Drug addiction refers to the chronic use of and dependance on drugs (either legal, illegal or medicinal) despite the detrimental impact a substance has on the user and those around them. Drug addiction is categorised as a brain disease, because the uncontrollable use and abuse of drugs can induce (sometimes irreversibly) changes to brain function and structure.
How do people become addicted to drugs then? Typically the road to addiction begins with a single step – the voluntary consumption of a drug. But the addictive nature of many of these substances means that what began as a conscious choice soon transforms into compulsion.
Can drug addiction be treated? Yes, definitely. But in saying that, overcoming drug addiction is difficult. Especially when you consider the strength and addictiveness of many of the drugs available. The effect drugs have on brain function means that relapse can be common among sufferers.
Often the only way to overcome drug abuse and dependance is through treatment at a formal rehabilitation centre. The aim of these treatment facilities is three fold. First, to get the patient to stop using drugs and to flush out evidence of drug use from their body. Secondly, to ensure a former user is able to stay drug free. And finally, many facilities will provide the tools and support to ensure attendees become a productive member of society again.
It has to be said that there are a wide range of drug addiction treatment options, and what works for one person will not necessarily work for everyone else. Let’s look at the general stages of medical care available to sufferers. Successful rehab involves a series of treatments…
The first treatment for drug addiction is a process called detoxification or ‘detox’. I am sure most of you are pretty much aware of what that means but, just in case, it refers to the process of removing toxic substances from ones body through abstention. This is a critical step to overcoming addiction. Very rarely do those suffering from addiction overcome dependence without this ‘cold turkey’ type approach.
However, detox is only part of the story. If patients do not seek or receive further treatment following this cleansing process, the majority of them will relapse.
Advances in behavioural therapies over the past few decades have had a tremendous impact on overcoming drug addiction. Interventions such as couples and family therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, contingency management, psychotherapy and a range of related behavioural treatments have increased the changes of long term sobriety for a raft of drug users.
Medication when appropriate
Sceptics will argue the use of medication to aide in overcoming drug addiction is simply replacing one drug in the system with another. While this may be somewhat true, in many cases medication is useful in minimising or managing the harmful effects of withdrawal to allow sufferers the opportunity to clear the more harmful drugs from their bloodstream. Medicine can be particularly effective when dealing with opioid, tobacco or alcohol addiction.
Mental health evaluation
Mental health evaluation is a critical component of drug rehabilitation. While often a dual diagnosis of patients will uncover aspects of mental health issues co-occurring alongside drug dependance, a thorough analysis is important to understand whether they are in fact unrelated, if there is any causality, or if in fact both disorders are caused by overlapping factors, vulnerabilities or stressors.
After care support
The final aspect of drug addiction treatment is after care support. Like all of the aforementioned stages of recovery we have discussed, the approach to after care support can differ wildly depending on your selected treatment centre.
The aim of after care stage is to provide a tailored ongoing treatment program after the completion of the initial intensive intervention. This will typically include regular follow up options and a support network to prevent relapse. It is vital that this program provides the appropriate level of flexibility or structure necessary to satisfy individual patient needs and to set them up for ongoing success.