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Treatment for Substance Abuse

The first step in treating substance abuse is detoxification, also known as medical detox. This is the process of removing harmful substances from the body.

Navigation: Detoxification, Inpatient Treatment, Outpatient Treatment, Support Groups, Aftercare, Conclusion, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


It’s often said that substance abuse is a complex issue. One of the things that make it incredibly complicated is the fact that it is deeply personal. Everyone who goes through addiction experiences it differently.

Even if two people abuse the same drug for the same duration, the effects may be different for them. Their circumstances and triggers may be different as well. This is why their treatment needs will also vary.

It is also part of the reason why entering substance abuse treatment for the first time can be scary. You don’t know what to expect. [1]

While addiction can be difficult to overcome, with the right treatment, recovery is possible. There are various levels of treatment available for substance abuse, and understanding them can help addicted people and their loved ones make informed decisions about their recovery journey.

When we say “levels of treatment” in the context of substance abuse, it refers to the various stages or intensities of care provided to people struggling with addiction. These levels are structured to address the varying needs and severity of substance use disorders (SUDs).

Learning about these different levels of substance abuse treatment can help ease your anxiety because you can expect what treatment will be like. [1]

Keep in mind that addiction treatment isn’t a one size fits all solution. Everyone has unique and individual needs. In this article, we will explore the different levels of treatment for substance abuse and how they can help individuals on their path to recovery.



The first step in treating substance abuse is detoxification, also known as medical detox. This is the process of removing harmful substances from the body.

In rehab, this involves gradually reducing the patient’s drug or alcohol intake while their cravings and withdrawal symptoms are managed by medical professionals.

Detoxification aims to manage acute intoxication and withdrawal. The name denotes the process of clearing toxins from the body–in this case, the drugs that have caused dependence or addiction through substance abuse. [2]

It can be a challenging and uncomfortable process, as the body goes through withdrawal symptoms. However, detox programs are designed to help keep the patient safe throughout this difficult step.

Medical detox also seeks to minimize the damage done by the substances to the person’s body. Medical management of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms can even save a patient’s life. [2]

Detoxification can be done in a hospital or specialized detox center, where medical professionals can monitor and support the individual through the process. It is important to note that detoxification alone is not enough to overcome substance abuse, and it should be followed by further treatment.

Detoxification aims to address the physical aspects of addiction by helping the body eliminate the substance while managing the potentially uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms that may arise.

However, detox alone is not usually sufficient for achieving long-term sobriety. It’s often followed by further treatment, such as therapy, counseling, or participation in a rehabilitation program, to address the psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction and support sustained recovery.


Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment, involves staying at a treatment center for a period of time, typically 30-90 days. This level of treatment provides a structured and supportive environment for addicted individuals to focus on their recovery.

These residential services take place in a structured setting. This means you can expect to live on-site. Medical staff will be present 24/7 to give you round-the-clock support. These programs may also vary in their levels of intensity. [1]

Generally speaking, residential treatment programs are highly intensive. They follow daily routines and schedules with plenty of activities that allow patients to actively learn and work on their recovery.

It includes individual and group therapy, as well as activities and workshops to help individuals learn coping skills and address underlying issues that may have contributed to their substance abuse. Inpatient treatment is recommended for individuals with severe substance abuse issues or those who have relapsed after previous treatment.

Inpatient programs usually range from a few weeks to several months, depending on the patient’s needs and progress. The structured environment takes them away from their usual triggers and stressors that distract from their sobriety. Instead, they are placed in a highly supportive environment, with a focus on therapies, counseling, and activities to address addiction and its underlying causes.

Speaking of therapies, different ones may be used including individual counseling, group therapy, behavioral therapy, and sometimes family therapy. These are designed to address the psychological, emotional, and behavioral aspects of addiction. So while detox addresses the physical effects of substance abuse, therapy focuses on the underlying causes of addiction.

Medical professionals monitor and manage withdrawal symptoms, if applicable, and provide necessary medical care throughout the treatment. Programs may also include additional services such as holistic therapies, recreational activities, educational sessions, and relapse prevention training.

Inpatient treatment offers a highly immersive and supportive environment, which is ideal for those with more serious or even life-threatening conditions. It allows for focused treatment, often resulting in a better chance of recovery.

That said, it’s crucial to note that the effectiveness of inpatient treatment can vary depending on individual needs, the quality of the program, and the person’s commitment to recovery. It’s essential to choose a reputable facility and engage fully in the treatment process for the best outcomes.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is a less intensive level of care compared to inpatient treatment. In fact, it is recommended for those with mild to moderate cases of addiction.

Outpatient treatment, also known as partial hospitalization, allows patients to live at home while attending therapy sessions and workshops at a treatment center. These programs are also suitable for those who have completed inpatient treatment and need ongoing support.

This setup offers more flexibility for recovering individuals who have work or family commitments. It lets them receive the care that they need for their substance use disorder while still keeping up with their responsibilities outside rehab. However, it may not provide the same level of support and structure as inpatient treatment. Therefore it is not for everyone.

