Substance use treatment is based on helping an individual overcome their substance dependence. According to the National Institutes of Health, 10% of American adults have reported having substance use disorder at some point in their lives. Treating substance use takes time and can be a very involved process. Addiction and dependence affect millions of people around the world. Out of these people, few of them seek out and receive treatment. Many of them don’t even realize they have a problem. Substance abuse treatment usually is a very involved process that requires a person to go through several steps.

Addiction and Dependence

Addictive substances can change a person’s life entirely. When someone starts taking a substance, they do it for the feeling of euphoria it offers. The brain’s chemical response to many of these substances is to produce dopamine. Dopamine is referred to as the “feel-good” chemical.

When dopamine is in the brain, it causes a person to feel happy and fulfilled. As a person starts using a drug more, the dopamine amounts surge. The brain needs more of the chemical to function normally. The activities and actions that used to offer dopamine release now can’t satisfy the individual. The only thing that can give them that feeling is taking the substance. At this point, the person is said to be dependent on the substance.

Addiction is a brain disease that results from dependence. When someone becomes addicted to a substance, they start seeking it out, regardless of the impact it may have on their lives. The compulsive consumption of drugs is a classic symptom of addiction. The individual seeks out the substance anywhere they can find it, even if it endangers their life. The recklessness is because their primal desire for the substance overrides their higher thought processes. This lack of awareness usually ends badly for the addicted person unless they decide to give up the substance altogether. But how do they approach quitting?

Treating Substance Use Disorder

Treating Substance Use Disorder

Substance use treatment starts with understanding how the substance affects the person. Facilities such as Pathfinders Recovery Center go through a rigorous pre-treatment screening that helps staff understand the person’s medical history and emotional struggles. Substance use disorder affects more than just the person’s physical body. It has a profound and memorable impact on their mental state as well. For substance abuse treatments to be successful, they must do three things:

  1. Help the person to stop using the substance
  2. Guide the person towards staying away from the substance
  3. Be a productive member of society in work and family life

How does substance abuse therapy achieve these goals?

The Core Principles of Effective Substance Abuse Treatment

An effective treatment program attempts to achieve the above results. Before the 1970s, substance use disorder was treated with brutal methods, sometimes involving psychedelics or electroshock therapy.

Scientific studies in the 1970s brought about a change in how the medical field viewed substance use disorder. It became apparent that addiction affected both brain function and behavior. However, it was treatable without resorting to fringe medical practices that were questionably moral. Today, we see substance abuse treatment as a necessary way for someone to overcome their illness. When dealing with substance use disorder, a few things stand out as core practices:

1. There’s No Generic Solution to Fit Everyone

Substance use disorder is complex. It can affect the mental state of individuals profoundly. Some of the triggers and withdrawal symptoms associated with substance abuse may differ from person to person. As a result, each person entering treatment needs to have a personalized care plan developed specifically for their needs.

This care plan should consider the person’s family history, previous substance use, and mental and emotional state. Assessments are typically done to help the medical personnel at a facility understand the person’s medical needs more fully.

2. Effective Treatment Deals With a Holistic Solution

In the past, it was thought that once someone stopped being physically dependent on a drug, they had recovered. Casual investigation proves this to be untrue. If a person is to recover from substance use disorder, the solution needs to address their problems. Detoxification is only the first part of helping someone get over their addiction.

It needs to be followed up by inpatient and outpatient treatment. These treatments should focus on helping the person understand the disease. Therapy methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have proven helpful in preventing relapse. Treatment can take place either within an inpatient setting or through outpatient clinics.

3. Treatment Must Span A Long Enough Time

One of the most common causes of someone losing their focus and returning to their old habits is leaving treatment too soon. Inpatient facilities usually cater to having individuals at the location for two weeks. However, there is typically no way for someone to remain at a public inpatient facility for longer because of the demand.

Outpatient facilities can help, but only if they have already overcome their urges to seek out the substance. Leaving treatment before those urges are properly understood may lead to a return to use. More facilities are looking at support programs and more intensive outpatient treatment to supplement inpatient services.

4. Medication and Counseling Work Well in Combination

Detoxification for some substances can be eased with the use of some drugs. Since many people have heard about the terrible withdrawal process, it leads to few people wanting to quit. Many medical facilities lean on medication to help their visitors overcome the most challenging period of the process.

As mentioned before, CBT can also offer valuable support to individuals who are trying to quit. CBT helps a person spot the negative thoughts that lead to destructive actions. This recognition provides a proactive approach to dealing with the body’s urges. It helps to empower the individual to make better choices and avoid the addictive substance.

