What is the most effective treatment for addiction?
Whilst many treatment programs and approaches are available to treat individuals who are addicted, effective treatment programs involve not one but a combination of many approaches, tailored ot meet the specific needs of the individual. Addiction treatment broadly involves treating withdrawal symptoms, getting the individual to restrain from using the substance and preventing relapse.
Many times addiction may not be the only problem and other physical or psychological disorders might develop alongside, such as depression, which need to be addressed as well. This is known as dual diagnosis. Addiction treatment can thus be complex, as it needs to address a number of different aspects in each individual. Typically, however, addiction treatment involves a combination of the approaches explained below.
Detoxification is usually the first step in addiction treatment and involves removing the addictive substance from the addicted person’s body under proper medical supervision and stabilizing the person physically. Suddenly stopping alcohol or drugs after prolonged use can cause painful withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild tremors, to confusion and hallucinations. To reduce withdrawal symptoms and physical discomfort, patients are usually given medication which makes them feel similar to being on the addictive substance. Gradually, over time, the dose is reduced and the individual is weaned off the addictive substance.
Detoxification aims at removing physical or chemical dependency on the substance. After detoxification, the dependency on the substance is more psychological and it is here that the actual treatment begins. Detoxification is really preparation for addiction treatment rather than treatment in itself as it has no effect if not followed by rehabilitation. It is in rehab that people suffering from addiction learn how to control the urge to use the addictive substance, remain sober and take back control of their lives.
Depending on the severity of the problem and the patient’s ability to remain sober in their living situation, a person could be admitted into a rehabilitation center that offers residential living as an inpatient, or the person could seek outpatient rehabilitation. It usually involves many components – Pharmaceutical Treatment, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Biofeedback, Cognitive Remediation, Individual Counseling, Group Therapies and Family Therapy.
Rehabilitation aims at getting individuals with addictions to maintain sobriety, addressing issues that caused the problem in the first place and finding alternative ways of coping with similar issues. It facilitates lifestyle changes which lead to better physical and psychological health, along with improved social and occupational functioning.
Pharmaceutical Treatment is used during different stages of addiction treatment. Its use during detox has already been discussed above. It is also used to help people who have stopped consuming the addictive substance to restrain from using them during the treatment process. The changes in the brain that are characteristic of addiction can persist long after stoppage of the addictive substance, resulting in relapse.
Thus, drugs like Antabuse (disulfiram) which works as a deterrent are used, making the person sick if they consume any alcohol. Pharmaceutical Treatment is combined with counseling – individual and group therapies to treat craving and prevent relapse until these therapies start having an effect on the individual and modify thinking and behavior.
Counseling, Individual and or Group Therapies
Counseling, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Biofeedback and Neurofeedback, Cognitive Remediation, support groups and other forms of Individual and group therapies play a crucial role in addiction treatment. They aim at teaching individuals who are addicted new ways of thinking, behaving and coping with life situations, thereby preventing relapse. Some of the therapies used are discussed below.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
The underlying principle of this therapy is that, by identifying and controlling your thoughts, you can modify your behavior. In practice it involves two distinct stages. Firstly, Functional Analysis and Skills Training, which involves identifying thoughts, feelings and circumstances that might have lead to use of the substance, as well as determining what, in the future, could lead to relapse.
In Skills Training, the individual is made to unlearn old habits associated with substance use and learn new skills to cope with situations that might trigger relapse. Scientific research has shown CBT to be an effective addiction treatment for addiction disorders and to be compatible with the other approaches, including support or self groups, even though very different from them. The second stage would be family therapy and pharmaceutical treatment.