SW1002:   Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment


Drug Addiction Treatment in the United States

Treatment for drug abuse and addiction is delivered in many different settings, using a variety of behavioral and pharmacological approaches.

Drug addiction is a complex disorder that can involve virtually every aspect of an individual's functioning in the family, at work, and in the community. Because of addiction's complexity and pervasive consequences, drug addiction treatment typically must involve many components. Some of those components focus directly on the individual's drug use. Others, like employment training, focus on restoring the addicted individual to productive membership in the family and society (see Components of Comprehensive Drug Abuse Treatment diagram).

Treatment for drug abuse and addiction is delivered in many different settings, using a variety of behavioral and pharmacological approaches. In the United States, more than 11,000 specialized drug treatment facilities provide rehabilitation, counseling, behavioral therapy, medication, case management, and other types of services to persons with drug use disorders.

Because drug abuse and addiction are major public health problems, a large portion of drug treatment is funded by local, State, and Federal governments. Private and employer-subsidized health plans also may provide coverage for treatment of drug addiction and its medical consequences.

Drug abuse and addiction are treated in specialized treatment facilities and mental health clinics by a variety of providers, including certified drug abuse counselors, physicians, psychologists, nurses, and social workers. Treatment is delivered in outpatient, inpatient, and residential settings. Although specific treatment approaches often are associated with particular treatment settings, a variety of therapeutic interventions or services can be included in any given setting.

General Categories of Treatment Programs

Research studies on drug addiction treatment have typically classified treatment programs into several general types or modalities, which are described in the following text. Treatment approaches and individual programs continue to evolve, and many programs in existence today do not fit neatly into traditional drug addiction treatment classifications. Examples of specific research-based treatment components are described in the Approaches to Treatment Section.

General Categories of Treatment Programs

  • Agonist Maintenance Treatment for opiate addicts usually is conducted in outpatient settings, often called methadone treatment programs. These programs use a long-acting synthetic opiate medication, usually methadone or LAAM, administered orally for a sustained period at a dosage sufficient to prevent opiate withdrawal, block the effects of illicit opiate use, and decrease opiate craving. Patients stabilized on adequate, sustained dosages of methadone or LAAM can function normally. They can hold jobs, avoid the crime and violence of the street culture, and reduce their exposure to HIV by stopping or decreasing injection drug use and drug-related high-risk sexual behavior.

    Patients stabilized on opiate agonists can engage more readily in counseling and other behavioral interventions essential to recovery and rehabilitation. The best, most effective opiate agonist maintenance programs include individual and/or group counseling, as well as provision of, or referral to, other needed medical, psychological, and social services.

Patients stabilized on adequate sustained dosages of methadone or LAAM can function normally.

    Further Reading:

    Ball, J.C., and Ross, A. The Effectiveness of Methadone Treatment. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1991.

    Cooper, J.R. Ineffective use of psychoactive drugs; Methadone treatment is no exception. JAMA Jan 8; 267(2): 281-282, 1992.

    Dole, V.P.; Nyswander, M.; and Kreek, M.J. Narcotic Blockade. Archives of Internal Medicine 118: 304-309, 1996.

    Lowinson, J.H.; Payte, J.T.; Joseph, H.; Marion, I.J.; and Dole, V.P. Methadone Maintenance. In: Lowinson, J.H.; Ruiz, P.; Millman, R.B.; and Langrod, J.G., eds. Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook. Baltimore, MD, Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1996, pp. 405-414.

    McLellan, A.T.; Arndt, I.O.; Metzger, D.S.; Woody, G.E.; and O'Brien, C.P. The effects of psychosocial services in substance abuse treatment. JAMA Apr 21; 269(15): 1953-1959, 1993.

    Novick, D.M.; Joseph, J.; Croxson, T.S., et al. Absence of antibody to human immunodeficiency virus in long-term, socially rehabilitated methadone maintenance patients. Archives of Internal Medicine Jan; 150(1): 97-99, 1990.

    Simpson, D.D.; Joe, G.W.; and Bracy, S.A. Six-year follow-up of opioid addicts after admission to treatment. Archives of General Psychiatry Nov; 39(11): 1318-1323, 1982.

