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Alcohol and Drug Information School
Not all drug and alcohol problems are the same. There are some drug and alcohol users who abuse substances but who are not apparently dependent on them. There are also those who are heavily addicted, not being able to go a day, or even a few hours, without a pill, hit, or drink.
Beginning with Substance Users, there are individuals who use marijuana just on the weekends, for example, who could benefit from treatment. Perhaps the marijuana use is causing problems in the individual’s life, but so far nothing serious. An individual like this would benefit from outpatient counseling.
Outpatient counseling can be 4-8 times per month, simply meeting with a counselor for an hour each time. The counselor will probably recommend participation in an community support group (e.g. Lifering, AA, NA) as well. The combination of community support groups and individual counseling sessions can sometimes be enough to resolve issues around substance use.
A second group of individuals are Substance Abusers. This classification is actually a diagnosable disorder. It involves the use of a substance, whether regularly or sporadically, that is causing consequences in the individual’s work or home life. The abusing individual uses despite these negative consequences.
Substance abusers have varying patterns of use. But, they do not experience withdrawals without the drug, because substance abusers are able to go for days without using. People who frequently binge drink at parties would be an example.
Substance abusers would benefit from an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or residential treatment program depending on an evaluation of all factors with a therapist. These programs help individuals with substance abuse problems who are experiencing some significant consequences to their use.
IOP is only an option for those who are able to maintain sobriety before starting treatment. IOP usually consists of 6-9 hours per week of treatment, usually spaced over three evenings per week.
Finally, the truly Substance Dependent individual will generally require residential treatment, sometimes following a medical detox, in order to obtain sobriety. Those who are genuinely addicted cannot stop using, cannot control how much they use, and experience withdrawals when they go too long in between uses.
Residential treatment is usually a minimum of 28 days in an inpatient setting. High quality programs do not end there, however, and require participation in an IOP program immediately following residential treatment, to help the addict transition from an inpatient setting to managing recovery in real life.
It is important to ensure that the right level of treatment is prescribed for an individual with drug or alcohol problems. This is done through an assessment performed by an addictions specialist.
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