What Helps People Stay in Treatment?

What helps people stay in treatment?

Because successful outcomes often depend on a person’s staying in treatment long enough to reap its full benefits, strategies for keeping people in treatment are critical. Whether a patient stays in treatment depends on factors associated with both the individual and the program. Individual factors related to engagement and retention typically include motivation to change drug-using behavior; degree of support from family and friends; and, frequently, pressure from the criminal justice system, child protection services, employers, or the family. Within a treatment program, successful clinicians can establish a positive, therapeutic relationship with their patients. The clinician should ensure that a treatment plan is developed cooperatively with the person seeking treatment, that the plan is followed, and that treatment expectations are clearly understood. Medical, psychiatric, and social services should also be available.

Because some problems (such as serious medical or mental illness or criminal involvement) increase the likelihood of patients dropping out of treatment, intensive interventions may be required to retain them. After a course of intensive treatment, the provider should ensure a transition to less intensive continuing care to support and monitor individuals in their ongoing recovery.

How do we get more substance-abusing people into treatment?

It has been known for many years that the “treatment gap” is massive—that is, among those who need treatment for a substance use disorder, few receive it. In 2007, 23.2 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem, but only 3.9 million received treatment at a specialty substance abuse facility.

Reducing this gap requires a multipronged approach. Strategies include increasing access to effective treatment, achieving insurance parity (now in its earliest phase of implementation), reducing stigma, and raising awareness among both patients and health care professionals of the value of addiction treatment. To assist physicians in identifying treatment need in their patients and making appropriate referrals, NIDA is encouraging widespread use of screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) tools for use in primary care settings. SBIRT—which has proven effective against tobacco and alcohol use—has the potential not only to catch people before serious drug problems develop but also to connect them with appropriate treatment providers.

How can families and friends make a difference in the life of someone needing treatment?

Family and friends can play critical roles in motivating individuals with drug problems to enter and stay in treatment. Family therapy can also be important, especially for adolescents. Involvement of a family member or significant other in an individual’s treatment program can strengthen and extend treatment benefits.

Where can family members go for information on treatment options?

Trying to locate appropriate treatment for a loved one, especially finding a program tailored to an individual’s particular needs, can be a difficult process. However, there are some resources currently available to help with this process, including—

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) maintains a Web site (www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov) that shows the location of residential, outpatient, and hospital inpatient treatment programs for drug addiction and alcoholism throughout the country. This information is also accessible by calling 1-800-662-HELP.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) offers more than just suicide prevention—it can also help with a host of issues, including drug and alcohol abuse, and can connect individuals with a nearby professional.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org) and Mental Health America (www.mentalhealthamerica.net) are alliances of nonprofit, self-help support organizations for patients and families dealing with a variety of mental disorders. Both have State and local affiliates throughout the country and may be especially helpful for patients with co-morbid conditions.
  • The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry each have physician locator tools posted on their Web sites at www.aaap.org and www.aacap.org, respectively.
  • For information about participating in a clinical trial testing promising substance abuse interventions, contact NIDA’s National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network at www.drugabuse.gov/CTN/, or visit NIH’s Web site at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

How can the workplace play a role in substance abuse treatment?

Many workplaces sponsor Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that offer short-term counseling and/or assistance in linking employees with drug or alcohol problems to local treatment resources, including peer support/recovery groups. In addition, therapeutic work environments that provide employment for drug-abusing individuals who can demonstrate abstinence have been shown not only to promote a continued drug-free lifestyle but also to improve job skills, punctuality, and other behaviors necessary for active employment throughout life. Urine testing facilities, trained personnel, and workplace monitors are needed to implement this type of treatment.

What role can the criminal justice system play in addressing drug addiction?

Research has demonstrated that treatment for drug addicted offenders during and after incarceration can have a significant effect on future drug use, criminal behavior, and social functioning. The case for integrating drug addiction treatment approaches with the criminal justice system is compelling. Combining prison- and community-based treatment for addicted offenders reduces the risk of both recidivism to drug-related criminal behavior and relapse to drug use, which, in turn, nets huge savings in societal costs. One study found that prisoners who participated in a therapeutic treatment program in the Delaware State prison system and continued to receive treatment in a work-release program after prison were 70 percent less likely than nonparticipants to return to drug use and incur re-arrest.

The majority of offenders involved with the criminal justice system are not in prison but are under community supervision. For those with known drug problems, drug addiction treatment may be recommended or mandated as a condition of probation. Research has demonstrated that individuals who enter treatment under legal pressure have outcomes as favorable as those who enter treatment voluntarily.

