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Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction

Published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this article defines what drug addiction is, and provides some treatment information.

What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive, or uncontrollable, drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences and changes in the brain, which can be long lasting. These changes in the brain can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who use drugs. Drug addiction is also a relapsing disease. Relapse is the return to drug use after an attempt to stop.

The path to drug addiction begins with the voluntary act of taking drugs. But over time, a person’s ability to choose not to do so becomes compromised. Seeking and taking the drug becomes compulsive. This is mostly due to the effects of long-term drug exposure on brain function. Addiction affects parts of the brain involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and control over behavior.

Addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behavior.

Points to Remember

  • Drug addiction can be treated, but it’s not simple. Addiction treatment must help the person do the following:
    • stop using drugs
    • stay drug-free
    • be productive in the family, at work, and in society
  • Successful treatment has several steps:
    • detoxification
    • behavioral counseling
    • medication (for opioid, tobacco, or alcohol addiction)
    • evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
    • long-term follow-up to prevent relapse
  • Medications and devices can be used to manage withdrawal symptoms, prevent relapse, and treat co-occurring conditions.
  • Behavioral therapies help patients:
    • modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use
    • increase healthy life skills
    • persist with other forms of treatment, such as medication
  • People within the criminal justice system may need additional treatment services to treat drug use disorders effectively. However, many offenders don’t have access to the types of services they need.

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