5. Long-Term Aftercare Is Necessary

Just like leaving treatment too early can lead to a relapse, so too can not having a robust support network. Many individuals who enter treatment facilities don’t have a strong friend network. Some have alienated their families because of their behavior. When they recover from their dependence and return to society, the draw to fall back into use is very strong.

Having a support network and long-term aftercare such as outpatient therapy can keep them focused on their goals. Typically, facilities have counselors that arrange a long-term aftercare plan to help recoverees meet their goals.

These core pillars support almost all treatment methodologies. The goal is to ensure that the person no longer feels the need to use the substance. In practice, this means that the facility should seek to remove the physical dependence on the drug and then follow up with breaking the psychological hold it has on the person. Detoxification deals with removing the physical reliance on a substance.

CBT and other therapies help with giving the person more agency in their decisions. Together, these treatments form the foundation for recovery. Long-term recovery usually requires strong support networks and groups that can lend moral support to the recoveree. The aim in these cases is to deal with the root of the problem and not just the symptoms.

The Process of Substance Use Treatment

Substance use treatment spans several different stages. Depending on the substance, each step may have more or less intensive treatment and therapies. As stated before, there’s no single solution to deal with substance use disorder. It’s too complex a problem to have a straightforward answer. The process requires that an individual goes through several stages.


Upon entering a facility, a person starts the process of detoxification. Most facilities offer a detox center where visitors can safely go through the process. The body’s dependence on a drug needs to be broken. Detox accomplishes this by forcing the body to function without the substance. In some cases, detox can be done at home, although it’s not recommended.

Unsupervised detox can lead to side effects that may require emergency medical care. Most facilities offer on-site staff that can help with the challenges that may arise during detoxification. Opioid addiction, for example, may lead to a sped-up heartbeat and palpitations, among other things.

These symptoms are termed “withdrawal.” This portion of the process causes the most discomfort to recoverees. Withdrawal symptoms may increase in intensity for up to two days. After this initial period, they tend to decrease. At around the fourth or the fifth day after entering the facility, the recovering person no longer feels the ill effect of their dependence. This step of cleansing the body of the substance is necessary since it sets the stage for the rest of the recovery process.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient facilities usually follow detoxification. Once the person’s body no longer has the strain of dealing with dependence, their mind becomes less foggy. Inpatient facilities offer a lot of benefits for treatment. They are a safe location that allows a person to focus on their recovery while ignoring outside influences. In some cases, this can be particularly useful.

Where a person’s substance use is tied to a particular friend group or location, inpatient treatment can give them a respite from those triggers. There are also a wide variety of alternative activities that the person can indulge in that are healthier alternatives to substance use. These activities work well in combination with therapy.

Most inpatient facilities have some form of therapy to help recoverees. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the more common approaches to dealing with substance abuse. CBT helps a person understand their negative thinking patterns.

This process allows them more agency in making decisions. One of the most destructive things about substance use disorder is how it takes over a person’s thought process. By spotting these negative patterns early, individuals can avoid giving in to the behaviors that lead to relapse. The activities that inpatient facilities offer also help to replace those negative actions with more positive ones.

Outpatient Treatment

Substance abuse treatments also take place in outpatient facilities. While they are less intensive than inpatient facilities, they are just as important. When a person finishes their inpatient treatment, they aren’t yet fully recovered. They usually need the help of additional therapy sessions or group therapy.

Outpatient treatment offers a long-term support system that recoverees can depend on. The individuals that make up those therapy or support groups have faced similar problems. Their backgrounds allow them to form solid bonds and add moral support to other members. This group support dynamic has terrific results in helping someone remain focused on their recovery.

Outpatient facilities also cater to those who have just gone through detox. However, in these cases, the onus is on the recoveree to keep themselves away from the substance. Willpower plays a significant part in whether they succeed or not. Outpatient facilities offer individuals more freedom at the expense of giving them more responsibility.

For some people, this is a much faster way to recover and return to society. Outpatient facilities don’t require a person to leave their job to go to rehab. In the case of parents, there is no need to find someone to babysit for an extended period. The downside is that, since these are scheduled meetings, it’s up to the person to make it to them. Individuals who don’t have reliable transport would find it hard to attend every session. This lack of commitment may result in relapse.

Complete Recovery Is The Goal

Recovery only happens when someone is no longer tempted to fall back into substance use. Physical dependence only takes a few days to dissipate. However, the mental draw that these substances have can linger for months. Overcoming the pull of these substances requires a lot of effort, but a person doesn’t need to face this alone. Facilities such as Pathfinders Recovery Center can help. With a fully outfitted medical staff composed of doctors and mental health professionals, we’re ready and willing to help you get through your recovery. Give us a call today, and let’s walk the road to recovery alongside you.


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  • (877) 224-0761
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