Drug addiction is a complex but treatable brain 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 addiction 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 treatments to increase the intervals between relapses and diminish their intensity, until abstinence is achieved. Through addiction 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 need to change behavior to adopt a more healthful lifestyle.
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.
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.
The good news is there are some institutions that can help an addict to get back to normal life. At the Virginia Center for Addiction Medicine (go to https://www.addictionva.com/ for more details), one can count on experience and expertise in the medical management of withdrawal syndromes from every dependence inducing drug.