Steps for Overcoming Addiction

Table of Contents

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Addiction is a strong, negative force in the US and around the world. Signs and symptoms of addiction may begin slowly and without the individual’s awareness, but in a short amount of time, someone can find themselves unexpectedly in the depths of addiction as their lives become less desirable and more dangerous.

Once there, climbing out and overcoming addiction can be a challenging and, at times, overwhelming process to undertake. These views can lead to fewer people seeking treatment and more people continuing with the risks associated with further substance use.

This does not have to be the case, though. Effective substance use treatment works to address the needs of the individual and fight back against over-dependence. While there is no magic cure for addiction, treatment does work and you can successfully find recovery with the right steps. If you are currently struggling with drug abuse, the steps outlined below will help you start your journey to a life without drugs.

End Use Safely

The onset of any addiction treatment plan must begin with ending your drug use. You cannot effectively begin treatment when your body is still subject to the physical effects of the substance.

Note that you need to end your substance use smartly and safely. Deciding to spontaneously and suddenly discontinue drug use can be hazardous and deadly, depending on the drug.

If you are considering ending use, be sure to consult with an addiction professional about the safest way to do so. Removing the substance will likely trigger unwanted symptoms depending on the type of substance and the level of use. For example, people dependent on alcohol may have seizures when use ends, while people dependent on opioids may experience a long list of uncomfortable effects, including nausea, vomiting, fever, and sweating.

Because of this, some addicted people will require a period of formal detoxification. Detox is the process of allowing the body to remove the substance from the system. Often, detox is completed in an inpatient setting so that medical professionals can monitor vital signs and aid in the process by administering medications to ease symptoms.

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Get Behavioral Counseling

When needed, detox is an important segment of treatment, but it is not the only part. Once abstinence from the substances is established, the focus can shift to behavioral counseling. Counseling will have the goal of maintaining sobriety and reducing the risk of future relapse. Behavioral counseling encompasses a variety of treatment modalities and treatment styles.

The modalities include the location where services are received and the intensity of services.

  • Inpatient/residential drug treatment. These treatments are the most intense because they provide structure and professional support 24 hours per day. Short-term, inpatient programs may be located at hospitals. They will focus on achieving symptom stability and patient safety. Residential treatments can last for a year or more, with most stays lasting between one and three months.
  • Outpatient counseling/treatment. From weekly, individual sessions to partial hospitalization programs lasting for multiple hours each day, outpatient treatment will vary greatly depending on the status of the person in recovery. The commonality will be that the person is free to leave the treatment center at the end of the day and return home.
  • Transitional housing. These programs serve as a bridge between inpatient and outpatient care. They retain some of the structure of residential treatments while permitting more freedom and control for the person in recovery. The residents will live with other people in recovery, pay bills, cook, clean, and attend treatment as they move towards fully transitioning back into their normal lives.
  • Support groups and Group Sessions. Group sessions that are led by group members may be helpful when combined with other modalities but are not recognized as a specialty treatment.

Within each modality, there is an assortment of treatment styles based on the theoretical orientation of the therapist or program. The best treatment programs and providers will utilize styles and techniques based on research and studies (“evidence-based therapies”). While there are many styles, some of the most helpful are:

It is important to note that there are differences in these treatments based on the needs of the individual. Even if one style works for one person, there is no guarantee it will work for someone else. The best outcomes will occur when the person in recovery is treated in an appropriate modality with a suitable style and a competent treatment team. If any of these aspects are lacking, the consequences may be poor.

Get Help for any Mental Health Issues

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Another key facet of behavior counseling is to acknowledge and treat any mental health issues or concerns that are present.

Mental health problems like depression and anxiety often play a role in the development of addiction, as many people use substances to self-medicate their condition. Other people will experience unwanted mental health effects as a result of changes in the brain that are commonly seen during active addiction and early in recovery.

Some people will benefit from mental health treatment that is independent from their substance use treatment. Others will find success from an integrative approach where one therapist or treatment team will address many aspects of the person’s wellbeing.

With the National Institute on Drug Abuse reporting that 60% of people with substance use problems have mental health conditions as well, treating these co-occurring conditions together will lead to better results.

Consider Medications

Behavioral counseling can be helpful in treating addiction and mental health issues, but in some cases it may be more effective when paired with medications. For someone entering a period of recovery, a medication evaluation from a prescriber is a valuable option. Medications that treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns can reduce triggers of future use and end the need for self-medication with alcohol or drugs.

Other medications will target addiction and recovery directly by treating symptoms of withdrawal during detox and preventing relapse in the future. This is referred to as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and is used as part of treatment for:

  • Opioid dependence.
  • Alcohol dependence.
  • Tobacco dependence.

Each medication will work differently in the brain. For example, drugs like methadone and buprenorphine reduce cravings and lessen withdrawals by activating opioid receptors in the brain without producing the dramatic effects and withdrawals that come with opiates like heroin.

Another medication used to treat opioid dependence, naltrexone, works by blocking receptors in the brain so that other opioids, like heroin or fentanyl, cannot produce a high.

There is some concern regarding the use of medications like methadone and buprenorphine in the treatment of opioid dependence. Some believe that it is trading one addiction for another, but this continues to be a recommended treatment because it is safer, slower-acting, and more controlled than illicit drugs.

Learn Tools for Relapse Prevention

Whether someone is living at a transitional house, going to multiple hours of treatment daily, and taking medications or only attending weekly therapy, the emphasis will be on relapse prevention to achieve longer stretches of recovery. When focused on relapse prevention, the individual will:

  • Identify triggers that lead to use or cravings for substances.
  • Acknowledge behaviors, feelings, and thoughts that precede use.
  • Learn coping skills and healthy supports.
  • Develop a safety plan with lists of behaviors and contacts to utilize when symptoms are high.

Treatment for addiction is not easy or straightforward. In fact, it is quite complex. If you or someone you care for needs assistance navigating through the steps of addiction treatment, call 1-888-744-0069 to receive more information and available treatment options well suited for your needs.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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