Because addiction is a chronic disease – just like diabetes or high blood pressure – continuous care over time is needed. This means that overcoming an addiction and moving into successful, long-term recovery isn’t a matter of having willpower, though this is a common misconception. It usually takes a lot more than a desire to stop using to enter into and sustain recovery.
Initially, your loved one may require emergency medical care if he/she overdoses from alcohol or drugs or has an eating disorder – this can sometimes be the first step to getting well. Seek immediate medical attention for any medical emergency; an overdose and withdrawal from certain drugs or combination of drugs can be life-threatening, and so can complications from issues related to eating. Short-term hospitalization is sometimes necessary, but this is not treatment for addiction.
Treatment begins with detoxification (“detox”) from the substance and/or behavior and intensive counseling. Detox can take place in the hospital if your loved one is hospitalized for an overdose or withdrawal symptoms, or it can happen after your loved one is admitted to an accredited treatment program or center. During detox, which lasts for several days or longer, your loved one will be medically and emotionally supported while the substance(s) or behavior(s) the person is addicted to is removed. Sometimes during detoxification, your loved one will be given a prescription medication that’s FDA-approved to help with the intense physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal, which can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle aches
Medications such as Subutex, methadone or naltrexone (Vivitrol) may also be prescribed for a period of time during treatment as medically necessary. But sometimes, depending on the nature of the addiction, physicians may decide to prescribe medications (Suboxone or methadone) long-term to prevent the kinds of intense cravings that can lead to relapse.
What won’t happen in the hospital but will happen in a drug treatment program is the intense psychotherapy that addiction experts say is typically needed. Psychotherapy usually includes one-on-one counseling as well as group therapy and support groups. Even if your loved one is steadfastly against treatment or goes begrudgingly due to pressure from a family member, employer or the court system, treatment can still be effective, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In other words, your loved one doesn’t have to volunteer to go or want to stop using for treatment to work.
For most people, simply removing a drug or compulsive behavior is not enough to stop the person from using for good. Psychotherapy – whether individual, group, couples and/or family – is also needed to address any mental health issues, past trauma or problems related to self-esteem and relationships; all of these are likely to be the fuel behind an addiction. But counseling isn’t just about digging up the past: During therapy sessions, the addict learns healthier habits, coping strategies and how to make better choices as he/she learns new ways to deal with all of life’s complexities in recovery.
Sources: Alcoholics Anonymous; American Art Therapy Association; Centers for Disease Control; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.); Dialectalbehavioraltherapy.net; EMDR International Association; Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning; Food and Drug Administration; Journal of Psychiatric Practice; National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies;National Directory of Marriage and Family Counseling; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Survey on Drugs Use and Health (2013); OpenSkyWilderness.com; Greg Simpson, LCSW; SMART Recovery.org; SoberLivingHomes.com; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.