Drug dependence : Treatment

Treatment

Treatment for drug abuse or dependence begins with recognizing the problem. Though “denial” used to be considered a symptom of addiction, recent research has shown that people who are addicted have far less denial if they are treated with empathy and respect, rather than told what to do or “confronted.”

Treatment of drug dependency involves stopping drug use either gradually or abruptly (detoxification), support, and staying drug free (abstinence). People with acute intoxication or drug overdose may need emergency treatment. Sometimes, the person loses consciousness and might need to be on a breathing machine (mechanical respirator) temporarily. The treatment depends on the drug being used.

Detoxification is the withdrawal of an abused substance in a controlled environment. Sometimes a drug with a similar action is taken instead, to reduce the side effects and risks of withdrawal. Detoxification can be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

If the person also has depression or another mood disorder, it should be treated. Very often, people start abusing drugs in their effort to self-treat mental illness.

For narcotic dependence, some people are treated with methadone or similar drugs to prevent withdrawal and abuse. The goal is to enable the person to live as normal a life as possible.

Support Groups

Many support groups are available in the community. They include Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Ala-Teen, and Al-Anon. Most of these groups follow the 12-Step program used in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). SMART Recovery and LifeRing Recovery are programs that do not use the 12-step approach. You can find support groups in your phone book.

Prognosis (Expectations)

Drug abuse and dependence may lead to a fatal drug overdose. Some people start taking the drugs again after they have stopped. Relapses can lead to continued dependence.

Complications

The complications of drug abuse and dependence include:

  • Depression
  • Relapse of drug abuse
  • Drug overdose
  • Bacterial endocarditis, hepatitis, thrombophlebitis, pulmonary emboli, malnutrition, or respiratory infections, caused by drug use through a vein (intravenous)
  • Infection with HIV through shared needles
  • Unsafe sexual practices, which may result in unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, or hepatitis.
  • Problems with the law
  • Increase in various cancer rates, for example, lung and pharynx cancer are linked to nicotine use, mouth and stomach cancer are associated with alcohol abuse and dependence
  • Problems with memory and concentration, for example with hallucinogen use, including marijuana (THC)

Calling Your Health Care Provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are addicted to drugs and would like to get off of them, or if you have been cut off from your drug supply and are at risk of withdrawal. Most employers also offer referral services for their employees with substance abuse problems.


Review Date : 5/20/2009
Reviewed By : David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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