ADDICTION IS A COMPLEX BUT TREATABLE DISEASE THAT AFFECTS BRAIN FUNCTION AND BEHAVIOR.
Drugs of abuse alter the brain’s structure and function, resulting in changes that persist long after drug use has ceased. This may explain why drug abusers are at risk for relapse even after long periods of abstinence and despite the potentially devastating consequences.
The National Institute of drug abuse has listed the following 13 principles of effective addictions treatment.
1. NO SINGLE TREATMENT IS APPROPRIATE FOR ALL INDIVIDUALS.
Matching treatment settings, interventions, and services to an individual’s particular problems and needs is critical to his or her ultimate success in returning to productive functioning in the family, workplace, and society.
2. TREATMENT NEEDS TO BE READILY AVAILABLE.
Because drug-addicted individuals may be uncertain about entering treatment, taking advantage of available services the moment people are ready for treatment is critical. Potential patients can be lost if treatment is not immediately available or readily accessible. As with other chronic diseases, the earlier treatment is offered in the disease process, the greater the likelihood of positive outcomes.
3. EFFECTIVE TREATMENT ATTENDS TO MULTIPLE NEEDS OF THE INDIVIDUAL. NOT JUST HIS OR HER DRUG ABUSE.
To be effective, treatment must address the individual’s drug abuse and any associated medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal problems. It is also important that treatment be appropriate to the individual’s age, gender, ethnicity, and culture.
4. TREATMENT PLAN MUST BE ASSESSED CONTINUALLY TO ENSURE THAT IT MEETS CHANGING NEEDS.
In addition to medication, the person may require varying combinations of services and treatment components, including: counseling or psychotherapy, medical services, family therapy, parenting instruction, vocational rehabilitation, and social and legal services.
5. REMAINING IN TREATMENT FOR AN ADEQUATE PERIOD OF TIME IS CRITICAL.
The appropriate duration for an individual depends on the type and degree of his or her problems and needs. Research indicates that most addicted individuals need at least 3 months in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their drug use and the best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment. Recovery from drug addiction is a long-term process and frequently requires multiple episodes of treatment. As with other chronic illnesses, relapses to drug abuse can occur and should signal a need for treatment to be reinstated or adjusted. Because individuals often leave treatment prematurely, programs should include strategies to engage and keep patients in treatment.
6. COUNSELING (INDIVIDUAL AND/OR GROUP) AND OTHER BEHAVIORAL THERAPIES ARE CRITICAL COMPONENTS OF EFFECTIVE TREATMENT.
Behavioral therapies vary in their focus and may involve addressing a patient’s motivation to change, providing incentives for abstinence, building skills to resist drug use, replacing drug-using activities with constructive and rewarding nondrug-using activities, improving problem solving skills, improving family and community functioning and facilitating better interpersonal relationships. Also, participation in group therapy and other peer support programs during and following treatment can help maintain abstinence.
7. MEDICATIONS ARE AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF TREATMENT FOR MANY PATIENTS, ESPECIALLY WHEN COMBINED WITH COUNSELING AND OTHER BEHAVIORAL THERAPIES.
Opioid replacement therapy can be very effective in helping individuals stabilize their lives and reduce their drug use. For example, Suboxone (buprenorphine) is effective in helping individuals addicted to heroin, pain pills, or other opioids stabilize their lives and reduce their illicit drug use. Naltrexone is also an effective medication for some opioid-addicted individuals and some patients with alcohol dependence. Other medications for alcohol dependence include acamprosate, disulfuram, vivitrol, and topiramate. For persons addicted to nicotine, a nicotine replacement product (such as patches, gum, or lozenges) or an oral medication (such as bupropion or varenicline) can be an effective component of treatment when part of a comprehensive behavioral treatment program. Both behavioral treatments and medications can be critically important, especially for patients with mental disorders
8. ADDICTED OR DRUG-ABUSING INDIVIDUALS WITH COEXISTING MENTAL DISORDERS SHOULD HAVE BOTH DISORDERS TREATED IN AN INTEGRATED WAY.
Substance use disorders (SUDS) and mental disorders often co-occur. Patients presenting for either condition should be assessed and treated for the co-occurrence of the other type of disorder.
9. MEDICALLY ASSISTED DETOXIFICATION IS ONLY THE FIRST STAGE OF ADDICTION TREATMENT AND BY ITSELF DOES LITTLE TO CHANGE LONG-TERM DRUG ABUSE.
Although medically assisted detoxification can safely manage the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal and, for some, can pave the way for effective long-term addiction treatment, detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicted individuals achieve long-term abstinence. Medical detoxification is a strongly indicated precursor to effective drug addiction treatment for some individuals. Thus, patients should be encouraged to continue drug treatment following detoxification. Motivational enhancement and incentive strategies, begun at initial patient intake, can improve treatment engagement.
10. TREATMENT DOES NOT NEED TO BE VOLUNTARY TO BE EFFECTIVE.
Strong motivation can facilitate the treatment process. Sanctions or enticements from family, employment settings, or the criminal justice system can significantly increase treatment entry, retention rates, and the ultimate success of drug treatment interventions.
11. POSSIBLE DRUG USE DURING TREATMENT MUST BE MONITORED CONTINUOUSLY.
It is not unusual for lapses to occur during treatment. Objective monitoring (urinalysis/other tests) helps patients withstand urges to use. Knowing their drug use is being monitored can be a powerful incentive for patients and can help them withstand urges to use drugs. Monitoring also provides an early indication of a return to drug use, signaling a possible need to adjust an individual’s treatment plan to better meet his or her needs. Feedback to patients who test positive for illicit drug use is an important element of monitoring.
12. TREATMENT PROGRAMS SHOULD ASSESS AND COUNSEL INDIVIDUALS ABOUT HIV/AIDS, HEPATITIS B AND C, TUBERCULOSIS, AND OTHER INFECTUOUS DISEASES.
Counsel to avoid high-risk behavior. Counseling can also help those who are already infected to manage their illness.
13. RECOVERY FROM DRUG ADDICTION CAN BE A LONG-TERM PROCESS AND FREQUENTLY REQUIRES MULTIPLE EPISODES OF TREATMENT.
As with other chronic illnesses, relapses can occur during or after successful treatment episodes. Individuals may require prolonged treatment and multiple episodes of treatment to achieve long-term abstinence and fully restored functioning. Participation in self-help support programs during and following treatment often is helpful in maintaining abstinence.