    Simpson, D.D. Treatment for drug abuse; Follow-up outcomes and length of time spent. Archives of General Psychiatry 38(8): 875-880, 1981.

  • Narcotic Antagonist Treatment Using Naltrexone for opiate addicts usually is conducted in outpatient settings although initiation of the medication often begins after medical detoxification in a residential setting. Naltrexone is a long-acting synthetic opiate antagonist with few side effects that is taken orally either daily or three times a week for a sustained period of time. Individuals must be medically detoxified and opiate-free for several days before naltrexone can be taken to prevent precipitating an opiate abstinence syndrome. When used this way, all the effects of self-administered opiates, including euphoria, are completely blocked. The theory behind this treatment is that the repeated lack of the desired opiate effects, as well as the perceived futility of using the opiate, will gradually over time result in breaking the habit of opiate addiction. Naltrexone itself has no subjective effects or potential for abuse and is not addicting. Patient noncompliance is a common problem. Therefore, a favorable treatment outcome requires that there also be a positive therapeutic relationship, effective counseling or therapy, and careful monitoring of medication compliance.

Patients stabilized on naltrexone can hold jobs, avoid crime and violence, and reduce their exposure to HIV.

Many experienced clinicians have found naltrexone most useful for highly motivated, recently detoxified patients who desire total abstinence because of external circumstances, including impaired professionals, parolees, probationers, and prisoners in work-release status. Patients stabilized on naltrexone can function normally. They can hold jobs, avoid the crime and violence of the street culture, and reduce their exposure to HIV by stopping injection drug use and drug-related high-risk sexual behavior.

Further Reading:

Cornish, J.W.; Metzger, D.; Woody, G.E.; Wilson, D.; McLellan, A.T.; Vandergrift, B.; and O'Brien, C.P. Naltrexone pharmacotherapy for opioid dependent federal probationers. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 14(6): 529-534, 1997.

Greenstein, R.A.; Arndt, I.C.; McLellan, A.T.; and O'Brien, C.P. Naltrexone: a clinical perspective. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 45 (9 Part 2): 25-28, 1984.

Resnick, R.B.; Schuyten-Resnick, E.; and Washton, A.M. Narcotic antagonists in the treatment of opioid dependence: review and commentary. Comprehensive Psychiatry 20(2): 116-125, 1979.

Resnick, R.B. and Washton, A.M. Clinical outcome with naltrexone: predictor variables and followup status in detoxified heroin addicts. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 311: 241-246, 1978.

  • Outpatient Drug-Free Treatment in the types and intensity of services offered. Such treatment costs less than residential or inpatient treatment and often is more suitable for individuals who are employed or who have extensive social supports. Low-intensity programs may offer little more than drug education and admonition. Other outpatient models, such as intensive day treatment, can be comparable to residential programs in services and effectiveness, depending on the individual patient's characteristics and needs. In many outpatient programs, group counseling is emphasized. Some outpatient programs are designed to treat patients who have medical or mental health problems in addition to their drug disorder.

    Further Reading:

    Higgins, S.T.; Budney, A.J.; Bickel, W.K.; Foerg, F.E.; Donham, R.; and Badger, G.J. Incentives to improve outcome in outpatient behavioral treatment of cocaine dependence. Archives of General Psychiatry 51, 568-576, 1994.

    Hubbard, R.L.; Craddock, S.G.; Flynn, P.M.; Anderson, J.; and Etheridge, R.M. Overview of 1-year follow-up outcomes in the Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study (DATOS). Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 11(4): 291-298, 1998.

    Institute of Medicine. Treating Drug Problems. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1990.

    McLellan, A.T.; Grisson, G.; Durell, J.; Alterman, A.I.; Brill, P.; and O'Brien, C.P. Substance abuse treatment in the private setting: Are some programs more effective than others? Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 10, 243-254, 1993.

    Simpson, D.D. and Brown, B.S. Treatment retention and follow-up outcomes in the Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study (DATOS). Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 11(4): 294-307, 1998.

