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What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? Everything You Need to Know

Substance use disorders (SUDs)
 are a serious problem in the United States. They contribute substantially to overall health issues in the country.

So, what is a substance use disorder, and what is substance abuse treatment? These are questions that anyone with a physical dependency, or with a relative who has one, may need to ask themselves.

Read on as we look at substance abuse treatment in America, and what it involves for patients.

What Is Substance Abuse?

The World Health Organization defines substance abuse as “the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances.”

Therefore, abuse can exist in the absence of physical dependency.

However, abuse without dependency is easier to manage. The person in question will not suffer withdrawal symptoms if they have to stop consuming the substance.

For those with a dependency or addiction, the process is more complex. Withdrawals, whether physical or mental, can be very unpleasant, and even dangerous.  

Alcohol, which is the most widely used psychoactive substance, causes severe withdrawals. Heavy drinkers who suddenly stop consuming alcohol can suffer a range of symptoms, including nausea, headaches, and hallucinations. In some extreme cases, they may die.

Other substances may cause users to undergo intense cravings after their initial “high” has subsided. Issues with such physically addictive drugs can be particularly difficult to treat.

However, other substances do not cause any withdrawal symptoms. While users may have a strong mental dependency, they will not suffer any significant physical symptoms from the cessation of use.

How Is Substance Abuse Treated?

There are a number of approaches to substance abuse treatment. These are usually used in conjunction with one another.


Detoxification is a common approach. Most treatment facilities require their patients to be sober during rehabilitation.

It is important to note that detoxification is rarely the only form of treatment used. Patients also usually undergo counseling and may be prescribed medication as well.

Detox will be easier for some patients than others. For those with more advanced addiction issues, withdrawals and cravings may be severe. These patients will require particularly close monitoring and support during treatment.


Medication is used in certain substance abuse treatments. Certain medications can offset the chemicals which cause cravings and withdrawals.

For addiction to heroin and other opioids, methadone is commonly used to ease cravings.

It is introduced at a relatively high dose, and the patient is gradually encouraged to take smaller and smaller amounts.

A number of medications have now been approved for the treatment of alcoholism. Possibly the most effective is naltrexone, which interferes with the reward centers in the brain associated with alcohol.

Tobacco smokers often use nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum) in a non-clinical setting. 

Two prescription medications have also been approved for the treatment of addiction to tobacco. These are bupropion and varenicline. While experts agree that both are effective in limiting cravings, other interventions are generally necessary as well.


For many patients, the psychological aspect of rehabilitation is the key. This is typical of issues with less physically addictive drugs.

However, counseling has a role to play in the treatment of all addictions. It accompanies other treatment tactics where required.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common form of counseling. It helps patients to identify situational triggers and avoid them. 

Counseling programs generally feature an outpatient component. This allows patients to continue with monitored treatment as they readjust to life outside a facility. As relapse is a major issue in substance abuse treatment, this is hugely important.

What Substances Most Commonly Lead to Substance Use Disorders?

One of the determining factors for specialists setting out approaches to treatment is the substance in question. Treatment styles vary considerably from one substance to another.

Below are the substances which lead to addiction troubles most often.


Alcohol is both the most used and most abused psychoactive drug in our community today.

Most adults consume alcohol to some extent. However, for the majority, drinking will never be a source of serious trouble in their lives.

For those who do present with alcoholism, various treatments are used. As mentioned above, alcohol causes especially unpleasant withdrawals. For this reason, more severe cases of alcoholism are usually treated with medication.


Opiate abuse has become particularly problematic in the United States in recent years. Many addiction experts have called the scale of opioid use here an epidemic.

Heroin, an illegal drug, is an especially strong opioid. Heroin addiction causes extreme cravings in those who attempt to stop using.

Many milder opiates also cause substance abuse problems. These are legally prescribed for pain management in many cases.

Patients are given prescriptions for medications like codeine or oxycodone to treat pain, but find themselves unable to stop using the medication when required to.


Drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines have strong addictive properties. 

The path to addiction with stimulants can be different for different people. Some may start using them in social settings. Others may use them to increase their energy levels during work.

Those with addictions to stimulants will typically feel tired and depressed after they stop using them.

Not all stimulants are illegal. While it rarely causes clinical dependency, caffeine is also a stimulant with addictive properties.

Treating Substance Use Disorders the Right Way

So, what is substance abuse treatment?

By now, you can probably see that this question doesn’t have a straightforward answer. Substance abuse treatment will consist of something different for everyone.

If you’re concerned about your own substance use, or that of someone close to you, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Contact us today, and we’ll answer any questions you have about the recovery process.

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