The Drug and Alcohol Treatment Process: How to Find Long-Term Recovery

Drug and alcohol addiction can be successfully managed with professional treatment that includes a combination of medications and behavioral therapies. Addiction treatment is a continuum of care that allows patients to receive specialized treatment as they advance through rehab. This page will discuss the drug and alcohol addiction treatment process and how to begin long-term recovery.

What is Substance Use Disorder?

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A substance use disorder (SUD), also known as an addiction, is a chronic condition consisting of behavioral, psychological, and cognitive symptoms where a person continues to compulsively use drugs and/or alcohol despite it causing significant impairment.1 Addiction development is accompanied by functional changes within the brain that can impact an individual’s drive, motivation, thought processes, and behaviors so much that drug use becomes prioritized over all else. The development of addiction is influenced not only by repeated substance use itself, but also by genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors. Substance use disorders affect all aspects of a person’s life and often lead to problems with health and failing to meet major responsibilities at home, work, or school.2

Signs You Might Have a Drug Problem

A substance use disorder can only be diagnosed by a certified professional. To do so, they use guidelines standardized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth ed.). Substance use disorders have physical, mental, and behavioral diagnostic criteria that include the following:1

  • The substance is often used in larger amounts and for a longer amount of time than intended
  • The person has unsuccessfully wanted to or tried to cut down or control their substance use
  • A large amount of time is spent in obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance
  • The person experiences a strong desire and urge to use the substance (cravings)
  • A failure to fulfill major obligations at work, home, or school due to recurrent substance use
  • Continuing to use the substance despite it causing or intensifying interpersonal or social problems
  • Social, recreational, and occupational activities are reduced or stopped due to the substance use
  • Repeated substance use in physically hazardous situations
  • Continued substance use despite knowing it causes psychological and/or physical problems
  • A need for increased amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effects (tolerance)
  • Negative physical and psychological symptoms when the substance is not consumed (withdrawal)

Although you cannot diagnose a substance use disorder yourself, it can be helpful to know the signs if you are concerned about yourself or a loved one. Reaching out to a substance abuse hotline and seeking help can connect you with a professional who can properly diagnose a substance use disorder.

Understanding the Recovery Process for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Recovery is an ongoing process for individuals with substance use disorders and does not always follow a straight path. Because drug and alcohol addiction is considered chronic, treatment is a process of learning to manage its symptoms, as there is no cure for it.

Treating addiction can be much like treating other chronic illnesses, such as asthma or heart disease. People with these chronic physical illnesses often experience relapse over the course of treatment that sometimes make it necessary to adjust their treatment plan. Having to adjust one’s addiction treatment as they make their way through treatment or after a relapse is common and does not represent failure.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Addiction can often feel isolating; however, you are not alone in your struggles. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has found that:2

  • 3 million people aged 12 or older reported having a substance use disorder in 2020.
  • Among those 40.3 million people who reported a substance use disorder, 6.5 million had both an illicit drug use disorder and an alcohol use disorder in the past year.
  • Substance use disorders, alcohol use disorders, and illicit drug use disorders were most prevalent among adults 18 to 25 years old.
  • 17 million people aged 18 or older had a co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder in 2020 (for example, depression and an alcohol use disorder at the same time).

How Do You Treat Drug Addiction?

To treat drug and alcohol addiction, rehab programs combine evidence-based behavioral therapies with medications and other holistic activities. Depending on their needs, a patient can receive therapeutic services in a residential inpatient program where they stay at the facility 24/7 or through an outpatient day program where they return home at night.

Most Common Addiction Treatment Options: Levels of Care

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There are multiple steps in treating substance use disorders, so treatment is structured in a continuum of care model to address all those needs. Individuals can transition to higher or lower levels of care as they progress in their recovery from addiction. Patients can receive behavioral therapy treatment in two different program types:

  • Inpatient addiction treatment: Also referred to as a residential program, inpatient rehab requires patients to stay at the facility during their treatment. Inpatient programs create a stable environment for treatment and for those lacking external support from others.4
  • Outpatient rehab: Patients live at home and attend treatment services during the day. Depending on the severity of the substance use disorder, some patients attend a partial hospitalization program while others with less severe symptoms can attend an intensive outpatient program.4

What Level of Care is Best for Me?

It is important to allow professionals to determine the best level of care for each patient, as the recovery process is unique for everyone. Level of care placement will depend on each person’s substance use disorder, severity of symptoms, other co-occurring mental illnesses, and other factors that can help indicate their treatment needs.

