Six Questions to Ask When Choosing an Addiction Treatment Program

Nzinga Harrison, MD
January 22, 2020

When it comes to making life-changing medical decisions, education can save time, money, and most importantly, lives. If you or a loved one needs surgery, researching surgeons and hospitals would be your first step. Selecting the right recovery program is no different. As one of the most critical factors for a successful long-term recovery, the treatment center must support you or your loved one’s specific needs and goals.

Certain programs focus on just one aspect of the recovery process, like detoxing from drugs or alcohol. Some might only provide short-term services while others specialize in longer-term care. It’s also important to note that not all recovery programs can treat addiction alongside other physical or mental health needs.

With a wide variety of programs available, finding the best fit can be challenging because there are so many factors to consider. It’s also important to remember that addiction affects no two people in the same way. What works for one person may not fit another person’s circumstances.

So how can you feel confident in your decision? Knowing what questions to ask can help you make an informed decision. After all, knowledge is power.

1. Do they provide medication?

For some people with drug or alcohol addiction, medication is a necessary part of a comprehensive approach to their overall treatment plan. Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) can make recovery easier by reducing withdrawal side-effects and helping prevent relapses. The medications commonly used in medically-supervised programs include Naltrexone, Vivitrol, and Buprenorphine/Naloxone (also known as Suboxone).

Ask the treatment team if they can provide information and medical expertise to help decide if MAT is appropriate for you or your loved one seeking treatment.

2. Can they manage other mental health needs?

Many individuals experience mental or behavioral health disorders that occur alongside their addiction. This is referred to as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Find out if the treatment program has trained staff who can help with psychiatric medication management for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD or any other psychiatric symptoms.

3. Do they provide therapy and counseling?

Many people undergoing addiction treatment benefit greatly from therapy and counseling sessions. Over time, these sessions can make the recovery process feel more manageable, especially for people who are struggling with their emotions or past traumas.

Some programs may provide individual or group therapy, or a combination of both. Individual therapy involves one-on-one interaction with a therapist in a safe, confidential space. Therapy sessions might even be available via video chat. In some situations, and depending on the individual’s circumstances, family members can be invited to participate in these private sessions.

Group therapy involves a small group of peers facing the same challenges. Everyone is brought together by their shared desire to recover from addiction. A therapist or counselor oversees the group and guides the conversation.

Ask the treatment program if they have a team of experienced mental health professionals who are trained to help patients with substance use disorders. They will help decide which type of therapy is appropriate and most beneficial.

4. What kind of support is available for family and loved ones?

The disease of addiction not only affects the individual but the entire family. Just as recovery helps an individual regain their strength, it can also be a healing process for loved ones who have experienced the stress of addiction.

As important partners in the recovery journey, it is helpful to provide education so they can be as supportive as possible. Some programs may also involve family members in therapy, either with the individual in treatment or through support groups for loved ones impacted by addiction. Together, your family unit can learn how to communicate and build trust. Find out how involved family members can be throughout treatment.

5. Do they help with other needs, such as housing and employment?

Addiction recovery is a lifelong process that calls for consistent care and support. Treatment programs with community partnerships may be able to assist with housing, employment, healthcare, childcare, legal services, wellness programs, and continuing education.

These types of resources are often available for families as well, and help to remove barriers while building confidence and stability. Ask what community-based support is available through the recovery program.

6. How does the program help if it’s difficult to stop drug or alcohol use?

Some treatment programs follow an abstinence model, which means alcohol and drug use of any amount or kind are prohibited. It is a strict “all-or-nothing” approach to treatment that can result in painful and difficult withdrawal symptoms for some people. For many decades, this was the traditional method used for addiction treatment. However, because addiction is a complicated disease that differs from person to person, abstinence is not always beneficial or achievable for everyone.

Another evidence-based treatment approach is called harm reduction, which gradually reduces the use of drugs or alcohol over a set period of time. This treatment model is particularly helpful for people who take antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or antipsychotics to treat mental or behavioral health disorders. It’s also appropriate for people who need medications for addiction treatment (MAT) for their substance addiction.

Some people may try both treatment models to see which one works best for their particular needs and goals. Ask the recovery program which model they use and how they provide support throughout every stage of recovery.

If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.

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Nzinga Harrison, MD

Dr. Harrison serves as the Chief Medical Officer for Eleanor Health with more than 15 years experience practicing medicine. She is a double-board certified physician with specialties in general adult psychiatry and addiction medicine. Dr. Harrison has spent her career as a physician treating individuals from marginalized communities with substance use and other psychiatric disorders. As a physician executive, she has served as Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer roles committed to creating and improving systems-based delivery of psychiatric and substance abuse care. She is a vocal advocate for stigma reduction, and is passionate about the necessity for whole-person care as individuals and communities seek to recover from and prevent substance use disorders.

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