Drug treatment

Drug treatment is intended to help addicted individuals stop compulsive drug seeking and use. Treatment can occur in a variety of settings, take many different forms, and last for different lengths of time. Because drug addiction is typically a chronic disorder characterized by occasional relapses, a short-term, one-time treatment is usually not sufficient. For many, treatment is a long-term process that involves multiple interventions and regular monitoring.

Substance use disorder treatment

It is a service or set of services that may include medication, counseling, and other supportive services designed to enable an individual to reduce or eliminate alcohol and/or other drug use, address associated physical or mental health problems, and restore the patient to maximum functional ability

The goals of substance use disorder treatment are similar to those of treatments for other serious, often chronic, illnesses: reduce the major symptoms of the illness, improve health and social function, and teach and motivate patients to monitor their condition and manage threats of relapse. Substance use disorder treatment can be provided in inpatient or outpatient settings, depending on the needs of the patient, and typically incorporates a combination of behavioral therapies and medications.

However, unlike treatments for most other medical illnesses, substance use disorder treatment has traditionally been provided in programs (both residential and outpatient) outside of the mainstream health care system. The intensity of the treatment regimens offered can vary substantially across program types.

Principles of Effective Treatment 

  • Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.
  • No single treatment is appropriate for everyone
  • Treatment needs to be readily available.
  • Effective treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug abuse.
  • Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical.
  • Behavioral therapies—including individual, family, or group counseling—are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment.
  • Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies.
  • An individual’s treatment and services plan must be assessed continually and modified as necessary to ensure that it meets his or her changing needs.
  • Many drug-addicted individuals also have other mental disorders.
  • Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug abuse
  • Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.
  • Drug use during treatment must be monitored continuously, as lapses during treatment do occur.
  • Treatment programs should test patients for the presence of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases as well as provide targeted risk-reduction counseling, linking patients to treatment if necessary.


For some people with substance use disorders, especially those whose problems are not severe, remission is the end of a chapter in their life that they rarely think about later, if at all. But for others, particularly those with more severe substance use disorders, remission is a component of a broader change in their behavior, outlook, and identity. That change process becomes an ongoing part of how they think about themselves and their experience with substances. Such people describe themselves as being “in recovery.”

Recovery Values

When people talk about the recovery movement, they often invoke a set of values and beliefs that may be embraced by individuals with substance use disorders, families, treatment professionals, and even entire health care systems.

Some examples of these values and beliefs include:

  1. People who suffer from substance use disorders (recovering or not) have essential worth and dignity.
  2. The shame and discrimination that prevents many individuals from seeking help must be vigorously combated.
  3. Recovery can be achieved through diverse pathways and should be celebrated.
  4. Access to high-quality treatment is a human right, although recovery is more than treatment.
  5. People in recovery and their families have valuable experiences and encouragement to offer others who are struggling with substance use.

Psychosocial interventions

Behavioral therapies can help motivate people to participate in drug treatment, offer strategies for coping with drug cravings, teach ways to avoid drugs and prevent relapse, and help individuals deal with relapse if it occurs. Behavioral therapies can also help people improve communication, relationship, and parenting skills, as well as family dynamics.

Psychosocial interventions are structured psychological or social interventions used to address substance-related problems. They can be used at different stages of drug treatment to identify the problem, treat it and assist with social reintegration. Psychosocial interventions are used to treat many different types of drug problems and behavioural addictions.

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