In the past, outpatient programs for drug addiction were used almost exclusively by clients who had mild troubles that they couldn’t quite handle on their own. These clients might have been through inpatient programs in the past and were struggling with a mild relapse due to a change in circumstance or some other form of outside stress. Or, these clients might be new to the addictive process, and with the help of their families and a little counseling, it seemed reasonable to think they’d recover quickly. Now, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more and more people are entering outpatient programs, due to pressure from their insurance companies, and they are also achieving success in this model.
Entering an outpatient program isn’t right for everyone, no matter what the insurance companies might say, but some people find success within an outpatient program that they might not find had they chosen an inpatient program instead. There are a few things to keep in mind while searching for the right program, however, and this article will outline just a few of the attributes families might look for as they seek help for the person in need.
Learning and Growing
Therapy forms the cornerstone of an effective outpatient drug treatment program, and people who enroll might be required to participate in therapy sessions multiple times per week, if not daily. Here, they work with a counselor to develop a deep understanding of how addictions tend to develop and how they can be effectively controlled. After therapy, people might have a deep toolkit they can draw upon when cravings for drugs begin to arise. Coping tools may include:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Physical exercise
Therapy sessions might also allow people to address traumatic events that have happened earlier in life. These situations can cause deep scars that can be intensely painful, and drugs might have seemed like an effective antidote when memories became too destructive. In therapy, people can address those memories without returning to damaging drug use.
As people learn and grow in therapy, they may begin to attend sessions less frequently, moving from daily work to biweekly work and then weekly appointments. The progress might be slow, taking months rather than days, but in time, people can taper and taper, learning to rely on their extended network in order to keep moving forward with sobriety.
Each time a person walks out of the outpatient facility, that person could face the temptation to return to drugs. They might have friends who would be willing to provide them with drugs, or they might be forced to walk by places where they once used drugs. Relapsing to drug use can occur incredibly quickly, and in one study of cocaine users, published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, 55 percent of patients dropped out of care after four weeks. These users weren’t able to resist the lure of drugs, or they simply thought they had recovered. It’s a sad fact that drugs have such a strong hold on people who are addicted, but there are some things therapists can do to help their clients to stay motivated between their therapy sessions.
Contingency management techniques allow therapists to tie real-world benefits to ongoing sobriety. When clients appear for their appointments with the ability to pass drug-screening tests, they’re provided with prizes. According to a study in the journal Addiction, prizes worth about $2,000 for 12 weeks seemed to motivate people to stay enrolled in care in the early weeks of their treatment programs, and as time passed, the vouchers seemed less and less effective. It’s possible that the prizes helped people to stay in care early, but as therapy began to take hold, they saw the value of sobriety on their own, without the need for a voucher.
Not all programs give out money as a prize, and some don’t provide rewards that hold a huge monetary reward. These programs might use the contingency management program to augment the lessons they’re teaching in therapy, helping clients to find new hobbies and new activities they can enjoy while they’re working on their sobriety.
These programs might provide clients with:
- Movie tickets
- Gym memberships
- Hiking gear
- Restaurant vouchers
The rewards help clients to find new ways to enjoy themselves without relying on drugs. They allow people to stay motivated to participate in care, but also, the rewards help clients to develop new hobbies they might enjoy for the rest of their lives.
Drugs can cause chemical changes within the brain that can make abstinence difficult. A brain that’s been exposed to drugs for a long period of time is primed to run effectively in the presence of drugs, and when those chemicals are removed, the brain can respond with alarm and the person can begin to feel a deep craving for drugs that nothing else seems to touch. Medications might be helpful in toning down these cravings, helping people to maintain their sobriety even while they’re surrounded by temptation.
People addicted to heroin and other opiates often struggle with deep cravings when they’re working on recovery. Both methadone and buprenorphine can work as opiate replacements, allowing the brain to feel as though it has access to the drugs it craves even though the person remains sober. Methadone is often provided in a supervised setting, meaning that people must go to the clinic or to a pharmacy to take the drug, but those who take buprenorphine may be able to take their medications at home, without medical supervision of any sort.
People who are addicted to other drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine and some prescription medications, might not have specific therapies that have been developed to help them as they heal. These people might benefit from individualized treatments, however, including antidepressants for low feelings or anti-anxiety medications for feelings of nervousness. Dosages can be adjusted depending on the person’s progress in therapy and overall improvement in the fight against addiction.
