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Through treatment you can stop and reverse many of the harmful effects of alcohol and drug use and reclaim your life.

Addiction is a difficult, chronic disease, and like other chronic diseases recovery takes time and may involve relapses. However, there are effective treatments for addiction, and it’s worth making the effort.

An overall treatment approach to alcohol dependence and drug addiction often begins with detoxification, followed by treatment and then follow-up for relapse prevention. A long-term, customized continuum of care that addresses all aspects of your life can be crucial to success in staying clean and sober. Once you have achieved sobriety, recovery is a lifelong process

Treatment facts

Years of scientific research have aided our understanding of addiction and ways to treat it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has identified key findings on addiction treatment based on scientific research:

  • No single treatment is appropriate for all individuals.
  • Treatment needs to be readily available.
  • Effective treatment attends to the health needs of the whole person, not just the addiction.
  • A treatment plan should be assessed often and changed to meet the person’s needs.
  • Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical for treatment to be effective.
  • Counseling and other behavioral therapies are critical parts of effective treatments for addiction.
  • For certain types of addiction, medications are an important element of treatment, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies.
  • Addicted or drug-abusing individuals with coexisting mental disorders should have both disorders treated in an integrated way.
  • Medical management of withdrawal syndrome is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug use.
  • Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.
  • Possible drug use during treatment must be monitored continuously.
  • Treatment programs should provide assessment for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases, and should provide counseling to help patients modify or change behaviors that place themselves or others at risk of infection.
  • As is the case with other chronic, relapsing diseases, recovery from addiction can be a long-term process and typically requires multiple episodes of treatment, including "booster" sessions and other forms of continuing care.

Detoxification and withdrawal

Depending on how dependent you are on a drug and how much you’ve been using recently, the first step may be detoxification and withdrawal. It is very important that this take place under medical supervision, in a medical facility. Medications can help to manage withdrawal symptoms during the several days it can take to detox, and medical supervision can help ensure that detoxification happens safely.

Detoxification may be a necessary first step for eliminating a drug that’s still in your system, but it is not in itself treatment. People with an addiction who go through medically assisted withdrawal but who do not receive any further treatment show drug abuse patterns similar to those who were never treated.

Treatment programs

Treatment can include a variety of steps tailored to care for the whole person, such as:

  • Medical assessment and treatment, including detoxification, and treatment of health problems common to addiction
  • Prescribed medications to help reduce cravings, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone
  • A change in environment to one free of drugs and alcohol and the surroundings, stresses, and companions that may trigger using habits
  • Individual, group, and family therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy
  • 12-step or other self-help recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous
  • Education for the person and family
  • Activity therapy
  • Access to spiritual counsel and faith practices
  • Alternative therapies such as mindfulness-based meditation and acupuncture

Some of these treatments are available on an outpatient basis. Many people also find residential treatment programs to be very effective in providing a complete treatment program for a period of time. The right type of treatment for you should be determined from a thorough evaluation by a qualified addiction professional.

Therapeutic communities
There are also therapeutic communities available for those with more serious problems, such as a long history of addiction, involvement in criminal activity, or impaired social functioning. Some are designed to accommodate the needs of women who are pregnant or have children. The person who is recovering typically lives in the therapeutic community for six to 12 months. Therapeutic communities are highly structured programs that include complete sobriety and responsibilities to the community.

Relapse prevention and support in recovery

Alcohol dependence and drug addiction are chronic disorders. Like many other chronic illnesses, recovering from addiction may mean experiencing relapses. People in recovery are most vulnerable to relapses within a few months of treatment, but they can also occur years or decades later.

Many residential treatment programs provide aftercare such as support groups, education programs, and 12-step groups to support a person’s recovery.

Most communities have 12-step group meetings. Some people in recovery go to groups weekly; some daily. Many people in 12-step groups have a sponsor with whom they speak on a regular basis or when they are experiencing a craving, trigger, or stressful event.

These aftercare and support groups can help you identify the triggers and warning signs of a relapse, create a plan for avoiding and responding to triggers, and be available to support you during times of crisis or relapse.

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