Most of us know someone who suffers from addiction (whether we realize we do or not). Nearly 10% of the American population over the age of 12 qualifies as "in need" of substance abuse treatment. It may be a friend, family member, neighbor or coworker, but with one out of every 10 adults addicted to drugs, alcohol, or some combination of the two, chances are high that we all know someone who we suspect, or have confirmed, is in active addiction.
Where should we turn when we look for help? Whereas someone diagnosed with cancer would seek a referral from a medical provider or licensed physician, addicts and their families often turn to the internet to find help. This approach has resulted in a slew of nefarious marketing practices from treatment centers across the country. Private insurance will often pay top dollar to treatment centers making addiction treatment a very profitable enterprise and competition for those profits worthy of big dollar advertising spends.
As you research treatment options, be aware that there are certain companies that use unethical marketing practices. Not all treatment centers are created equal, and when it comes to addiction therapy, your online search for help may lead to organizations that are unfit or unable to provide proper treatment to the person in need, as was highlighted recently by the New York Times. Many larger centers approach addiction therapy as a one-size-fits-all approach, advertising that they are capable of treating any person and any type of addiction. Addicts, who are already vulnerable, are lured into what sounds like a boutique treatment center, often in a warm-weather state such as Florida or Arizona, only to find themselves in a facility that may not actually provide quality care or the right type of care for their needs.
Google has recently taken steps to mitigate this problem by blocking advertisements when people search using keywords referring to addiction treatment. Prior to the block, certain facilities were using bait and switch pay-per-click tactics where a facility appears to be exactly what the consumer is looking for. An example would be if a person Googled “12-Step Program” they would get the same facility as someone who Googled “co-occurring mental health and drug rehab” regardless of whether that facility offers or specializes in both forms of treatment. Often the pay-per-click ads are for facilities in a completely different state, even though the individual typed in their location in the search bar.
Not all treatment centers are bad, in fact most provide excellent care, but it helps to be an educated consumer when searching for treatment options. The one-size-fits all approach rarely is in the best interest of the patient. Depending on the nature of the addiction and the addict, different types of therapy, or a combination thereof, may be recommended. Addiction therapy can be broken down into three main pillars:
Pillar 1: Peer-Based
The peer-based method of treating addiction tends to follow the tenets and program of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs. This type of programming focuses heavily on accountability, spirituality, and service work, and is almost always driven by an abstinence based philosophy. Peer-based recovery is necessary no matter what, at every level of the recovery process throughout one's recovering life, though the nature of one's involvement may evolve over time.
Pillar 2: Medical
The medical model is an approach that centers on the medical perspective of addiction, called the disease model. It treats addiction as any other chronic, progressive illness such as diabetes or arthritis. The medical model does not subscribe to abstinence based methods, promoting evidence-based interventions such as the use of opioid replacement therapies like Suboxone. This is generally the best fit for those just starting their recovery journey who need assistance with detox and post-acute withdrawal symptoms. That being said, for people who need maintenance assistance for opiate addiction and for those with psychopharmacological needs, the medical model remains important throughout one's recovery.
Pillar 3: Therapeutic
The psychological or "therapeutic" approach centers on a variety of interventions done in both group and individual therapy sessions. Many of the therapies are behavioral, focusing on changing the way people act to affect the way they think, and vice-versa. Other therapies are psychodynamic, and look at resolving past matters such as trauma or chemical-depression by exploring ones history. This is a hugely important area of therapy for people with co-occurring mental health issues, but can also certainly be helpful for those who strictly have substance use disorders.
The most successful treatment for substance abuse always incorporates a mix of all three types of therapy. We have yet to find a single "cure" that works for all people. Some people react well to one treatment, others react well to another, and most respond well to a combination of the three. Thus it's important to provide someone with as diverse a set of evidence-based interventions as possible.
The President has just declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. Though we’ve been aware of the growing opioid epidemic for some time, the President’s recent proclamation is a call to action to both quell the problem and get help for those in need. In most cases, an addict will not elect to get help on their own and often requires the help and support of a friend or family member. If you are researching treatment options for someone you know, keep these tips in mind:
- Make sure the facility has a state license and national accreditation.
- Look for a local treatment center, there is no need to go out of state as Colorado offers many outstanding treatment centers.
- Ask how many patients the treatment center works with at any given time; smaller centers typically are able to offer better care through lower patient to therapist ratios.
- Ask the facility why and how they have come up with their specific program design, what types of clinical intervention are offered, and why they recommend a certain length of stay.
Finding help for a friend or loved one who is an addict can be emotionally challenging and difficult to navigate given the recent influx of sneaky advertising tactics from treatment facilities across the country. But with careful research and continued support, we can help those in need on their road to recovery.
About Cortland Mathers-Suter
Cortland Mathers-Suter is the managing director of AspenRidge Recovery, an addiction treatment center with locations in Lakewood and Fort Collins. Cortland holds a Master’s of Science in Social Administration. Learn more at aspenridgerecovery.com.