Department of Psychiatry

Penn Behavioral Health

Frequently Asked Questions

What is addiction treatment?

Addiction treatment is intended to help an individual establish and maintain abstinence. Treatment can be varied in form/type, setting, and duration of engagement. Addiction is generally a chronic disorder that may include occasional relapses, with this in mind, short-term treatment is often insufficient. Often, treatment is a long-term process that incorporates a variety of interventions and consistent monitoring in order to achieve the desired outcome.

An array of evidence-based interventions is used to treat addiction. These interventions may include behavioral therapy (e.g. cognitive-behavioral therapy), medication, or some combination of the two. The specific interventions required for recovery efforts will be dependent upon the patient’s unique needs, concerns, and often the type of drug(s) he or she is using.

Behavioral interventions can help to improve upon motivation to change, identify effective coping strategies, increase insight into relapse prevention, and help an individual manage his or her recovery should a relapse occur. These interventions can also help improve upon communication skills, relationship management and family dynamics.

Chemical addiction may be treated with medications, such as Suboxone or Naltrexone, may be used to help combat addictions to opiates and alcohol, respectively. These medications can help counteract withdrawal symptoms and cravings. 

Treatment will also often include group and individual counseling sessions. Group sessions provide an opportunity for support and social reinforcement, these sessions will typically be facilitated by an addictions counseling professional.


How effective is addiction treatment?

While the cessation of drug use is the primary goal of addiction treatment, ultimately, treatment providers want the patient to be a contributing member of his or her community, thrive in the workplace and function well within a family unit.

Research shows that the majority of individuals that enter and remain in treatment cease drug use, show improvement in their psychological/social/occupational functioning and decrease their rates of criminal activity. It is important to note that individual outcomes depend on a variety of factors such as the extent of the patient’s problems, whether or not appropriate and relevant services were provided, and the quality of the relationship between the patient and his or her treatment providers.

It is important to realize that addiction, like any chronic disease, can be managed. Relapse does not constitute a failure on the part of the patient or the treatment provider. Recovery requires continual monitoring and assessment by the person in recovery and his or her treatment provider, a lapse into drug use may signify the need to return to treatment or otherwise alter lifestyle, or if you are already engaged in treatment, it may signify a need for interventions changes.


How long does addiction treatment last?

Since treatment is individualized, and people progress at varying rates, there is no set timeframe for a given level of care or treatment stay. However, it is generally believed that outpatient/intensive outpatient treatment stays of 90 days or less show limited efficacy. To achieve and maintain positive outcomes, it is recommended that outpatient/intensive outpatient treatment stays are significantly longer than 90 days.


How can family and friends have a positive impact on the life of someone requiring treatment?

If someone you care about is struggling with an addiction, it is important to realize that you can serve as a positive motivator for change. Family treatment sessions may be beneficial to both the patient’s recovery process and associated family member and relationship healing. Engagement of family in the treatment process can serve to bolster treatment benefits.


How might the work place play a role in substance abuse treatment?

Your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that can help provide or connect you to short-term counseling resources, local treatment programs, and/or peer support groups. Research has shown that therapeutic work environments for individuals in recovery that demonstrate abstinence not only facilitates a drug-free lifestyle but also bolsters punctuality and job skills. Of note, urine testing facilities, appropriately trained personnel and workplace monitors are necessary to implement this level of treatment.


Can a person become addicted to medication(s) prescribed by a physician?

Yes, the abuse of prescription drugs can lead to the risk of addiction and other serious health consequences. Prescription drugs that have a risk of dependence include, but are not limited to: opioid pain relievers, stimulants used to treat ADHD, benzodiazepines used for anxiety and sleep disorders. A 2010 study showed that roughly 2.4million people aged 12 or older met criteria for abuse of or dependence upon prescription medication. As a prescribing physician, it is important to screen patients for risk of abuse or dependence and to continually monitor patients that prescription medications are prescribed to.


How do other mental health disorders co-existing with drug addiction affect addiction treatment?

As many as 60% of people with an addiction disorder also suffer from a mental health disorder.  Successful treatment of co-occurring disorders requires that a patient be assessed for both addiction and mental health concerns, and that if both are present, simultaneous and integrated treatment of both conditions is undertaken.


Where do 12 step and other self-help programs fit into addiction treatment?

Self-help groups can help to further and support the positive effects of clinical addiction treatment. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA) and Gamblers Anonymous (GA) are some well-known self-help groups that follow the 12-step model. As a treatment provider, we encourage all of our patients to engage in 12-step programs during and following their treatment stay. These groups provide an added piece of community support that is invaluable.


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