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Principles of effective drug addiction treatment

Principles of effective drug addiction treatment

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published a 44-page document titled “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: a Research-Based Guide.” In the preface, Nora D. Volkow, M.D., NIDA director, writes, “Drug addiction is a complex illness. It is characterized by uncontrollable drug craving, along with compulsive drug seeking and use that persist even in the face of devastating consequences.” The guide lists 13 principles for effective drug treatment; this article examines ten.

  • “Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.” The authors point out the grim reality drug addiction alters the brain’s chemistry. Users are at risk for relapse even after long periods of sobriety—despite being fully cognizant of the consequences.
  • “No single treatment is appropriate for everyone.” The authors write, “Matching treatment settings, interventions, and services to an individual’s particular problems and needs is critical to his or her ultimate success.”
  • “Treatment needs to be readily available.” According to the guide, most individuals are reluctant to enter treatment. Opportunities will be lost if treatment facilities are not readily accessible. Drug addiction is a chronic disease. The earlier the treatment, the better the odds for success.
  • “Effective treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug abuse.” Substance abuse is typically the outer face of deeper issues. Treatment must also address medical, psychological, social, vocational and legal problems.
  • “Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical.” Research indicates most users require at least three months in treatment to stop the cravings and get their minds right. Effective rehab should include strategies to keep patients in treatment.
  • “Behavioral therapies—including individual, family, or group counseling—are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment.” The authors write effective behavioral therapies should stimulate a patient’s motivation to change, provide incentives for sobriety, develop a skillset to resist use and replace former activities with healthier, productive alternatives.
  • “Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies.” The authors point to methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone as effective medications for heroin and other opioid addictions.
  • “An individual’s treatment and services plan must be assessed continually and modified as necessary to ensure it meets his or her changing needs.” The guide recommends continuing care as an effective method for preventing relapse. Individuals change over time; addicts are no different. Treatment must adapt to the client’s life changes.
  • “Many drug-addicted individuals also have other mental disorders.” Drug addiction often co-occurs with other mental disorders. Treatment that fails to address all of the patient’s conditions will be ineffective and useless.
  • “Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug abuse.” Effective detox stabilizes the patient, achieves a satisfactory homeostasis and, essentially, provides the patient and counselor a clean slate to work with. Detox without effective counseling is nothing more than a Band Aid

For drug treatment to be effective, the user must be willing to change; the treatment must address non drug-related issues occurring in the user’s life; the user must be accountable; and friends, family and peers must be willing to participate.

The Colorado Detox Helpline is a resource where people who struggle during and after addiction can seek out support. Our detoxification treatment programs operate on these principles. Please call us at 866-730-5807 or via online chat if you’d like to speak further. We can change your life.

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