SEEKING DRUG ABUSE TREATMENT:
KNOW WHAT TO ASK
The goal of drug abuse treatment is to stop drug use and allow people to lead active lives in the family, workplace, and community. One continual
challenge, however, is keeping patients in treatment long enough for them to achieve this goal.
That is why finding the right treatment for a person’s specific needs is critical. Drug abuse treatment is not “one size fits all.” Treatment
outcomes depend on the:
• extent and nature of the person’s problems;
• appropriateness of treatment;
• availability of additional services; and
• quality of interaction between the person and his or her
Family and friends can play important roles in motivating people with drug problems to enter and remain in treatment. However, trying to
identify the right treatment programs for a loved one can be a difficult process.
To help, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) created this brief guide containing five questions to ask when searching for a treatment
1. Does the program use treatments backed by scientific
Effective drug abuse treatments can include behavioral
therapy, medications, or, ideally, their combination.
Behavioral therapies vary in focus and may involve:
• addressing a patient’s motivation to change;
• providing incentives to stop taking drugs;
• building skills to resist drug use;
• replacing drug-using activities with constructive and
• improving problem-solving skills; and
• building better personal relationships.
Medications are an important part of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies.
Different types of medications may be useful at different stages of treatment: to stop drug abuse, to stay in treatment, and to avoid relapse.
Examples of Behavioral Therapies
• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Seeks to help patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to abuse drugs.
• Motivational Incentives. Uses positive reinforcement such as providing rewards or privileges for remaining drug free, for
participating in counseling sessions, or for taking treatment medications as prescribed.
• Motivational Interviewing. Uses strategies to encourage rapid and self-driven behavior change to stop drug use and
help a patient enter treatment.
• Group Therapy. Helps patients face their drug abuse realistically, come to terms with its harmful consequences,
and boost their motivation to stay drug free. Patients learn how to resolve their emotional and personal problems without
2. Does the program tailor treatment to the needs of each patient?
No single treatment is right for everyone. The best treatment addresses a person’s various needs, not just his or her drug
Matching treatment settings, programs, and services to a person’s unique problems and level
of need is key to his or her ultimate success in returning to a productive life. It is important for
the treatment approach to be broad in scope, taking into account a person’s age, gender,
ethnicity, and culture. The severity of addiction and previous efforts to stop using drugs can also
influence a treatment approach.
The best programs provide a combination of therapies and other services to meet a patient’s
needs. In addition to drug abuse treatment, a patient may require other medical services,
family therapy, parenting support, job training, and social and legal services.
Finally, because addictive disorders and other mental disorders often occur together, a person
with one of these conditions should be assessed for the other. And when these problems co-
occur, treatment should address both (or all conditions), including use of medications, as