Substance Abuse Treatment: Treating Chronicity of Disease

Successful Substance Use Treatment

The media reports an argument, and we believe is true, that there needs to be more high quality substance abuse treatment available. There are too few quality programs available to meet the demands substance use has put on society. What is a quality program? How does one differentiate? Why should “addicts” need more than one treatment…does treatment not work?

Good substance abuse treatment works, despite the bad rap. It might take multiple treatment experiences for it to have a long-lasting, hopefully permanent, effect but not always. Need for treatment is no different than for any chronic condition. Make sure you or those you care about choose only licensed, accredited programs, one with Licensed & Certified therapists. There are programs for people who have no resources, but they are becoming fewer and more difficult to access. Hopefully Affordable Care Act will help a lot more people get better care.

Not everyone needs an inpatient stay. The most successful substance abuse treatment type is the Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Program, or better known as “IOP.” A person should stay in IOP 3-4 months, attending 3-hour groups, 3 times a week to start. This phase should include significant family participation. After IOP, Aftercare for 3 – 6 months of after care and support groups is optimal. It sounds like a lot…but how much time is spent using alcohol, drugs and participating in activities to purchase them or to get the money to purchase them? How many years has one used to get to this level? Treatment takes so much time because one must overcome the habits, relationships, situations, desires, etc. created during substance use. Sometimes, there is a lifetime of difficulties that must be overcome, or at least addressed, before the person is ready to complete treatment. The longer a person stays in the treatment program, the more likely the person will maintain successful recovery.  That is one proven fact regarding successful substance abuse treatment.

Addiction/alcoholism is not an acute situation that a few days of detox and a few pills will resolve. Detox does nothing but get the majority of the substances out of the body. Treatment and recovery takes time, effort and a lot of support; a 3-5+ day detox is only a precursor to that. Statistics prove that the longer a person stays active in treatment, the more likely that person will establish long-term recovery. Family involvement in treatment has a huge impact on treatment success. Unfortunately too few families are able or willing to commit to significant participation. However, it can be done; lives are saved and many more are improved every day from a good treatment program. How much time and money is a fair investment to ensure that your spouse, child, sibling, parent, friend lives a quality life instead of dying from a needle, pill or bottle?

If we are to view addiction in a manner similar to other chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc., we have to understand maintenance and relapse.  If someone with heart disease resumes eating foods that worsen the disease, does the doctor or insurance company turn them away and say “no, we already treated you? You ate BBQ & french fries – get out of here! You don’t want to get better.” Or with diabetes, do we tell the person we will have nothing to do with them, that they are beyond help because they ate a cup cake or ice cream? Do we tell diabetics to go away, we can’t help them because they missed doses of insulin or ate sweets?

This is exactly what happens to people with substance use disorders. When people are struggling not to use, they are often told that they “must not want to get better.” They are told that they are bad, immoral, lacking something, etc. People are regularly told: “You already had treatment. We aren’t going to treat you again!” If someone is able to commit to treatment and wants recovery, why turn them away?

How many treatments are allowed for other chronic diseases? Most, if not all, require ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes for the treatment to be beneficial. Eat different foods, exercise, do different activities, try to become aware of, and stop, harmful behaviors and attitudes,etc. It is the same with a substance use disorder. However, with substance use, once the treatment has taken hold, the ongoing recovery involves no further costly treatment. The person who recovers is freed in a way you & they would never expect.

How much money would one save if the same energy, determination and creative instincts required to pay for drugs were applied to living a stable lifestyle, starting a legal business, getting & keeping a good job, or self improvement? It is done; we see it every day. Some people go at treatment and recovery as if their life depended on it…and it does! People do recover and live productive, happier lives. Does a person’s life become valueless because they need several treatment experiences to get well? How many heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc., treatments should we allow before we decide that person’s life no longer holds value and we just let them die? Two? Three? Afterwards, do we just write them off because “they didn’t want it?”

Cost to the taxpayer or insurance companies is not an issue, despite claims that it is too expensive. It is proven that treatment and recovery saves $7-$8, for every dollar spent on treatment. Sometimes a person with more serious substance use disorders require multiple treatment experiences. It is costly and aggravating. However, recovery will usually help the person not need the same amount of medical care for the rest of their lives. It is extremely rare for people to need substance abuse treatment the rest of their lives. We seem to care less for the person’s well-being because their chronic condition is substance use rather than heart disease. We somehow seem to deem it as a moral shortcoming of some sort and decide they don’t deserve help.

We seem to only apply those limitations to people with substance use disorders. Should we just let them die because they have a substance use disorder rather than another chronic disease? We are not helpless. There are solutions, but we need to be just as determined to help a person who has a substance use disorder as we would if they had any other chronic condition. We, as a society & community can do much better. Understanding substance use disorders, their cause and the solution is a good starting point.

Help is available. This condition can be overcome.

“I came to First Step for IOP immediately after completing a 28 day inpatient program at Father Martin’s-Ashley. From the outset, I found the counselors and staff professional, approachable and genuinely interested in my recovery. I had not done an outpatient group program, but had heard stories from others about described as “ a waste of time” and, by and large “useless”.  Thankfully, my experience at First Step has been rewarding, educational and enjoyable. The group composition was made up of a healthy mix of personalities backgrounds, and life experiences. Bill set a tone and tempo that encouraged open participation. I benefited from the exchange of viewpoints and perspectives gaining better insight to my own strengths and weaknesses through the power of the group.” Anonymous

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