There are other options that could be helpful for opiate addicts. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the medication naltrexone is usually prescribed to patients in outpatient addiction settings, when detoxification has already taken place and the person is considered sober. This medication can’t block cravings, but it can keep opiates from attaching to receptors in the body, so people who take drugs while on naltrexone will find that the drugs don’t seem to “work.” Blocking the link between drugs and pleasure could keep some people from relapsing.
Utilizing Support Groups
Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous can provide addicted people with the opportunity to meet others who are also struggling with drugs. They can share stories and techniques they use to keep their addictions at bay, and this networking can be helpful for the recovery process, but a study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse suggests that support group meetings can have benefits that move far beyond the social. Here, researchers found that the service component of support groups is vital to long-term sobriety for people who abuse drugs. By helping others who are new to sobriety, and volunteering in the community as needed, people in recovery can connect to larger issues and they can feel as though they’re making a real difference to others who are in need. It’s this aspect of being part of something bigger than the self that could be the key to recovery that support groups provide.
Outpatient drug programs might provide their own support group meetings for clients, asking participants to arrive at a specific time for each meeting, or programs might ask clients to find their own suitable meetings within the community and provide proof that they had attended those meetings. Large cities might have multiple addiction support group meetings available, and each meeting might be modified to meet the needs of a specific segment of the population. Women might find women’s only groups, for example, while GLBT people might feel more comfortable discussing their issues in groups that don’t contain people who are hostile to their lifestyles. Few meetings require registration, so people can attend meetings on a spur-of-the-moment basis, but many find comfort in attending meetings with the same group of people. They knit together as a community and grow together during the process.
Improving Sober Networks+
Community connections can be formed in support groups, but addicted people might also need the care and support of the people they live with. According to a study in the journal Addiction, people with low levels of social support when they enrolled in addiction care have higher levels of drug abuse at six months, when compared to people who have a supportive group of people to lean on as they recover. While outpatient programs can’t help people to make friends, they can help people to work through their issues with their families so they can achieve success in sobriety.Family therapy techniques allow the therapist to treat the entire family unit as a patient. The entire group has likely developed unhealthy patterns as the addiction has moved forward, and those patterns can cause each member of the family an intense amount of distress. Some people might feel as though they’re responsible for the health and welfare of the entire group, and they ignore their own needs in the process, while others feel the need to act out to deflect attention from the addiction issue. These are just a few of the roles that develop within an addicted family, and they can be hard to break. In family therapy, people can learn how to develop newer, healthier ways of communicating with one another, and they can help the addiction issue to abate in the process. When they’re all focused on recovery, amazing things can happen.
Connecting With the Community+
Therapy sessions, medications and support group meetings can all be quite helpful in the fight against drug addiction, but some people need additional help in dealing with life stresses, including:
- Poor parenting skills
- Unsafe living conditions
- Legal problems
- Lack of education
It might seem as though these issues would be outside the scope of an outpatient drug treatment program, but it’s easy to see how a difficult life might lead to a drug addiction issue. People who are under chronic, relentless stress at home and who are unable to see a way out might easily reach for drugs to provide just a few moments of relief. Helping people deal with these sorts of issues might be key to keeping the people away from drugs in the years to come. A study of the issue, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence illustrates this point quite nicely. Here, researchers found that people who were provided access to a case manager who could link them to community resources that could solve problems “showed significantly more improvement” when compared to people who didn’t get this advanced level of care.
Outpatient programs might help by providing clients with lists of contact numbers for community groups that provide no-cost or low-cost solutions to the problems clients face, or outpatient programs might take a proactive approach and schedule appointments for clients and require them to attend those appointments. By reaching out and making sure clients get the help they need to get better, these programs might be helping to ensure that their clients are successful.
Start the Enrollment Process
A study in the journal Addictive Behaviors suggests that short lapses between a call and admission are associated with greater success in addiction care. In essence, people who want to recover from drugs may find that it’s easier to lapse back into drugs, instead of waiting endlessly for help to arrive. At The Oaks at La Paloma, we take this statistic seriously. We work hard to ensure that our clients can come into our outpatient program as quickly as possible, and we work with our clients to develop a customized treatment program that will meet their needs and help them develop a new way of living. If you’re ready to get started, please call our toll-free line to schedule an admissions appointment.