  • Long-Term Residential Treatment provides care 24 hours per day, generally in nonhospital settings. The best-known residential treatment model is the therapeutic community (TC), but residential treatment may also employ other models, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

    TCs are residential programs with planned lengths of stay of 6 to 12 months. TCs focus on the "resocialization" of the individual and use the program's entire "community," including other residents, staff, and the social context, as active components of treatment. Addiction is viewed in the context of an individual's social and psychological deficits, and treatment focuses on developing personal accountability and responsibility and socially productive lives. Treatment is highly structured and can at times be confrontational, with activities designed to help residents examine damaging beliefs, self-concepts, and patterns of behavior and to adopt new, more harmonious and constructive ways to interact with others. Many TCs are quite comprehensive and can include employment training and other support services on site.

Therapeutic communities focus on the "resocialization" of the individual and use the program's entire "community" as active components of treatment.

Compared with patients in other forms of drug treatment, the typical TC resident has more severe problems, with more co-occurring mental health problems and more criminal involvement. Research shows that TCs can be modified to treat individuals with special needs, including adolescents, women, those with severe mental disorders, and individuals in the criminal justice system (see Treating Criminal Justice-Involved Drug Abusers and Addicts ).

Further Reading:

Leukefeld, C.; Pickens, R.; and Schuster, C.R. Improving drug abuse treatment: Recommendations for research and practice. In: Pickens, R.W.; Luekefeld, C.G.; and Schuster, C.R., eds. Improving Drug Abuse Treatment, National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Monograph Series, DHHS Pub No. (ADM) 91-1754, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991.

Lewis, B.F.; McCusker, J.; Hindin, R.; Frost, R.; and Garfield, F. Four residential drug treatment programs: Project IMPACT. In: Inciardi, J.A.; Tims, F.M.; and Fletcher, B.W. eds. Innovative Approaches in the Treatment of Drug Abuse. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1993, pp. 45-60.

Sacks, S.; Sacks, J.; DeLeon, G.; Bernhardt, A.; and Staines, G. Modified therapeutic community for mentally ill chemical abusers: Background; influences; program description; preliminary findings. Substance Use and Misuse 32(9); 1217-1259, 1998.

Stevens, S.J., and Glider, P.J. Therapeutic communities: Substance abuse treatment for women. In: Tims, F.M.; De Leon, G.; and Jainchill, N., eds. Therapeutic Community: Advances in Research and Application, National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Monograph 144, NIH Pub. No. 94-3633, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994, pp. 162-180.

Stevens, S.; Arbiter, N.; and Glider, P. Women residents: Expanding their role to increase treatment effectiveness in substance abuse programs. International Journal of the Addictions 24(5): 425-434, 1989.

  • Short-Term Residential Programs provide intensive but relatively brief residential treatment based on a modified 12-step approach. These programs were originally designed to treat alcohol problems, but during the cocaine epidemic of the mid-1980's, many began to treat illicit drug abuse and addiction. The original residential treatment model consisted of a 3 to 6 week hospital-based inpatient treatment phase followed by extended outpatient therapy and participation in a self-help group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Reduced health care coverage for substance abuse treatment has resulted in a diminished number of these programs, and the average length of stay under managed care review is much shorter than in early programs.

    Further Reading:

    Hubbard, R.L.; Craddock, S.G.; Flynn, P.M.; Anderson, J.; and Etheridge, R.M. Overview of 1-year follow-up outcomes in the Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study (DATOS). Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 11(4): 291-298, 1998.

    Miller, M.M. Traditional approaches to the treatment of addiction. In: Graham A.W. and Schultz T.K., eds. Principles of Addiction Medicine, 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: American Society of Addiction Medicine, 1998.

  • Medical Detoxification is a process whereby individuals are systematically withdrawn from addicting drugs in an inpatient or outpatient setting, typically under the care of a physician. Detoxification is sometimes called a distinct treatment modality but is more appropriately considered a precursor of treatment, because it is designed to treat the acute physiological effects of stopping drug use. Medications are available for detoxification from opiates, nicotine, benzodiazepines, alcohol, barbiturates, and other sedatives. In some cases, particularly for the last three types of drugs, detoxification may be a medical necessity, and untreated withdrawal may be medically dangerous or even fatal.
Detoxification is a precursor of treatment.

