Addiction Treatment Goals

Most addicts don’t enter treatment sober. Many come in off a spree, either because they weren’t planning to enter rehab or because they’re extremely fearful. What do fearful addicts do? They get as high as possible. So the first addiction treatment goal is usually detoxification. Its length and severity varies depending on the degree of addiction, the drug(s) involved and the extent of the binge immediately beforehand. (For more details on withdrawal, click on Detox: Introduction, Detox: PhysicalDetox: Emotional from the Treatment Menu; and The Fear of Withdrawal from The Addict Experience Menu.)

After detox, addiction treatment goals include obliterating denial so the patient accepts he’s an alcoholic or addict who needs treatment to learn how to live sober. Patients undergo intensive group therapy in a therapeutic community. Seeing other patients get honest about their addictions is tremendously helpful in getting a recalcitrant patient to recognize, finally, that he’s lost control over his drug use, is on a progressive slide toward death and has to give it up once and for all. New patients learn from hearing others’ histories of drug abuse and their struggles to get and stay sober, as it’s easier to see the irrationality of addiction in others than to see it in oneself. New patients begin to identify with what others are saying — and take the diagnosis of addiction seriously — because what others say dovetails with their own experience.

Another goal is to teach patients about the disease model of addiction: that their addictions don’t result from a failure of willpower or moral deficiencies but from a biological brain disease. This helps address the shame and guilt that accompanies addiction.

The next goal is to teach patients tools to make the monumental mental and behavioral changes necessary for sobriety. Most treatment programs do this by instruction in the 12-Step recovery program (though there are some that don’t). Patients are encouraged to immerse themselves in AA or other 12-Step programs (like Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous or Marijuana Anonymous) in order to build a sober support group. Towards the end of rehab, the goal is to prepare for life once they’ve left treatment. This involves relapse-prevention and establishing a plan for continuing care after discharge.

For more click on What Happens in Treatment?

 For much more detail on treatment, including my experience, click on the Treatment Intro/Menu.

Click here to return to the Questions About Addiction Menu.


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