Learn How Effective Drug Addiction Treatment Is

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The primary goal of drug addiction treatment is to help a person with addiction stop using their drug of choice. Once this occurs, treatment transitions into helping these individuals remain drug-free by taking the steps needed to prevent a relapse.

But how effective is drug addiction treatment for achieving these goals? The answer to this question depends, in part, on how effectiveness is measured.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Measuring Drug Treatment Effectiveness

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), effective drug treatment has to do more than stop a person from using drugs and help them remain drug-free. It must also achieve three additional goals: 

  • To become a productive member of their family
  • To contribute within the workplace
  • To participate positively in society as a whole

Therefore, to measure drug addiction treatment effectiveness, abstinence is not the only factor to be considered. The improved ability of the person to function at home, work, and in the community needs to be reviewed as well. We must look at their quality of life.

Whether a drug addiction treatment is effective can also potentially be measured by its ability to reduce criminal behaviors, as the two are often associated. So, there are many facets to consider when deciding whether a specific treatment actually works.

Drug Treatment Program Results

NIDA research shows that drug addiction relapse, regardless of treatment method, is fairly common at 40% to 60%. That may sound like a poor success rate, but it's actually in line with treatment for other chronic diseases. For example, people being treated for hypertension and asthma have relapses of those conditions about 50% to 70% of the time.

This suggests that drug treatment programs are equally as effective, if not more so, than many of the health-based programs used to help patients better manage other health conditions. How do individual therapy options fare?

Medications

Medications may be prescribed during drug addiction treatment. These are generally provided to either help manage drug withdrawal symptoms or to treat underlying conditions that may be contributing to the addiction, such as anxiety or depression.

For example, methadone is a drug that can be prescribed to people recovering from addiction to heroin, opioids, and other prescription pain relievers. Some research shows that this treatment is effective for reducing drug use and, ultimately, improving quality of life.

Methadone treatment isn't right for everyone, though, because it can negatively interact with other medicines, such as antipsychotics and pain relievers. If methadone is taken during pregnancy, the baby can potentially go through withdrawal after being born.

Provigil (modafinil) is another medication that can be prescribed for a person with an addiction to cocaine, though it is also sometimes used to promote wakefulness in people with sleep disorders. Research suggests that Provigil can improve treatment outcomes.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy refers to different types of talk-based therapies that can occur in both individual and group settings. Research has repeatedly found that it is extremely valuable to the drug addiction recovery process.

One study even calls cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy, "very influential" in helping people with addiction develop better coping strategies and improve their mental and physical health.

Psychotherapy works by helping people change their behaviors. Old, unhealthy actions are replaced with newer actions that are more positive in nature. When this is combined with changes in biology, such as with medication, the results are often better.

Workplace-Based Therapies

Some employers offer their staff access to drug addiction treatments in the workplace. One study reviewed eight clinical trials involving the use of this type of therapy and found that these programs can be effective for helping people achieve and maintain drug recovery.

Specifically, positive long-term treatment results were reported for people with an addiction to cocaine, alcohol, and opioids. Researchers noted that workplace programs help people continue with their sobriety after their other treatment ends.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Some drug treatment therapies fall under the category of complementary and alternative. Acupuncture is one that has been found beneficial for treating depression and anxiety. Though, evidence for its ability to treat drug addiction is somewhat mixed.

A 2016 study looked at 85 different research articles involving the use of acupuncture for substance abuse therapy (which included both drugs and alcohol). It noted that some found positive results but not all, perhaps due to inconsistent research methods.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a complementary approach that appears to offer better results. It has been connected with improved recovery, while also improving mental health via reducing one's feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Newer Drug Abuse and Addiction Options

Some treatments are newer and, thus, less explored. This offers additional hope that more drug addiction therapies will be available in the future, giving people a longer list of options from which to choose.

For instance, immunotherapy is a form of therapy used to help a person's immune system fight off disease. Some researchers are using these same principles to develop vaccines or antibody treatments designed to help people overcome addiction to drugs.

One review of research concluded that immunotherapy looks promising as a complement to other therapies for people with an addiction to nicotine, cocaine, and methamphetamines. Though, there is a concern that risk of overdose is higher during relapse after immunotherapy.

The reason for this is that vaccines stop drugs from passing the blood/brain barrier. In turn, this prevents people from getting the "high" they typically obtain from the drug. So, this option needs to be explored further before its safety and effectiveness are clear.

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