According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, addiction should be considered a chronic medical condition that cannot ever be truly “cured.” Just as people with diabetes need to make significant lifestyle changes in order to keep their disease under control, people with addictions need to change their entire lives in order to keep a relapse from occurring. For many addicts, this idea can be daunting. After all, many addicts have structured their entire lives around their opiate addictions. They may no longer have strong ties with family members, they may no longer have jobs, and some many not even have a place to call home. Instead, they’ve focused all of their energies on getting the next hit.
It can be hard to imagine rebuilding a new life from the ground up. Opiate rehabilitation programs can help. In a way, these programs are quite similar to physical therapy programs. A person goes into physical therapy to strengthen a muscle and learn new techniques to avoid future injuries. A person goes into a rehabilitation program to strengthen abstinence muscles and learn new techniques to avoid drug relapses. A rehabilitation program really can give the addict the tools needed to stay sober for a lifetime.
The Role of Medications
Ideally, a drug rehabilitation program will allow the addict to stop using all forms of drugs. Opiate rehabilitation programs sometimes take a less hard-line approach on this topic. Instead, many opiate rehabilitation programs focus on transitioning the addict away from using street drugs such as heroin and into using physician-controlled drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine. At first, this can seem like a bit of a paradox and some addicts believe they are simply substituting one addiction for another. The fact remains, however, that providing some form of medication through the rehabilitation program and beyond can be incredibly helpful for some addicts.
During the course of the addiction, the addict has changed his or her body chemistry. It can take years for the addict’s body to function normally in the absence of drugs. As a result, the addict’s body may clamor for drugs for years after the addict stops taking opiates. This may explain why relapse rates for opiates are so very high. Medications such as methadone and buprenorphine can reduce those cravings, allowing the addict to rebuild his or her life, make friends, hold down a job and otherwise begin to live normally. And these medication therapies have been proven to work.
For example, a study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that of 388 people who began a methadone maintenance program for opiate addiction, 71 percent had stopped using IV drugs altogether. Of those who left the program before one year, 82 percent relapsed to drug use. In other words, people who are addicted to opiates often need years of medications in order to truly heal. This is considered an acceptable form of addiction treatment.
The Role of Therapy
In addition to medications, opiate rehabilitation programs often encourage the addict to participate in counseling sessions.
- Motivational interviewing. Therapists who use this technique encourage the addict to think about why he or she wants to stop using, and then the therapist tries to strengthen that resolve.
- Family therapy. In some cases, addiction has its roots in family dysfunction. By bringing the entire family together to talk about the addiction, those dysfunctions can be addressed and resolved.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In this common form of therapy, the addict is asked to think about why he or she uses opiates, and practice techniques he or she can use to cut cravings off before they take over.
- Contingency management. Therapists who use this form of treatment offer their clients rewards when they provide urine samples that contain no drugs. Gift cards to restaurants, gyms and movie theaters are common rewards.
In some cases, the addict also has mental illnesses that should be addressed during therapy. These mental illnesses can stand in the way of healing and make a relapse more likely. For example, an article in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that depression was closely linked to relapse rates for opioids, particularly if the addict had a history of depression and was then faced with a trauma such as a breakup with a partner or a death in the family. The researchers also found, however, that this risk of relapse was ameliorated when the addict participated in therapy. This seems to indicate that while mental illness and relapse are linked, therapies can help weaken that link.
People who abuse opiates often live isolated lives. They may feel as though their addiction keeps them from truly relating to others, and they may withdraw into themselves as a result. This social isolation can tend to feed the addiction, as the addict truly has no outside distraction to focus on when a craving strikes. In some cases, participating in a group meeting with other addicts can help to break down that sense of isolation and help the addict learn to make friends and relate to others once more.
There are several forms of community meetings for opiate abusers, including Narcotics Anonymous and the SMART Recovery program. In most cases, the addicts are allowed to listen to other addicts share their stories, and they’re encouraged to share stories of their own. The meetings are often somewhat informal, and often, there are no fees or dues associated with attendance. These meetings can have a profound impact on the life of an addict. For example, according to an article published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, people who attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings on a regular basis were more likely to stay sober than people who did not. It’s clear that this model tends to help people.
What to Expect
In most cases, rehabilitation programs begin when opiate detoxification ends. The addict has no drugs in his or her system and has agreed to enter a treatment program to continue the work of recovery. Then, the addict begins participating in one-on-one sessions with a counselor and attending group meetings. Sometimes, the addict is living in a facility for these treatments. In other cases, the addict lives at home and goes through these treatments on an outpatient basis.
While the addict is working hard on these therapies, the family has a strong role to play. According to a study published in the journal Substance Abuse and Misuse, people who tend to succeed in rehabilitation programs have jobs and strong family ties.
- Removing all drugs from the house. Opiate addicts can obtain a similar high from prescription painkillers, so those drugs remain a strong temptation. It’s best to remove that temptation altogether.
- Encouraging the addict to talk about his or her feelings. Providing a listening ear can be an immense help.
- Attending group meetings for family members. There are several support groups for families of opiate addicts, including Nar-Anon. Families who attend these meetings can learn more about the addiction process, and how they can help their loved one recover.
- Staying positive. Praising the addict for his or her recovery may be a great way to help that person stay motivated to heal.
If you’d like more information on opiate addiction and the addiction treatment process, call us at the number above. Our professional counselors are on hand and ready to answer any questions you may have.