NIDA InfoFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction
NOTE: This is a fact sheet covering research findings on effective treatment approaches for drug abuse and addiction. If you are seeking treatment, please call 1-800-662-HELP(4357) for information on hotlines, counseling services, or treatment options in your State. This is the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment's National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Service. Drug treatment programs by State also may be found online at www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov.
Drug addiction is a complex but treatable disease. It is characterized by compulsive drug craving, seeking, and use that persist even in the face of severe adverse consequences. For many people, drug abuse becomes chronic, with relapses possible even after long periods of abstinence. In fact, relapse to drug abuse occurs at rates similar to those for other well-characterized, chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. As a chronic, recurring illness, addiction may require repeated episodes of treatment before sustained abstinence is achieved. Through treatment tailored to individual needs, people with drug addiction can recover and lead productive lives.
The ultimate goal of drug addiction treatment is to enable an individual to achieve lasting abstinence, but the immediate goals are to reduce drug abuse, improve the patient's ability to function, and minimize the medical and social complications of drug abuse and addiction. Like people with diabetes or heart disease, people in treatment for drug addiction will also need to change their behavior to adopt a more healthful lifestyle.
In 2006, 23.6 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem (9.6 percent of the persons aged 12 or older). Of these, 2.5 million (10.8 percent of those who needed treatment) received treatment at a specialty facility. Thus, 21.2 million persons (8.6 percent of the population aged 12 or older) needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem but did not receive it. These estimates are similar to the estimates for 2005.*
Untreated substance abuse and addiction add significant costs to families and communities, including those related to violence and property crimes, prison expenses, court and criminal costs, emergency room visits, healthcare utilization, child abuse and neglect, lost child support, foster care and welfare costs, reduced productivity, and unemployment.
The cost to society of illicit drug abuse alone is $181 billion annually.1 When combined with alcohol and tobacco costs, they exceed $500 billion including healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity.2,3 Successful drug abuse treatment can help reduce these costs in addition to crime, and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases. It is estimated that for every dollar spent on addiction treatment programs, there is a $4 to $7 reduction in the cost of drug-related crimes. With some outpatient programs, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12:1.
Basis for Effective Treatment
Scientific research since the mid-1970s shows that treatment can help many people change destructive behaviors, avoid relapse, and successfully remove themselves from a life of substance abuse and addiction. Recovery from drug addiction is a long-term process and frequently requires multiple episodes of treatment. Based on this research, key principles have been identified that should form the basis of any effective treatment program:
- No single treatment is appropriate for all individuals.
- Treatment needs to be readily available.
- Effective treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug addiction.
- An individual’s treatment and services plan must be assessed often and modified to meet the person’s changing needs.
- Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical for treatment effectiveness.
- Counseling and other behavioral therapies are critical components of virtually all effective treatments for addiction.
- For certain types of disorders, 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 drug addiction can be a long-term process and typically requires multiple episodes of treatment, including "booster" sessions and other forms of continuing care.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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