, professional, or financial circumstances that make inpatient treatment impractical. The freedom and flexibility of many outpatient programs permit patients to schedule treatment around pre-existing responsibilities. Outpatient programs are also often used as a “step down” level of care after inpatient treatment. These programs provide day, evening, or weekend schedules of therapy, counseling, group support, medication management, and more. You may attend just a few days a week or every day, for a few hours or from morning until evening, depending on the program and your individual needs.
It’s not uncommon for people coming off severe addiction problems to develop serious psychological problems as a result of drug use, or for drug use to begin as a way to self-medicate preexisting psychological problems. No matter which issue came first, having co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders requires specialized treatment that targets all sides of all problems in a comprehensive approach. Not all addiction rehab facilities offer specialized treatment for co-occurring disorders.
Addiction recovery doesn’t end when the treatment program ends, but rather continues to provide adaptable levels of support to help you maintain continued abstinence while increasing your independence. For this reason, your addiction program counselor will prepare an aftercare plan based on your individual situation and goals, with resources that you can turn to occasionally or often, depending on your current challenges and level of need.
While everyone’s situation is different, aftercare treatment interventions may include one or more of the following:
- Ongoing behavior treatment therapies and counseling
- Support groups (12-step or non-12-step)
- Medication management
- Facility alumni events
- Sober living housing
Support Group Options
Support groups can use a variety of approaches. Most follow a 12-step philosophy based on Alcoholics Anonymous, which emphasizes the importance of getting and giving support and encouragement within a group setting, but there are other peer support groups based on different philosophies, such as SMART Recovery, which focuses on controlling addictive behaviors by working through the underlying thoughts and emotions that drive the addiction.
Sober Living Homes
Going from an addiction treatment program back to normal, everyday life can be jarring and can easily compromise some individuals’ recovery progress. For people who aren’t yet ready for a fully independent life, sober living homes offer a gradual way to transition between the treatment program environment and the “real world.”
Sober living programs operate as semi-independent environments where individuals are required to:
- Maintain employment
- Take care of the home
- Pay rent
- Attend weekly support meetings
- Interact with housemates
- Maintain sobriety
This aftercare treatment option can be a lifesaver for someone who does not yet have a safe and stable place to live, or who have relapsed after leaving treatment before.
During the course of addiction treatment, patients may be prescribed medications to treat depression or other mental health issues or put on medication therapies to help them maintain abstinence on an ongoing basis. While not everyone who enters addiction treatment will require medication, those who do can greatly benefit from the added treatment support.
With chronic addiction problems, the damaging effects of drugs or alcohol have actually “rewired” the brain to the point where it can no longer function normally in the absence of the drug. This rewiring takes time to heal. Medications such as buprenorphine and methadone can reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings so the patient can benefit from therapy, and stay sober long enough for this healing to begin. Some medications, such as Vivitrol or Antabuse, are designed to discourage relapse by either blocking the effects of a substance or causing the individual to have a strong, negative reaction if they return to using.
To date, substance-specific medication therapies are only available for opiate and alcohol addictions, although there are other kinds of medications that can be used to treat some of the symptoms of recovering from addictions to other drugs, such as stimulants.
Behavioral Treatment Therapies
Behavioral therapies play a central role in most people’s addiction treatment process. Behavior-based treatments address the habitual aspects of addiction in terms of thinking, emotions and daily behaviors. They provide you with practical solutions that support recovery from moment to moment. Some of the most commonly used therapies include:
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy – helps replace addiction-based thoughts and behaviors with habits and routines that build a healthy lifestyle; works especially well for people affected by co-occurring psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy– helps you identify and alter addiction-based thoughts and emotions so you can better avoid relapse triggers and react in healthier ways to stressors
- Faith-Based Treatment – a behavior-based change that uses spiritual principles and a reliance on a higher power
- Biofeedback– uses electronic tools to help you become aware of the mental processes behind addictive behaviors, helping you to gain control over those behaviors
- Experiential Therapy – designed to help you work through repressed emotions that drive addiction behavior; uses non-traditional approaches, such as rock climbing and wilderness therapy
- Holistic Therapy– uses meditation, acupuncture and yoga therapies to promote a “whole person” wellness
- Dialectal Behavior Therapy – commonly used to treat severe psychological disorders and addiction; this therapy works to enhance self-esteem and improve stress management skills
In effect, behavior treatment therapies equip you with the tools needed to support long-term recovery success. Addiction counselors and therapists play a primary role in conducting behavior-based treatment therapies, but the skills and techniques they teach can be practiced by patients on their own in everyday life.
Treatment Myths About Addiction Recovery
Myths about addiction recovery treatment can create doubts that make a choice to ask for help all the more difficult. Gaining a clear understanding of addiction recovery begins by dispelling any myths that breed misinformation.
Common misconceptions about addiction recovery include:
- It’s all a matter of willpower: Getting and staying sober isn’t a matter of self-control; all the “willpower” in the world won’t hold up if you fail to address the underlying physical, mental, and behavioral problems that fuel drug and alcohol use.
- You have to hit rock bottom first: The myth of rock bottom is particularly dangerous, as the only true “rock bottom” for addiction is death. Believing that you have to wait until addiction has destroyed even more aspects of your life provides a faulty reason to put off treatment and creates more damage than is necessary. Recovery can begin at any point in addiction.
- You can quit on your own if you want to: Addiction recovery is not meant to be a solitary experience, and success is not dependent on how much you want to quit. With good, professional addiction treatment, even someone who thinks they don’t need help can come around to a healthy recovery. Without professional treatment, all the motivation in the world may not be enough for sobriety. There are lessons, skills, and techniques needed for recovery success that has to be taught by experts in the field.
- You’re fully recovered once drug use stops: Quitting and detoxing from drugs and alcohol is just the first step of recovery. Even without addictive chemicals present in the body, you are still addicted, and you’ll start using again unless you address the root causes of substance use disorder and thoroughly prepare yourself for how to stay sober for the long term.
Addiction isn’t about choice. It’s a disease that creates structural and chemical changes in the brain that take time to heal, and it has underlying contributing causes that can only be overcome with therapy and many environmental and behavioral changes.
Finding an Addiction Treatment Center
While admitting that you need treatment for a substance use disorder can be difficult, finding an addiction treatment center is easy—with help. The wide range of different treatment programs available means that there is a good fit out there for your recovery needs. Talk to your doctor, call a hotline, or consult your insurance provider to get connected to the right treatment for you.