What to Expect From Addiction Treatment, Because There Are So Many Options


Acknowledging that you, or someone you love, may have a substance use disorder isn’t easy. Just the fact that you have come to this conclusion, though, is a positive step and deserves a shoutout. Now let’s get into what you really want to know: how to find the care you need.

Thankfully, there are various levels of addiction treatment programs available that can help kickstart your journey towards recovery. Just like any other medical issue (or pretty much anything else in life), it’s not a one-size-fits-all disorder, so treatment isn’t either.

Current treatments for addiction include inpatient programs, outpatient programs, behavioral therapy, medication, and group addiction counseling, among others. Whether you’re just curious about what addiction treatment entails or you’re ready to get started, we’ve broken down what you need to know to help yourself or someone you love through this process.

What are the types of addiction treatments?

There are two main types of addiction treatments: inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient care is designed to help you safely go through withdrawal from a substance before addressing the thought patterns and behaviors that drive the addiction.1 Outpatient services can be similar, but are meant for people who don’t need to go through the additional step of withdrawal.

Most programs, both inpatient and outpatient, follow an abstinence model, which means (with help) you quit using any and all substances. With that said, complete abstinence may not work for everyone, Michele Goldman, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at Columbia Health and a media advisor for the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, tells SELF.

That’s why some outpatient services follow a harm reduction model—a term you might hear people use in recovery circles. This style of treatment focuses on reducing substance use to a point in which it stops causing harm to yourself or others, but doesn’t eliminate substance use 100%, according to the National Harm Reduction Coalition.

So, how do you know which is best for you? It comes down to the level of care you need to safely stop or reduce your substance use. Here’s a closer look at each type of addiction treatment:

Inpatient treatment

The highest level of addiction treatment is a medically managed inpatient unit, says Dr. Goldman. That’s official language for a program that provides medical professionals to monitor you round-the-clock as you go through withdrawal from prolonged use of a substance.

Known as detox, this process can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms2—such as seizures, tremors, vomiting, fever, or even hallucinations–which is why medically managed inpatient units are necessary for some people, says Dr. Goldman.

As these symptoms run their course, your doctor may recommend various medications to help make the process less brutal.3 These are based on the substance you’re withdrawing from, but range from things like methadone for opioid withdrawal (namely heroin) to benzodiazepines (commonly known as benzos) for alcohol withdrawal. If you’re in treatment for opioid, tobacco, or alcohol addiction, your doctor or medical provider may also prescribe medication for relapse prevention. Some of these medications basically stimulate the brain in a similar way to a person’s preferred substance to reduce the urge to use.4 Other medications are used in different ways, like to block the euphoric effects of certain drugs. Anytime medications are used, a medical professional will closely monitor how it’s going to ensure you’re on the right treatment path.

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