What is addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive, or uncontrollable, drug or alcohol seeking and use despite harmful consequences and changes in the brain, which can be long-lasting. These changes in the brain can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who use drugs or alcohol. Addiction is also a relapsing disease. Relapse is the return to use after an attempt to stop.
The path to addiction begins with the voluntary act of taking drugs or alcohol. But over time, a person’s ability to choose not to do so becomes compromised. Seeking and taking the drug or alcohol becomes compulsive. This is mostly due to the effects of long-term exposure on brain function. Addiction affects parts of the brain involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and control over behavior.
Addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behavior.
Can addiction be treated?
Yes, but it’s not simple. Because addiction is a chronic disease, people can’t simply stop using drugs or alcohol for a few days and be cured. Most patients need long-term or repeated care to stop using completely and recover their lives.
Addiction treatment must help the person do the following:
- stop using drugs or alcohol
- stay drug-free or alcohol-free
- be productive in the family, at work, and in society
Principles of Effective Treatment
Based on scientific research since the mid-1970s, the following key principles should form the basis of any effective treatment program:
- Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.
- No single treatment is right for everyone.
- People need to have quick access to treatment.
- Effective treatment addresses all of the patient’s needs, not just his or her drug or alcohol use.
- Staying in treatment long enough is critical.
- Counseling and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used forms of treatment.
- Medications are often an important part of treatment, especially when combined with behavioral therapies.
- Treatment plans must be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.
- Treatment should address other possible mental disorders.
- Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of treatment.
- Treatment doesn’t need to be voluntary to be effective.
- Drug or alcohol use during treatment must be monitored continuously.
- Treatment programs should test patients for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases as well as teach them about steps they can take to reduce their risk of these illnesses.
How is addiction treated?
Successful treatment has several steps:
- detoxification (the process by which the body rids itself of a drug or alcohol)
- behavioral counseling
- medication (for opioid, tobacco, or alcohol addiction)
- evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
- long-term follow-up to prevent relapse
A range of care with a tailored treatment program and follow-up options can be crucial to success. Treatment should include both medical and mental health services as needed. Follow-up care may include community- or family-based recovery support systems.
How are behavioral therapies used to treat addiction?
Behavioral therapies help patients:
- modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug or alcohol use
- increase healthy life skills
- persist with other forms of treatment, such as medication
Patients can receive treatment in many different settings with various approaches.
Outpatient behavioral treatment includes a wide variety of programs for patients who visit a behavioral health counselor on a regular schedule. Most of the programs involve individual or group counseling, or both.
Treatment is sometimes intensive at first, where patients attend multiple outpatient sessions each week. After completing intensive treatment, patients transition to regular outpatient treatment, which meets less often and for fewer hours per week to help sustain their recovery.
Inpatient or residential treatment can also be very effective, especially for those with more severe problems (including co-occurring disorders). Licensed residential treatment facilities offer 24-hour structured and intensive care, including safe housing and medical attention. Residential treatment facilities may use a variety of therapeutic approaches, and they are generally aimed at helping the patient live a drug or alcohol-free, crime-free lifestyle after treatment.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provides leadership in the national effort to reduce alcohol-related problems by conducting and supporting research in a wide range of scientific areas, including genetics, neuroscience, epidemiology, health risks and benefits of alcohol consumption, prevention, and treatment. Additional information is available at www.niaaa.nih.gov or by calling 301-443-3860.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT)
The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), a part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is responsible for supporting treatment services through a block grant program, as well as disseminating findings to the field and promoting their adoption. CSAT also operates the 24-hour National Treatment Referral Hotline (1-800-662-HELP), which offers information and referral services to people seeking treatment programs and other assistance. Additional information about CSAT can be found on SAMHSA’s Web site at www.samhsa.gov/about-us/who-we-are/offices-centers/csat.
If you are seeking help and treatment for your addiction, the following additional resources will help you further understand addiction and the options that are available for treatment and recovery.
- Alcohol Addiction Treatment
- Opioid Addiction Treatment
- Frequently Asked Questions About Suboxone
- How Addiction Counseling Can Help
- Rethinking How you Talk About Addiction
- Is Suboxone Treatment Right for You?
- Methadone, Buprenorphine or Suboxone?
- National Opioid Overdose Epidemic Statistics
- Medically Assisted Treatment Implants
- Buprenorphine & Suboxone FAQs
- Talking with your Doctor, One on One
- Addiction Glossary
- Talking with your Doctor, One on One
- Opioid Dependence is a Chronic Medical Condition
- Having alcohol or substance abuse legal Issues?
- What Makes an Addict Different?
If you are worried that your loved one may have an addiction and you are unsure of what steps you should take, call Right Path Treatment Center at (757) 321-0795 or make an appointment online and we will recommend treatment options that will work for you and your loved one.