Factors to weigh when choosing substance use disorder treatment

April 14, 2022 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD
substance use disorder

During the pandemic, the already significant number of people living with substance use disorder increased. According to data gathered by the CDC, in June 2020, 13% of Americans surveyed said they had started using substances (not including alcohol and tobacco) or increased their use in response to the stress of the pandemic.

The number of people who died as a result of an overdose also increased markedly. CDC data released at the end of 2021 found that overdose deaths increased in all genders, ethnic and racial groups, and age groups 15 and older. 91,799 people died as a result of a drug overdose during that period, the highest number of people to die of an overdose in a 12-month period in the U.S. and an almost 30% increase over 2019.

If you or someone you care about is living with substance use disorder and have decided to seek treatment, it’s wise to do some research and explore your options before choosing a treatment provider. These questions can help you gather the information you need to make a more informed decision:

  • What approaches to treatment are offered? Find out if the treatment plan includes behavioral therapy, medications, or a combination of both. Is it an inpatient or outpatient program? Ask what specific therapeutic approach is used as well as what medications may be prescribed. Is the treatment approach flexible so it can be adjusted to meet each person’s needs and does the approach change as the person’s needs change?
  • Is the provider experienced treating people with a dual diagnosis? Many people with substance use disorder are also living with a mental health issue, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, which is called a dual diagnosis. Ask if the provider is experienced treating people with a dual diagnosis, what the approach to treating mental health issues is, and how they manage any medications needed to treat those mental health issues.
  • Are the provider’s approaches to substance use disorder treatment supported by unbiased scientific evidence? Ask what clinical studies have been completed that show that the proposed approach to treatment is safe and effective. If medication will be part of the treatment, ask for data on the medication’s effectiveness for people using the specific substance or substances you or your loved one is using as well as information on potential side effects and medication interactions.
  • How long is the proposed treatment? At the start of treatment, the provider should create a treatment plan and share it with the patient, and with the patient’s consent, family or significant others. The plan should include length of treatment, short and long term goals, and the overall goal of treatment. Over time, the plan may need to be revised based on whether or not the patient is making progress with the current approach.
  • Does the provider connect the patient with other support resources in the community? These resources, like peer support groups and 12-step programs, can help people maintain the gains they’ve made during their initial treatment and provide community-based social support for the ongoing process of managing substance use disorder. Programs for family and friends can also be a good resource to have access to. These programs can provide information, support, and counseling that can help them deal with their own stresses and mental health issues and learn how to support the person living with substance use disorder.
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