Drug Abuse and Addiction

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

Quick GuideDrug Abuse Pictures Slideshow: Commonly Abused Prescription and OTC Drugs

Drug Abuse Pictures Slideshow: Commonly Abused Prescription and OTC Drugs

What is the treatment for drug addiction?

An unfortunate fact about the treatment of drug addiction is that it remains largely underutilized by most sufferers. Facts about the use of drug treatment include that less than 10% of people with a milder substance-use disorder and less than 40% of those with a more entrenched substance-use disorder seek professional help. Those statistics do not seem to be associated with socioeconomic or other demographic traits but do seem to be associated with the presence of other mental-health problems (co-morbidity).

The primary goals of drug-use disorder treatment (also called recovery) are abstinence, relapse prevention, and rehabilitation. During the initial stage of abstinence, an individual who suffers from chemical dependency may need help avoiding or decreasing the effects of withdrawal. That process is called detoxification or "detox." That part of treatment is primarily performed in a hospital or other inpatient setting, where medications used to lessen withdrawal symptoms and close medical monitoring can be performed. The medications used for detox depend on the drug the person is dependent upon. For example, people with alcohol use disorder might receive medications like sedatives (benzodiazepines) or blood pressure medications to decrease palpitations and blood pressure, or seizure medications to prevent seizures during the detoxification process.

For many substances of abuse, the detox process is the most difficult part of dealing with the physical symptoms of addiction and tends to last days to a few weeks. Medications that are sometimes used to help addicted individuals abstain from drug use on a long-term basis also depend on the specific drug of addiction. For example, individuals who are dependent on narcotics like Percodan (a combination of aspirin and oxycodone hydrochloride) heroin, or Vicodin, Vicodin ES, Anexsia, Lorcet, Lorcet Plus, or Norco (combinations of hydrocodone and acetaminophen) often benefit from receiving longer-acting, less addictive narcotic-like substances like methadone (Methadose). People with alcohol addiction might try to avoid alcohol intake by taking disulfiram (Antabuse), which produces nausea, stomach cramping, and vomiting in reaction to the person consuming alcohol.

Often, much more difficult and time-consuming than recovery from the physical aspects of drug dependency is psychological addiction. For people who may have less severe drug use disorder, the symptoms of psychological addiction may be able to be managed in an outpatient treatment program. However, those who have a more severe addiction, have relapsed after participation in outpatient programs, or who also suffer from a severe mental health condition might need the elevated level of structure, support, and monitoring provided in an inpatient drug treatment center, often called "rehab." Following such inpatient treatment, many people with this level of drug use disorder can benefit from living in a sober living community, that is, a group-home setting where counselors provide continued sobriety support, structure, and monitoring on a daily basis.

Also important in the treatment of drug dependency is helping the parents, other family members, and friends of the addicted person refrain from supporting addictive behaviors (codependency). Whether providing financial support, making excuses, or failing to acknowledge the drug seeking and other maladaptive behaviors of the addict, discouraging such codependency of loved ones is a key component of recovery. A focus on the addicted person's role in the family becomes perhaps even more significant when that person is a child or teenager, given that minors come within the context of a family in nearly every instance. Drug dependency treatment for children and adolescents is further different from that in adults by the impact of drugs on the developing brain, as well as the younger addict's tendency to need help completing their education and achieving higher education or job training compared to addicts who may have completed those parts of their lives before developing the addiction.

The treatment of dual diagnosis seems to be less effective when management of the person's mental disorder is separate from the care for his or her chemical dependency. More successful are integrated treatment approaches that include interventions for both disorders. Such interventions are all the more improved by the inclusion of assessment, intensive case management, motivational interventions, behavior interventions, family treatment, as well as services for housing, rehabilitation, and medication management.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/4/2016

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