When a person comes to the realization that substance abuse has become a problem, concerns about the process of addiction treatment or the cost of rehab may lead the person to consider stopping drug use without the support of formal, specialized addiction treatment. These individuals may believe that quitting without professional support is not only possible, but also easy. Websites that provide ideas for managing withdrawal, friends who promise to provide care, and unrealistic expectations of what withdrawal will be like may make the idea of self-treatment for drug abuse seem very tempting. However, complications of these factors often quickly lead to relapse and continued drug abuse, potentially making the problem even worse.
Understanding the positive aspects and pitfalls of self-treatment for drug abuse can help these individuals to make more informed decisions about how to stop using and achieve recovery that lasts.
Self-treatment for Drug Abuse
There are many sources of information that provide well-meaning – and not-so-helpful – advice about giving up drugs without the support of a professional rehab. Products that promise rapid detox and online discussion forums that offer home remedies and techniques for quitting drug use are everywhere. Friends or family who want to help may try offering to care for the person during withdrawal so that a residential treatment center won’t be necessary. The individual may even feel that it won’t be so difficult to ride out the detox process and then stay abstinent in the long-term following stopping use of all substances.
Some people manage to succeed by quitting on their own. This is demonstrated in multiple articles and studies, including one from TIME. Often, these are people who have not used very long to begin with, or who do not have a genetic predisposition to addiction. More often, people who try to quit on their own end up giving up in the middle of withdrawal or giving into cravings that are triggered later on – even years after the original period of drug abuse. This leads the person to start using again, which in turn results in relapse and a return to abuse and addiction.
Facts about Quitting without Help
While some individuals may feel that they would be the exception to this common outcome, there are many complexities to the issue. Some studies and articles, like one from Psychology Today, discuss studies and observations from surveys that show that more people with an addiction or substance abuse problem have quit than stayed addicted. These are surveys of people who self-report their use of drugs or alcohol.
On the other hand, a research study from the journal Addiction demonstrated that people who received help in quitting drugs were more likely to avoid relapse in the long-term. Specifically, after three years, 62.4 percent of those who received help for recovery stayed abstinent, compared to only 43.4 percent of those who tried to recover on their own. This was even more marked after 16 years, when only 42.9 percent of those who received help for recovery relapsed to their addiction, compared to 60.5 percent of those who tried to recover on their own.
Other studies such as one from BMC Psychiatry have shown that people who have tried both quitting alone and quitting with help find getting help to be safer and more comfortable, and that staying in longer-term treatment is more likely to result in stopping drug use than short-term treatment or self-care.
These studies are more typical of the understanding of drug abuse as a chronic, recurring condition that requires ongoing management in order to avoid relapse.
Resolving the Contradictions
The seeming contradictions in the studies about drug abuse may be confusing; however, they can be clarified when looking at various complicating factors. The challenges to quitting without help occur when:
- There are underlying or co-occurring mental disorders like depression or anxiety.
- The individual has been using drugs heavily for a long time.
- There is a family history of addiction or mental illness.
- The individual has already gone through multiple cycles of addiction and relapse.
- Multiple drugs or combinations of drugs and alcohol are involved.
- The person does not have inner or outward motivation to change behavior.
Most of the articles, like the TIME article, conclude that the main reason some people are able to quit drugs without help is that they have extreme motivation to change their behavior for good. Because drug treatment programs can enhance this motivation, they are more likely to result in long-term change.
Pros and Cons of Going It Alone
People who are considering self-care for drug abuse should consider the pros and cons of quitting without help. These include:
- Shortened absence from work, school, or other commitments
- Low cost of treatment
- Potential to maintain confidentiality about drug abuse problem
- Dangerous withdrawal symptoms, especially for alcohol and benzodiazepines, per Psychology Today
- Extreme discomfort and risk of relapse during detox
- Friends and family may not be available to provide 24/7 care as needed
- Higher risk of relapse that results in subsequent overdose
It may interest people who are weighing the options that substance abuse treatment can be provided that also offers the pros associated with self-care.
Alternatives for Stopping Drug Abuse
Substance abuse treatment services can be provided in a number of ways that can meet the individual’s needs for flexibility, cost, and confidentiality, while still avoiding the pitfalls of self-treatment for drug abuse.
Outpatient treatment or partial hospitalization, when possible, can enable an individual to receive treatment while still living at home, making it possible to keep up with work, school, and other responsibilities. As long as the individual has a good support network and a high level of motivation to change, these options can provide the extra support that makes it possible to achieve long-term recovery, even for those with a mild to moderate relapse risk or those with a history of relapse. These programs can also make it possible to keep the substance abuse problem confidential, helping to avoid the risk of the person losing a job or suffering a loss of reputation.
Even if inpatient treatment is warranted – such as for those with moderate to high relapse risk or a history of severe abuse or addiction – it is possible to find a program that is low-cost or state-funded. Insurance may cover treatment, and sometimes facilities offer payment plans to help make it affordable.
How to Find Addiction Support and Resources
Local or government mental health departments, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, can provide resources and listings of treatment facilities in local areas. When selecting a treatment facility, it is important to ask about financial support, research-based treatment programs, and specialized care for co-occurring conditions or other unique aspects of the individual’s addiction history.
When an appropriate treatment center is found, getting help through a professional program can provide tools to ease the discomforts of withdrawal, provide the level of desire to change and motivation that have been shown to lead to positive outcomes, and assist the person in developing the tools and confidence to stay abstinent and achieve long-term recovery.