When is Treatment Necessary

It is far from uncommon to have questions about addiction treatment. Many people spend considerable time and effort to determine what type of treatment they should choose, what level of care is best for them, and which program provides them with the best likelihood of achieving and maintaining long-term recovery.

Of course, none of these decisions can be made until a person answers one important question: How do I know when addiction treatment is necessary?

The bad news about this question is that there is no single right answer. The good news about this question is that there is no single right answer.

Confused? Don’t be. The answer that you are looking for is a bit complicated, but it is far from incomprehensible. Read on to get the information that you need.

First, let’s address that bad news:  As is often the case when it comes to substance abuse, addiction, and treatment, there is no such thing as the right answer. What is most important is finding the answer that is best for you, or for the individual who has been struggling.

Now, on to the good news: An individual does not have to meet any predetermined standard or prove that he or she has lived through a pre-established set of experiences before he or she can enter treatment for substance abuse or addiction. Yes, individual programs will have certain criteria that a person must meet in order to be eligible for care, but in the general sense, there is no single quality, feature, experience, or need that automatically qualifies or eliminates a person from needing treatment.

In the past, many people believed that in order to benefit from treatment for an addiction to alcohol or another drug, a person must have accomplished the vague and menacing feat of “hitting rock bottom.” Of course, what did or did not constitute “rock bottom” could vary widely depending upon the perspective of the individual who was discussing the issue. For some people, nothing could be worse than losing one’s spouse or having one’s children removed from their custody because of substance abuse. For other people, the absolute worst outcome could involve financial devastation, physical impairment, career derailment, or arrest and incarceration. Still others would require a combination of these experiences, or something different all together, before they felt that rock bottom had been hit.

Yet none of that matters.

The short answer is that a person needs treatment for addiction once he or she has developed the addiction. Addiction, which is also referred to as chemical dependency and substance use disorder, is characterized by symptoms including a loss of control over one’s behavior and a tendency to continue to engage in substance abuse even after experiencing negative repercussions because of prior substance abuse. Once a person has achieved this state, he or she is in need of help.

If one or more of the following statements apply to you or to someone that you care about, a substance use disorder may be present, and professional help may be called for:

  • I have abused alcohol or another drug alone.
  • I have tried and failed to reduce or stop my substance abuse.
  • I have used prescription medications at higher doses than directed, or for non-medical purposes.
  • When I start drinking or using another drug, I have problems controlling how much I use.
  • When I try to stop using, I experience physical and/or psychological distress.
  • I have taken time away from friends, family, and important activities in order to acquire or use drugs instead.
  • One or more people who are important to me have expressed their concern about my substance abuse.
  • I have lost friends because of my substance abuse.
  • I have gotten into trouble or otherwise had problems in school or at work because of my substance abuse.
  • I have had blackouts or been unable to remember what I did after abusing alcohol or another drug.
  • While under the influence of a substance or substances, I have engaged in violence, unsafe sex, illegal activities, or other behaviors that I know are wrong.
  • I often use alcohol or another drug as a way to relax or to deal with stress.
  • I have experienced health problems because of my substance use.
  • I have trouble getting through a day, or a week, without drinking or engaging in another form of substance abuse.
  • I think I might have a problem with substance abuse.

This list is by no means a comprehensive enumeration of the signs and symptoms of addiction, but anyone who identifies with any of these statements may be in need of help. Individuals who identify with many or all of these statements may be more likely to need help. All of these statements address problematic behaviors, and any one may indicate that treatment should be sought. Anyone who suspects that he or she has a substance use problem, or who suspects that a loved one is in need of treatment, should not ignore that suspicion. Many addiction treatment programs and support organizations will provide free assessments to determine if a person may need help. There is no drawback to completing such an assessment.

Finally, if you are concerned about a friend or family member, do not wait until he or she asks for help or experiences a particularly traumatic outcome related to substance abuse before you address the issue. Ideally, an individual will want to enter treatment, and will do so with a positive attitude. However, research indicates that people who are encouraged by a family member or otherwise convinced to enter treatment do not fare any worse in treatment than do those who enter care of their own volition.

If you fear that you may need help for a substance abuse problem, get help. If you are worried about a loved one, talk to him or her about getting help. Get a qualified professional to make the diagnosis, get the help that you or your loved one needs, and get back on track to a healthy and productive future.

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