How to Treat Substance Use Disorders

No matter what your goals, there are many substance use disorder treatment options and programs.

Medically reviewed in November 2022

Seeking substance use disorder treatment is a difficult step, but can also be one of the most important and best steps to take. Only 1 in 10 individuals with a substance use disorder actually receives treatment, despite the known health consequences.  

Studies show that receiving treatment early, before the condition can advance, is crucial for effectively managing a substance use problem or disorder. However, receiving treatment at any stage of substance misuse is better than not receiving any type of treatment at all. Treatment services aim to enable individuals to become sober and maintain a healthy lifestyle through methods such as medication, counseling or other supportive services. 

Substance use disorders can be classified as mild, moderate or severe, with effective treatment options for each level of severity and type of substance misuse. The most common substances reported for substance use disorders are alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription pain relievers and heroin

Steps of treatment 

  1. Assessment and diagnosis: The first step in treatment of a substance use disorder is recognizing the issue and visiting a professional clinician for proper diagnosis. The clinician will conduct an interview to assess the severity and will then determine if there is a substance use disorder present. This is very important for determining the treatment plan. 
  2. Individualized treatment planning: Following diagnosis, the clinician and the patient will set out together to develop personalized treatment goals for the substance use disorder. When developing a plan, the clinician and patient should consider all aspects of the individual, which will increase the likelihood of success. During the treatment, the patient and clinician should consistently check in to make any adjustments to the plan. Various factors impact the customization of treatment, including gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, economic status, faith, religion or lack of religion. 
  3. Maintaining treatment engagement and retention: Patients that are open to building a relationship with the clinician show more engagement and retention in treatment programs, and therefore often experience more success with the treatment plan. 
  4. Treatment setting and the continuum of care: Treatment for substance use disorders can be given in hospitals, outpatient settings or in residential facilities, with varying frequencies (daily, weekly, monthly) and types of care provided. Therapy and rehabilitation for individuals suffering from substance use disorders typically occurs in an outpatient setting, but may also take place in a residential setting for more severe cases. 

Types of substance use disorder treatment programs 
There are many different ways to treat substance use disorders, as well as places you can go for help. They include the following. 

Medically monitored and managed inpatient care. This intensive service, typically in a hospital, provides treatment 24 hours a day and is necessary for individuals who need medical care, withdrawal management or have mental or physical health conditions, which are sometimes referred to as co-occurring disorders. 

Residential services: This 24-hour service provides support outside of a hospital setting and is typically for those who lack an environment that allows for recovery, have relapsed before or have mental or physical health conditions. 

Intensive outpatient services: This provides structure for services such as counseling and education and is less restrictive than residential services, typically with options before or after work or on weekends. 

Outpatient services: Usually the first level of care for mild substance use disorders or the final step of intense treatment, this service provides behavioral support and medication when necessary. 

Speak to a clinician today if you feel you may have a substance use disorder and are ready to begin treatment. After you speak with a clinician, look to join a support group. Support groups are an important way to be successful in treatment, no matter what type of treatment being received. 

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