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    Choosing outpatient substance abuse treatment

    Posted on June 4, 2017 by

    Congratulations! You have decided to seek information regarding counseling or education for alcohol or drug use. It is a big decision and commitment, no matter the reason you reach out for assistance. Below are tips on how to choose a substance abuse provider and make substance use treatment a success for you. Alcohol and drug use treatment is an experience that should have a lasting positive impact. Proper diagnoses, proper placement and adherence to the treatment and continuing care plans through to completion are key components to your success.

    For early intervention counseling or education successful completion of the treatment plan can be as simple as completing a few group sessions. For moderate to severe substance use, longer more intensive counseling with aftercare groups and community support programs are beneficial to achieve lasting change.  Substance use disorder treatment is healthcare services, even if mandated. Health insurance typically pays for such services.

    No matter the reason for choosing alcohol or drug use counseling your likelihood of successful outcomes are equally as good. Research proves that clients who are required to receive services have outcomes as good as “voluntary” clients. (Search Google for “research voluntary treatment vs. mandated treatment” for more information.) Whether you chose treatment to improve your health or because you got a DWI or other legal charge, the process is largely the same.  If the treatment plan is followed through to the end, the outcome is significant improvement in your life. Don’t quit before the miracle happens!

    The benefits of treatment might not be experienced until after several sessions or, sometimes, after completion of the process. The longer one remains in treatment is often more important than intensity. (Search Google for “how long do I need substance abuse treatment?”) Diabetics don’t stop insulin because their blood sugar is stable. Heart disease and cancer patients don’t quit treatment because they don’t like going to the doctor.  When treatment seems uncomfortable, it is not time to quit. It is time to dig in and have discussions with your counselor. Treatment will work when the condition is properly diagnosed and the correct level of care is followed to completion.

    Where to start, what to look for in an agency or facility:

    • When initially searching for a program or facility on the internet, steer clear of toll free numbers. Toll free phone numbers often route you to a national call center for a program that has hijacked the phone number of a reputable provider. First Step Services, LLC and other quality programs do not have national call centers or advertise toll free numbers. Search the service you are looking for online to get a  list of licensed and accredited programs, then find the actual websites of the program. Check the NC Department of Health and Human Services website for the company.  Check the NCDHHS licensing for the division you are considering attending.
    • If you are calling for First Step Services, LLC and the caller doesn’t answer “Thank you for calling First Step Services this is “Henry”, or the like, you possibly dialed a company with a national call center hundreds of miles away. Hijacking phone numbers and email addresses is rampant in healthcare.
    • Choose a program that is NC DHHS licensed for the level of care you are seeking. The best programs are accredited by Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) or by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). Agencies will have DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) licenses and their accreditation openly displayed in the lobby.  If you do not see a current, verifiable license and CARF Accreditation, ask to see one. If the DHHS license and accreditation are not available find a different agency. The best providers proudly display licenses and accreditations.
    • Ask: How long has the treatment program been in business? How long has it been in the Triangle area? Has its, or any clinician’s, license ever been suspended? Are you in network with my health insurance?
    • Quality courthouse programs and other agencies who assist legally mandated clients will have DHHS licenses and CARF Accreditation at all offices and locations. Being sanctioned by, or located in, a courthouse does not guarantee the program has quality services. Ask to see licenses, accreditation and counselor credentials.
    • If you have a DWI, it is illegal in NC for anyone to require or pressure you to attend any specific DWI program, even at the court house. Report pressure to attend a specific agency to the NC DHHS and/or NC DWI Services.
    •  When you meet with the counselor or therapist, look for degrees, licenses and/or certifications on the wall. If you do not see them prominently displayed, ask to see them.
    • If they are unable to provide licenses/certifications/accreditation find a different program whose credentials are prominently displayed.
    • Do not trust online public reviews. People who are asked to stop using alcohol and/or drugs are, understandably, often resentful and angry. An comprehensive assessment could reveal a health condition that is, or can become serious. The first reaction to a diagnosis or treatment recommendation may be anger or denial. When upset by learning a diagnosis and treatment recommendation, people sometimes write negative reviews online. When that occurs, it is usually more about the upset person than the treatment provider itself. Use the information above to choose a program rather than online reviews.

    When you arrive, what to look for, what to expect: 

    • Ensure the facility is private, clean and neatly organized.
    • Front desk and administrative staff should be friendly, welcoming and knowledgable.
    • You should be welcomed immediately. If this is the first visit, the intake process should begin at your scheduled arrival time. Your counselor should be ready to meet with you at your appointed time.
    • Ensure that parking is plentiful and well lit. You should feel safe outside the building as well as inside.  A safety office or staff member should be available to oversee safety in parking lots after dark.

    The intake process during your first visit:

    • You should be welcomed into an intake area with a staff member to assist with paperwork.
    • Intake takes about 30 minutes to complete paperwork. Intake includes gathering basic information such as address, contact information, health insurance, financial information guarantee of confidentiality statement, authorizations to release information, etc.
    • Bring your health insurance card. If you are on someone else’s plan, it is necessary to know the full name, date of birth, insurance ID and address of the insured.

    Your assessment:

    • Like any health evaluation, a substance use evaluation or assessment should be thorough, comprehensive and conducted by well trained, credentialed professionals. Assessments should be conducted in licensed, accredited facilities that use ASAM (American Society of Addictive Medicine) criteria and Department of Health and Human Services guidelines.
    • A comprehensive assessment will also help sort out severity, causes, triggers, related to the condition and help to develop treatment, discharge and continuing care plans.
    • Non accredited, non DHHS licensed NC DWI, NC DUI assessors might screen for a disorder, but often do not conduct a comprehensive assessment that provides sufficient information to create a holistic treatment plan.


    • All counselors should be credentialed as MSW, BSW, MA, LCAS, CSAC, LPC and/or LCSW.
    • Family services should be included or available at all levels of care.
    • A Psychiatrist should be available to assist with treatment as needed.
    • A discharge and continuing care plan should be in place prior to completion of treatment.
    • Post treatment services should be available and easy to access. First Step allows recovering group graduates to continue attending their primary group for $5 per day..
    • Choose a program whose goal is to assist you in never having another problem with substance use.

    Take the First Step to a life freed of problems from substance use! 

    “Treatment at First Step got me to open up about my addiction and my past. My overall communication skills improved. I made connections with others in recovery and was motivated to succeed in my recovery due to accountability and as a way to help others in their recovery I was also motivated to go to AA meetings and communicate there as well. I learned several coping skills that stuck as relapse prevention, which is very necessary to my recovery success and I gained more confidence and trust within myself. I am less fearful of recovery, but understand more clearly the consequences of relapse, and feel empowered and motivated to succeed in recovery, achieve my long term goals, and make my family proud.” Anonymous group member’s comments

    Henry Tarkington, MSW, LCSW, LCAS, CCS

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    Choosing outpatient substance abuse treatment

    Choosing outpatient substance abuse treatment

    Congratulations! You have decided to seek information regarding counseling or education for alcohol or drug use.
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