The Drug and Alcohol Treatment Process

It’s important to personalize the addiction treatment process to meet each individual’s specific needs. The following general recovery process timeline outlines the steps of addiction treatment and how they work together to help achieve lasting recovery.

Assessment and Diagnosis

When a person makes the decision to start treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, the first step is to receive an evaluation from a medical professional. This evaluation will take into account the following factors:

  • How much of the substance was being misused
  • How often the substance was being misused
  • Physical and mental health conditions
  • Potential underlying co-occurring mental health disorders
  • How intensely the substance misuse is impacting the individual’s life

This helps to develop a plan for the full treatment of the addiction and recovery process for that individual.

Drug and Alcohol Detox

If an individual entering an addiction rehab program still has drugs or alcohol in their body at the time of admission, the first step of treatment after the assessment is medical detoxification. The purpose of medical detoxification is to assist patients in managing acute intoxication and withdrawal symptoms.5

Patients are monitored by a medical team 24/7 to prevent any potentially life-threatening complications as their bodies clear the substances from their systems. Medications can be used under the watchful eye of the treatment professionals to ease the uncomfortable symptoms.5

Time spent in medical detox varies based on the substances in a person’s system and the severity of the withdrawal they are experiencing Once a patient is stabilized and has achieved a substance-free state, they can begin behavioral therapy.

Addiction Therapy

Once the detox process is underway, the individual can begin treatment and therapy sessions. Desert Hope offers multiple types of drug and alcohol addiction therapy including:

Other therapeutic elements involve working with family members to resolve relationship issues and other situations that may encourage relapse after treatment is over. Recently, Desert Hope opened a couples track for partners struggling with substance use disorders. The program addresses the relationship dynamic as well as the individual needs of each patient.

Medication for Addiction

Medication can be a helpful tool in treating substance use disorders. Specific FDA-approved prescription medications, like buprenorphine, morphine, or disulfiram have proven effective in treating certain types of substance use disorders, such as opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder. Rehab programs can utilize these medications in combination with behavioral therapies and counseling, commonly referred to as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Prescription medications can also be used to treat co-occurring mental health disorders (such as anxiety) and help with acute physical symptoms while a patient is experiencing withdrawal. Additionally, over-the-counter medications can be used to help treat minor withdrawal symptoms during detox.

Peer Group Work

Therapy and other activities in an addiction rehab program are often conducted in group settings. Desert Hope fosters peer group support by offering specialized rehab programs for diverse groups of patients facing unique challenges including:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
  • SMART Recovery.
  • LGBTQ+ program.
  • Veterans program.

Being grouped with others with similar backgrounds and experiences can create a safe space to share and explore the unique challenges faced by many in that group.

Other Elements of the Addiction Treatment Process

Some addiction rehabs have additional programs and activities that complement conventional behavioral therapies. These elements might include:11

  • Nutrition programs.
  • Meditation or yoga.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Art and dance therapy.
  • Music therapy.
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Combining traditional behavioral therapy with these alternative therapies can create an integrative health approach that emphasizes treating the person as a whole.11

Aftercare: Support After Rehab

Aftercare planning often begins while a patient is in rehab and is an important part in long-term success. As part of the rehab program, patients work with trained professionals to create a plan for maintaining sobriety after the program is complete. Desert Hope addiction rehab offers a variety of aftercare services including:

Aftercare can be helpful in allowing people to return to their daily lives to some degree, while still engaging in regular therapy, 12-Step meetings, or other programs that support recovery after the rehab process is complete.

Alumni programs at treatment facilities can maintain connections to staff members and peers who have been through treatment, giving access to resources and support for years beyond the rehab program’s completion.

How to Achieve Long-Term Sobriety and Recovery From Addiction

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Recovery from a substance use disorder is an ongoing process. Long-term sobriety is more likely to be achieved when an individual spends adequate time in treatment.12 Continuing care through aftercare, ongoing 12-Step involvement, and activities that promote overall wellness is key to increasing the likelihood that treatment will lead to a lasting recovery.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, relapse may occur. It can help the individual to remember that relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed; it simply means that treatment needs to be reintroduced or adjusted in order to get back on course to long-term recovery.13

How Do I Pay for Addiction Treatment?

Desert Hope Treatment Center in Las Vegas, NV has lots of resources on using insurance to pay for rehab. If you or your loved one do not have insurance, Desert Hope accepts other rehab payment options. Check your insurance benefits by using our quick and confidential tool.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and are ready to take the first steps towards long-term sobriety, call us today at 888-862-6323. Desert Hope, American Addiction Centers’ substance abuse treatment center in Las Vegas, offers a professional and comprehensive treatment program to those struggling with addiction. Call us today to learn more.

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