The criminal justice system refers drug offenders into treatment through a variety of mechanisms, such as diverting nonviolent offenders to treatment; stipulating treatment as a condition of incarceration, probation, or pretrial release; and convening specialized courts, or drug courts, that handle drug offense cases. These courts mandate and arrange for treatment as an alternative to incarceration, actively monitor progress in treatment, and arrange for other services for drug-involved offenders.

The most effective models integrate criminal justice and drug treatment systems and services. Treatment and criminal justice personnel work together on treatment planning—including implementation of screening, placement, testing, monitoring, and supervision—as well as on the systematic use of sanctions and rewards. Treatment for incarcerated drug abusers should include continuing care, monitoring, and supervision after incarceration and during parole.

What are the unique needs of women with substance use disorders?

Gender-related drug abuse treatment should attend not only to biological differences but also to social and environmental factors, all of which can influence the motivations for drug use, the reasons for seeking treatment, the types of environments where treatment is obtained, the treatments that are most effective, and the consequences of not receiving treatment. Many life circumstances predominate in women as a group, which may require a specialized treatment approach. For example, research has shown that physical and sexual trauma followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more common in drug-abusing women than in men seeking treatment. Other factors unique to women that can influence the treatment process include issues around pregnancy and child care, financial independence, and how they come into treatment (as women are more likely to seek the assistance of a general or mental health practitioner).

What are the unique needs of adolescents with substance use disorders?

Adolescent drug abusers have unique needs stemming from their immature neurocognitive and psychosocial stage of development. Research has demonstrated that the brain undergoes a prolonged process of development and refinement, from birth to early adulthood, during which a developmental shift occurs where actions go from more impulsive to more reasoned and reflective. In fact, the brain areas most closely associated with aspects of behavior such as decision making, judgment, planning, and self-control undergo a period of rapid development during adolescence.

Adolescent drug abuse is also often associated with other co-occurring mental health problems. These include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct problems, as well as depressive and anxiety disorders. This developmental period has also been associated with physical and/or sexual abuse and academic difficulties.

Adolescents are also especially sensitive to social cues, with peer groups and families being highly influential during this time. Therefore, treatments that facilitate positive parental involvement, integrate other systems in which the adolescent participates (such as school and athletics), and recognize the importance of prosocial peer relationships are among the most effective. Access to comprehensive assessment, treatment, case management, and family-support services that are developmentally, culturally, and gender-appropriate is also integral when addressing adolescent addiction.

Medications for substance abuse among adolescents may also be helpful. Currently, the only Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved addiction medication for adolescents is the transdermal nicotine patch. Research is under way to determine the safety and efficacy of medications for nicotine-, alcohol-, and opioid-dependent adolescents and for adolescents with co-occurring disorders.

Are there specific drug addiction treatments for older adults?

With the aging of the baby boomer generation, the composition of the general population will expand dramatically with respect to the number of older adults. Such a change, coupled with a greater history of lifetime drug use (than previous older generations), different cultural norms and general attitudes about drug use, and increases in the availability of psychotherapeutic medications, may lead to growth in the number of older adults with substance use problems. Although no drug treatment programs are yet designed exclusively for older adults, research to date indicates that current addiction treatment programs can be as effective for older adults as they are for younger adults. However, substance abuse problems in older adults often go unrecognized, and therefore untreated.

Are there treatments for people addicted to prescription drugs?

The non-medical use of prescription drugs increased dramatically in the 1990s and remains at high levels. In 2007, approximately 7 million people aged 12 or older reported non-medical use of a prescription drug. The most commonly abused medications are painkillers (i.e., opioids: 5.2 million people), stimulants (e.g., methylphenidate and amphetamine: 1.2 million), and central nervous system (CNS) depressants (e.g., benzodiazepines: 2.1 million). Like many illicit substances, these drugs alter the brain’s activity and can lead to many adverse consequences, including addiction. For example, opioid pain relievers, such as Vicodin or OxyContin, can present similar health risks as do illicit opioids (e.g., heroin) depending on dose, route of administration, combination with other drugs, and other factors. As a result, the increases in non-medical use have been accompanied by increased emergency room visits, accidental poisonings, and treatment admissions for addiction. Treatments for prescription drugs tend to be similar to those for illicit drugs that affect the same brain systems. Thus, buprenorphine is used to treat addiction to opioid pain medications, and behavioral therapies are most likely to be effective for stimulant or CNS depressant addiction—for which we do not yet have medications.