The chronic aspect of drug addiction increases the threat of its return, even if an addict is able to stop using drugs for a few days due to voluntarily quitting, entering detox or being incarcerated. Failure to treat the addiction is a common occurrence in American society, based on figures made available by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows more than 9 percent of the U.S. population age 12 and up required treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol problem in 2007. Of that roughly of just over 23 million people, a mere fraction (10.4%) received treatment at a hospital, mental health center or drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility while nearly 21 million did not receive treatment.
More than 30 years have passed since research began showing a direct link of treatment to ending drug use, avoiding relapse and helping addicts recover. During that time, researchers have developed a better understanding of how addiction affects the brain, and treatment programs have been created to more effectively respond to addiction.
Some of the notable changes along the way include: recognition that no single treatment is effective for all addicts, addressing all needs of the addict, remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is more advantageous, counseling is a vital part of overcoming addiction and its related behaviors, medications can be useful in treating certain addictions, a treatment plan can change to fit the changing needs of the individual, many drugs users experience a concurrent mental illness, detoxification alone is inconsequential related to long-term recovery, and monitoring drug use after treatment begins is necessary due to common relapses.
One of the aforementioned changes, addressing all needs of the addict, is evident in the dual diagnosis approach used by addiction specialists aiming to simultaneously treat drug addiction and mental disorders. Additional health threats related to either condition, including HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other infectious diseases, are typically discussed within treatment to educate the individual about the risk of contracting or spreading these diseases.
Integrated Treatment Programs
An integrated treatment program, which may combine medication and behavior modification, is best applied as part of a long-term plan to achieve recovery. Individuals may opt to receive treatment in a long-term residential setting that provides time for easing withdrawal, learning and employing relapse prevention strategies, and selecting follow-up options for continued care, including community programs that support and encourage an individual to live a drug-free lifestyle.
Medications for Drug Detox and Treatment
Medications can play one of two roles during detox and treatment: as a tool to help suppress withdrawal symptoms and as a means of preventing relapse and reducing drug cravings. For example, effective medications for treating opioids, such as heroine, include methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, although the latter option is less accepted. These medications suppress withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings by targeting the same area of the brain affected by the drugs. Individuals with severe addiction to multiple drugs will require treatment for all drugs abused.
Among the FDA–approved medications for treating alcohol dependence are naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. Naltrexone blocks brain receptors related to pleasure and cravings, and reduces relapse to heavy drinking. Acamprosate may be used to reduce symptoms of long-lasting withdrawal, including insomnia, and anxiety. Disulfiram is used to treat chronic alcoholism and creates highly unpleasant effects, ranging from nausea and vomiting to headaches and blurred vision.
One primary purpose of medications is to help patients cease drug-seeking behavior and more willingly accept behavioral treatments. Once actively participating in these treatments, individuals can learn how to manage their own behavior, change their attitude towards drug use, and make healthier choices. Treatment options include outpatient programs comprised of individual or group drug counseling, as well as residential treatment programs.
Long Term Treatment Programs
These residential treatment programs tend to differ in their approach based on a few key elements. First, they are longer in duration, typically providing a program that lasts 6-12 months for an individual. Also, residential programs use a regimented routine with specific times designated for particular activities as part of a mission of teaching self-discipline. Finally, the community setting becomes an influential factor as individuals interact with addiction specialists, staff and peers on a daily basis. This community, with its shared mission of a drug-free life for all, can be a highly supportive part of long-term treatment for an addict who has experienced chronic relapse, incarceration and separation from friends and loved ones.