Outpatient rehab may involve different types of treatments and therapies like individual and group counseling, family therapy, motivational enhancement, etc. [1]

This type of program is suitable for those who have a strong support system at home, a stable living environment, and a lower risk of severe withdrawal symptoms or complications. However, the effectiveness of outpatient treatment can vary based on the individual’s commitment to the program and the severity of their addiction.

Support Groups

By offering a sense of belonging, understanding, and ongoing support, support groups play a significant role in the recovery process for those who are grappling with substance abuse issues. Support groups serve several purposes.

For starters, they provide a safe space for patients struggling with addiction to share their experiences, challenges, and successes with others who understand what they’re going through. Being surrounded by people who can empathize helps reduce feelings of isolation and shame.

These groups offer a non-judgmental atmosphere where participants feel accepted and understood, regardless of their past or current struggles. Support groups provide an environment where individuals can motivate each other to stay committed to their recovery journey. Encouragement from peers can be a powerful driving force in maintaining sobriety.

This extra motivation is important because dealing with substance abuse can be emotionally draining. Support groups offer a safe space to express feelings, fears, and anxieties without judgment, allowing members to gain emotional support.

Participants offer each other emotional support, advice, and encouragement. But beyond that, they also provide accountability. Members in these groups often set goals and hold each other accountable for their actions. This accountability can be an important factor in maintaining sobriety.

Support groups may provide education about addiction, recovery strategies, coping mechanisms, and relapse prevention techniques. Learning from the experiences and knowledge of others can be valuable in the recovery process. Members often exchange practical strategies and coping mechanisms they’ve found effective in dealing with triggers and cravings. Learning from others’ experiences can provide valuable insights into managing challenges. By participating in support groups, you get to learn from diverse perspectives. [3]

Recovery is often a long-term journey, and support groups can provide ongoing assistance even after initial treatment programs have ended. They offer a continuous source of support that helps individuals navigate challenges even in the later stages of recovery.

Overall, support groups can serve as an integral part of a comprehensive approach to substance abuse recovery by providing participants with the necessary tools, support, and community to maintain sobriety and work towards a healthier lifestyle.

Here are some popular support groups for substance abuse disorder and addiction:

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): One of the most well-known groups, AA follows a 12-step program and offers support for those recovering from alcohol addiction.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA): Similar to AA but focused on individuals recovering from drug addiction.

SMART Recovery: This group focuses on self-empowerment and employs a 4-point program that includes building motivation, coping with urges, managing thoughts/behaviors, and living a balanced life.

Celebrate Recovery: Often found in religious settings, it’s a Christ-centered recovery program that addresses various types of addiction.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS): A network that provides support for those seeking recovery from addiction, with a focus on self-empowerment and sobriety without a spiritual or religious emphasis.

Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA): Tailored for individuals dealing with both substance abuse and mental health issues, providing support for both conditions simultaneously.

Women for Sobriety: Specifically designed to help women overcome substance abuse through a self-help program based on 13 acceptance statements.

These groups often offer in-person meetings, online forums, and support networks where individuals can share their experiences, seek guidance, and gain support from others going through similar challenges. Each group has its own approach and philosophy, so it may be beneficial to explore a few to find the one that aligns best with personal needs and beliefs.

Just keep in mind that support groups do not replace rehab and they are not meant to. They are designed to complement existing treatment methods to boost the patient’s chances of making a full recovery. [3]


Aftercare is an essential step because recovery from addiction doesn’t stop when treatment ends. Rehab programs will try to teach you coping mechanisms. They will teach you how to recognize and deal with your triggers. They will also help you detoxify from the harmful substances in your body. [4]

However, at the end of the day, you will have to use these new tools yourself to maintain your sobriety in the long run.

Aftercare for substance abuse refers to the ongoing support and services provided to individuals after they complete a formal treatment program for addiction. It’s a crucial phase aimed at helping individuals maintain their recovery and prevent relapse. Aftercare can take various forms, including counseling, support groups, therapy, sober living arrangements, and ongoing medical or psychiatric care.

Aftercare programs offer continued support to patients in their journey towards recovery, helping them stay committed to a sober lifestyle.

Transitioning back to daily life after treatment can be challenging. Aftercare provides tools, coping mechanisms, and ongoing guidance to navigate triggers and prevent relapse. It is during aftercare that you can also build social support networks.

Regular check-ins and sessions provide a level of accountability, ensuring patients remain committed to their recovery goals. Many aftercare programs focus on teaching life skills and relapse prevention strategies, empowering individuals to handle situations that might otherwise lead to relapse.

Overall, aftercare plays a pivotal role in the long-term success of overcoming addiction by providing ongoing support, guidance, and resources necessary to maintain a substance-free life.


There are various levels of treatment available for substance abuse, and each one plays a crucial role in a person’s recovery journey. It is important to seek professional help and support when dealing with substance abuse, and to find a treatment program that meets an individual’s specific needs. With the right treatment and support, recovery from substance abuse is possible.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, reach out for help and start the journey towards a healthier and happier life. Look for a rehab near you today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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