Substance Abuse Interventions

Studies of over 500 social programs show that for every $1 spent on substance abuse programs, $7 is saved in public spending. Add to that the untold benefits to the patient and their family and friends, of having their lives becoming healthy and fully functional, and the argument for participation in effective substance abuse intervention programs stacks up.

Alcohol and drug abuse affects everyone in a patient’s family, tearing at the very fabric of family life, bringing associated problems such as dishonesty, theft, verbal and physical abuse and problems with the law into the home.

At the end of the day, recovery is going to take extraordinary effort and commitment from the patient and their family members. Following is a brief description of some of the challenges, as well as a list of effective substance abuse interventions.

Withdrawal from Substance Use

Opioid withdrawal, while generally not life-threatening, can be a very uncomfortable and often distressing experience for the patient. There are a number of well-documented effects of withdrawing from drugs and alcohol, including perspiration, restlessness, diarrhea, poor sleep, feeling tired, depression, runny nose and eyes, loss of appetite, muscle cramps, joint aches, nausea and vomiting.

Where Do You Turn?

Whether you or a family member is suffering from the effects of alcohol or drug abuse, there are a range of effective substance abuse interventions, both medical and non-medical. Below are brief descriptions of the most common types of intervention.

Counseling: Often known as talk therapy, the aim of counseling is to aid the patient in stopping their substance abuse. Techniques include twelve-step facilitation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing and contingency management, all of which can be provided by qualified professionals such as social workers, psychologists or addiction counselor. Counseling can be undertaken in combination with medical-based interventions, such as methadone maintenance treatments. The duration of counseling is dependent on the intensity of the substance abuse program.

Group Therapy: Participants meet regularly to discuss their substance abuse and ways to maintain being drug-free or alcohol-free. Generally facilitated by a professional, participant peers lead the therapeutic process, confronting other participants’ behavior based on their own experiences.

Family and Couples Counseling: This type of counseling is often provided in the context of other treatments and can be very useful for developing support structures for the recovering patient wanting to achieve and maintain abstinence. For adolescents in treatment, family counseling has been proven critical to their long-term recovery.

Medications for Treating Opioid Dependence or Addiction

Methadone is an approved medication for treating opioid withdrawal and supporting maintenance of opioid abstinence. It decreases cravings for opioids, blocks opioid effects so patients don’t get “high” on other substances, helps prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms and is an effective pain medication. Methadone treatment is usually accompanied by other interventions, such as counseling. It is swallowed in liquid form and must be obtained through special treatment clinics.

Buprenorphine is very similar in effect to methadone but comes in a tablet form and can be prescribed by a physician, which saves the patient having to travel to a special clinic each day.

Oral and Injectable Naltrexone is approved for treatment of both opioid dependence and alcoholism. It does not treat pain, but otherwise is very similar in effect to methadone and buprenorphine. Oral naltrexone can be prescribed by a physician and swallowed in tablet form on a regular basis, avoiding the inconvenience of attending a special clinic. Injectable naltrexone is administered once per month by a physician. It is very important that the patient has completely withdrawn from opioids before taking naltrexone, otherwise opioid withdrawal syndrome can be triggered.

Medications for Treating Alcoholism

Disulfiram is an approved medication that has been used for many years for the treatment of alcoholism. It causes a “disulfiram reaction,” which induces in an alcoholic patient headaches, flushing, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath when they drink alcohol. It can be prescribed by a physician.

Oral and injectable Naltrexone are both effective in treating alcoholism, as well as opioid dependence. They can both be prescribed by a physician.

Acamprosate is an oral medication shown to be effective in the treatment of alcoholism. It can be prescribed by a physician.

Self-Help Programs

The most commonly-known “12-Step” self-help programs are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). They take people through a process of recovery from addiction. Other self-help programs include Moderation Manager, Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves, SMART Recovery and Women for Sobriety. These programs are run and led by program participants, and are often an important factor in participants maintaining abstinence. Self-help programs are often combined with treatment-based programs.

Substance Abuse Interventions
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Jackie Garcia

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