Detoxification is not designed to address the psychological, social, and behavioral problems associated with addiction and therefore does not typically produce lasting behavioral changes necessary for recovery. Detoxification is most useful when it incorporates formal processes of assessment and referral to subsequent drug addiction treatment.

Further Reading:

Kleber, H.D. Outpatient detoxification from opiates. Primary Psychiatry 1: 42-52, 1996.

Treating Criminal Justice-Involved Drug Abusers and Addicts

Research has shown that combining criminal justice sanctions with drug treatment can be effective in decreasing drug use and related crime. Individuals under legal coercion tend to stay in treatment for a longer period of time and do as well as or better than others not under legal pressure. Often, drug abusers come into contact with the criminal justice system earlier than other health or social systems, and intervention by the criminal justice system to engage the individual in treatment may help interrupt and shorten a career of drug use. Treatment for the criminal justice-involved drug abuser or drug addict may be delivered prior to, during, after, or in lieu of incarceration.

Combining criminal justice sanctions with drug treatment can be effective in decreasing drug use and related crime.

  • Prison-Based Treatment Programs

    Offenders with drug disorders may encounter a number of treatment options while incarcerated, including didactic drug education classes, self-help programs, and treatment based on therapeutic community or residential milieu therapy models. The TC model has been studied extensively and can be quite effective in reducing drug use and recidivism to criminal behavior. Those in treatment should be segregated from the general prison population, so that the "prison culture" does not overwhelm progress toward recovery. As might be expected, treatment gains can be lost if inmates are returned to the general prison population after treatment. Research shows that relapse to drug use and recidivism to crime are significantly lower if the drug offender continues treatment after returning to the community.

  • Community-Based Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations

    A number of criminal justice alternatives to incarceration have been tried with offenders who have drug disorders, including limited diversion programs, pretrial release conditional on entry into treatment, and conditional probation with sanctions. The drug court is a promising approach. Drug courts mandate and arrange for drug addiction treatment, actively monitor progress in treatment, and arrange for other services to drug-involved offenders. Federal support for planning, implementation, and enhancement of drug courts is provided under the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Courts Program Office.

    As a well-studied example, the Treatment Accountability and Safer Communities (TASC) program provides an alternative to incarceration by addressing the multiple needs of drug-addicted offenders in a community-based setting. TASC programs typically include counseling, medical care, parenting instruction, family counseling, school and job training, and legal and employment services. The key features of TASC include (1) coordination of criminal justice and drug treatment; (2) early identification, assessment, and referral of drug-involved offenders; (3) monitoring offenders through drug testing; and (4) use of legal sanctions as inducements to remain in treatment.

    Further Reading:

    Anglin, M.D. and Hser, Y. Treatment of drug abuse. In: Tonry M. and Wilson J.Q., eds. Drugs and crime. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990, pp. 393-460.

    Hiller, M.L.; Knight, K.; Broome, K.M.; and Simpson, D.D. Compulsory community-based substance abuse treatment and the mentally ill criminal offender. The Prison Journal 76(2), 180-191, 1996.

    Hubbard, R.L.; Collins, J.J.; Rachal, J.V.; and Cavanaugh, E.R. The criminal justice client in drug abuse treatment. In Leukefeld C.G. and Tims F.M., eds. Compulsory treatment of drug abuse: Research and clinical practice [NIDA Research Monograph 86]. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998.

    Inciardi, J.A.; Martin, S.S.; Butzin, C.A.; Hooper, R.M.; and Harrison, L.D. An effective model of prison-based treatment for drug-involved offenders. Journal of Drug Issues 27 (2): 261-278, 1997.

    Wexler, H.K. The success of therapeutic communities for substance abusers in American prisons. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 27(1): 57-66, 1997.

    Wexler, H.K. Therapeutic communities in American prisons. In Cullen, E.; Jones, L.; and Woodward R., eds. Therapeutic Communities in American Prisons. New York: Wiley and Sons, 1997.

    Wexler, H.K.; Falkin, G.P.; and Lipton, D.S. (1990). Outcome evaluation of a prison therapeutic community for substance abuse treatment. Criminal Justice and Behavior 17(1): 71-92, 1990.