Treatment for Addiction
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to addiction treatment. Choosing the appropriate treatment depends on the severity and type of addiction; the support available from family, friends and others; and the person’s motivation to change.
Some people with substance use problems are able to make changes on their own using self-help materials (e.g., self-help books and websites).
Self-help groups, also called mutual aid groups, support people who are working to change their substance use. Many people participate in a self-help group at the same time that they are in formal treatment. The oldest and largest self-help organization is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Today, there are many self-help groups with various philosophies and approaches for people with substance use problems.
To reach out to people who may not be ready, willing or able to give up substances, some treatment programs have adopted a harm reduction approach.
Examples of harm reduction strategies include:
- helping people learn safer ways to use substance
- helping people learn how to recognize the signs of an overdose
- providing clean needles and other injection equipment (“works”) for injection drug use (to reduce transmission of infections such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C through needle sharing)
- helping to ensure that people’s basic needs, such as for food, shelter and medical care, are met
- substituting a safer drug for the one a person is using (e.g., substituting methadone for heroin)
Counselling comes in a variety of forms, including individual, group, couples and family therapy. Counselling generally aims to:
- increase people’s awareness of how substance use affects their lives, what puts them at risk of substance use and how to reduce substance use
- help people examine their thoughts and emotions and learn how these inner experiences affect how they behave, how they interact with others and how others see them
- promote physical, emotional and spiritual wellness, e.g., by helping people learn to:
- manage cravings and temptations to use substances
- meet their needs through assertive communication
- develop a healthy lifestyle
- find ways to meet people and form relationships that aren’t focused on substance use
- reduce stress.
Alcohol and other drug education
Learning about the effects of alcohol and other drugs can help prepare people to make informed choices. Some treatment programs also offer alcohol and other drug education to family members.
Medications used to help treat addictions include:
- nicotine patch, gum or an inhaler, or taking the medication buproprion (Zyban) (for smoking cessation)
- methadone or buprenorphine (for people who are dependent on heroin or other opioids, (pain medications such as codeine, Percodan, OxyContin).
Medications to treat other types of addiction are limited. One is naltrexone (Revia), which can reduce cravings to drink in people who are alcohol dependent. Naltrexone can also be used to block the effects of opioids. Another medication used to treat alcohol dependence is disulfiram (Antabuse), which causes people to feel sick and nauseous if they drink alcohol.
People sometimes need short-term help dealing with substance use withdrawal. Withdrawal management helps them manage symptoms that happen when they stop using the substance. It helps prepare clients for long-term treatment. Clients also learn about substance use and treatment options.
A holistic approach to treatment
Many treatment programs offer a variety of other supports and services, including information and counselling about:
Adapted from Addiction: An Information Guide © 2010 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
- stress or anger management
- grief and trauma
- finding a job or going back to school
- healthy eating
- accessing safe, affordable housing
- getting social assistance or disability benefits
- managing money and budgeting
- developing parenting skills.