Millions of people in the United Kingdom struggle with alcohol addiction and substance use disorders, but far too few seek treatment and the help they need. This is due to multiple factors such as: being unable to admit the problem; the unjust stigma attached to alcohol and drug dependence conditions; a fear of both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms; not knowing how to access treatment or what the recovery process involves; or simply being overwhelmed by the concept of rehabilitation treatment programmes as a whole.
With all these unknowns it is no surprise that so many people who may want to seek treatment for themselves or a loved one, don’t know where to start. Professional treatment centres understand this and provide treatment programmes and support on a long-term basis, setting achievable goals and removing the fear and uncertainty that can deter people from starting the recovery process. So, what are the first steps in addiction treatment?
It is often said that the first and most important step in recovering from drug or alcohol addiction is acknowledging the problem. But this is not entirely true. The first real step is understanding what addiction or substance dependence really is.
What is addiction?
There is an unjust stigma attached to addiction. People are often under the misconception that it is a ‘choice’. This is incorrect. Addiction is a chronic medical disorder, just the same as other chronic conditions such as Arthritis or Diabetes. Drug dependence and alcohol addiction have both a physical and psychological impact on the life of the sufferer.
These include secondary medical diseases such as liver and respiratory diseases, malnutrition, psychological disturbances, depression, etc. and ¾ as with any other chronic condition ¾ they can cause relationships to break down, an inability to work, and financial problems. Substance use disorders and alcohol addiction require the same approach as any chronic condition, i.e., professional medical advice, treatment options, rehabilitation treatment programmes, and ongoing support and treatment.
Types of treatment for addiction
There is no panacea or a ‘one size fits all’ approach and the recovery process will be different for everyone. But it does require long term support. All drug and alcohol treatment programmes need to be tailored to each individual, dependent on their specific needs. As soon as someone seeks treatment from a professional rehabilitation centre, they will be given general and medical advice on their treatment options.
As there are both psychological and physical causes and symptoms involved in addiction, treatment programmes for substance use disorders and alcohol addictions usually involve a combination of medical and behavioural therapies, alongside support from both peers and professionals. These can include the following steps:
- Detoxification at a specialist rehabilitation centre. This is most often the first step in professional treatment programmes for alcohol addiction and substance use disorders. It involves flushing out the drugs and alcohol from the body. This is supervised and combines medication with other therapies to ease the side effects of withdrawal.
- Residential rehabilitation programmes
- Psychological and well-being therapies, which include cognitive, behavioural and talking therapies — both as part of inpatient treatment and long term or even lifelong
- Supported treatment plans and aftercare
- Long-term outpatient rehabilitation programmes whilst living at home
- Medication and medically reviewed treatment plans for long term recovery
- Ongoing help through support groups at treatment centres and in the community e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous
How long is addiction treatment?
As with any chronic medical condition, there is no quick fix for alcohol addiction or substance use disorders. Sufferers require long term – often life-long – support to treat their alcohol and/or drug dependence. The recovery process is different for each individual, but as a rule of thumb, alcohol and drug addiction treatment programmes tend to follow a pattern of:
- Initial short-term residential treatment for detoxification, which is always in rehabilitation centres to ensure 24-hour care and support
- Intensive residential rehabilitation programmes involving medical support and psychological and well-being therapies
- Ongoing treatment plans as an outpatient to continue the recovery process once living at home
- Long term support groups through treatment centres and community groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous
Is inpatient treatment always necessary?
It depends on the longevity of the alcohol or drug addiction, but inpatient treatment produces the best outcomes and recovery for the vast majority of people. For many with an alcohol addiction or substance use disorders, this is a vital step — particularly in the early stages of the recovery process.
Some people try to go through withdrawal while still living at home, but the majority don’t succeed. Inpatient treatment is key, especially at the detoxification stage. This is the most difficult and vital step in addiction treatment, but both the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal can be lessened with specific medications.
This requires constant medical review and therefore inpatient treatment at a rehabilitation centre is vital. It also means that the resident receives professional support, 24-hour care and is medically reviewed at this difficult, but short-term stage.
Ongoing inpatient treatment programmes involve intensive psychological and well-being therapies following detoxification on a short or long term basis. These provide constant support, from both professionals and peers (through group sessions), in a safe environment — rather than trying to go it alone living at home. This ongoing inpatient therapy produces far better outcomes and ensures a drug and alcohol-free environment.
Support groups are not just one of the steps to rehabilitation from alcohol addiction and substance use disorders, they are a vital link at every stage of the recovery process. Group therapy is used widely during residential treatment. Further down the line — through groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous — support groups play a key role in long term treatment programmes. Sharing and receiving support from both professionals and peers increases the chances of a successful outcome and long term recovery process.
To sum up, the steps to recovery from addiction are different for each individual.
The recovery process will involve acknowledgement; intense initial inpatient treatment for detoxification; physical, medical and psychological treatment in treatment centres; long term treatment plans while living at home; ongoing advice and help through rehabilitation centres and community support groups.