Addiction Treatment: Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

We often assume that money is the biggest barrier to getting help for drug and alcohol addiction—and it is a significant factor for some people, especially those without insurance.

Yet, celebrities like Courtney Love and Charlie Sheen prove that money is only part of the equation. Both are financially well off, yet they’ve struggled with addiction for years and have each had several stints in rehab. Something isn’t working.

There’s no question that long-term sobriety depends on a person’s commitment (among many other situational factors). But getting the right help is also essential.

A generic, one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment is – at best -only marginally helpful and – at worst – harmful. That’s why it’s critical to find a treatment center that offers services that match your (or a loved one’s) specific needs. Here are some suggestions for finding the right treatment facility.

Get an assessment from a doctor or psychiatrist with experience treating addiction.

Movies and television almost always portray the rehab experience exclusively in terms of inpatient treatment—a person checks into a rehab facility, usually for 30 days, after which they’re on their own to resume life as a sober person.

Real life is more complicated, and real people are more diverse.

Those with life-threatening addictions, or who need medications to manage withdrawal symptoms, will most likely need inpatient treatment overseen by a qualified medical team. People with addictions that are severe enough to impair them from carrying out the activities of daily living, like working, going to school, or meeting family obligations, will also likely benefit most from inpatient treatment.

But, not everyone needs this level of care. A traditional or intensive outpatient program (IOP) plus ongoing aftercare might be a better fit for some patients.

Explore all your options, but don’t self-diagnose – or diagnose a loved one. Get an assessment from a doctor certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine or a psychiatrist who has experience treating patients with substance use disorders.

Research facilities carefully.

Only a fraction of people who need help for addiction receive care from a facility that uses evidence-based treatment approaches that stem from the latest science, according to a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

There’s no shortage of unqualified and unethical treatment centers. These facilities are often unregulated and unsupervised. Be wary of facilities that haven’t been in business for at least five years and don’t have an established reputation in the industry.

Even treatment centers founded by people with good intentions—like recovered addicts who have made it their mission to help others—can end up doing more harm than good. Many treatment centers offer programs that perpetuate the idea that addiction is simply a behavioral issue. This stigma keeps many people from getting the right help.

Look for a program staffed by credentialed professionals who are well-versed in the science of addiction and mental health.

Make sure the facility offers all the services you need.

Not all treatment centers offer services like medication management to treat drug dependency or dual diagnosis care for people with co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. And, not every facility offers medically-supervised detoxification services (if the treatment facility you choose doesn’t offer detox, at a minimum they should be able to offer a referral to a reputable detox provider).

Some treatment centers advocate an abstinence model for opioid addiction, while others offer prescription medications like naltrexone and methadone, which can help reduce cravings and improve withdrawal symptoms.

Bottom line: Research facilities carefully until you find one that provides comprehensive care, especially if you or your loved one has a co-occurring mental health issue.

Not all drug and alcohol rehab facilities are created equal, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to care. Your recovery (or that of your loved one) is too important to leave to chance.

About the Author

Dr. Nancy Irwin is a Psychologist on staff at Seasons In Malibu, a Malibu, CA rehab center providing world-class dual diagnosis care. Dr. Irwin treats more than 100 emotional and behavioral issues ranging from addiction to phobias to trauma, collaborating with the Seasons In Malibu team to create individualized treatment programs for each guest.

This post is in collaboration with Seasons In Malibu.

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