SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Many treatment programs can help people overcome alcohol or other drug-related problems.
- Treatment options include individual counselling, group therapy or medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
- Some people need to explore a number of different treatment options, or a combination of treatment options, before they find out what works for them.
Treatment options for alcohol and drug dependency
Different treatments aim for different outcomes, whether it's getting off substances altogether (abstinence) or reduction of substance use to a safer and less harmful level. Treatment options include:
Not everyone completes a treatment program the first or even second time, but this does not mean you cannot seek help again.
Some people find they need to explore a few different treatment options before they find what works for them.
How to get help for substance dependency
In Victoria, if you need support for a substance problem you will be screened and assessed to determine the most suitable service for your needs.
Extra access and referral arrangements are available for:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- young people
- forensic clients
- people treated under the Severe Substance Dependence Treatment Act 2010.
The intake and assessment process, endorsed by the Department of Health, ensures a consistent process across services and reduces the need for people to repeat their story.
The intake process enables services to work out:
- How severe your substance use is and how it impacts your life.
- Who is at risk and needs immediate support.
- Who may need extra support.
- Ways to improve support services.
With your consent, the results from the intake process may be shared among healthcare providers to support treatment.
Initial treatment plan
The alcohol and other drugs practitioner who provides the assessment develops an initial treatment plan with you. The initial treatment plan includes information collected from the screening and assessment process, as well as your identified treatment needs and preferences.
The plan is included in a package of referral information provided by intake and assessment services to treatment service providers.
Brief intervention for substance dependency
Brief intervention means attempting to treat a person in the earlier stages of their substance use before you develop serious substance-related problems. It is based on the theory that you can manage your own substance use and associated issues if you are provided with the appropriate information or other intervention at the right time.
These intervention sessions may include an assessment of your substance use and provision of a self-help manual or other information. Brief intervention has been used successfully with people who and drink heavily.
Counselling options for substance dependency
You can receive individual or group counselling as an outpatient or as part of inpatient treatment. The different models of counselling may include:
- The Egan model – you decide which issues are important and the best ways to address them, with the counsellor as a 'sounding board'.
- Motivational interviewing – you are encouraged to reduce your level of drug use by exploring the consequences of their addiction and the benefits of behavioural change. Taking responsibility for your behaviour and decision-making helps you to see your ability to make changes in your life.
- – you are helped to overcome irrational thoughts. The theory aims to change the way you think about your own behaviour.
- The systems theory – a form of counselling that places you in the context of family, social, cultural and other environments in which you live. The theory proposes that change in one area creates change in other areas.
Substance detoxification (withdrawal) programs
Detoxification ('detox' or withdrawal), is a program to rid the body of toxic substance levels. If you are dependent on a substance you may suffer from withdrawal symptoms when you stop using it.
Withdrawal from certain substances – such as alcohol and minor tranquillisers (benzodiazepines) – can be life-threatening in extreme circumstances. Therefore, a medical assessment should be considered before you withdraw from a substance.
What is medical withdrawal?
Medical withdrawal means using other medication to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. This can be carried out either in hospital or through a substance withdrawal service.
Typical withdrawal symptoms can include:
Harm reduction when breaking substance dependency
Harm reduction recognises that many people regularly use substances of some type, such as alcohol. Rather than aiming exclusively for abstinence, the concept of harm reduction centres on reducing drug use or changing drug use behaviour, so it is less harmful to you.
An example is the needle exchange program, which is designed to reduce the incidence of and other bloodborne diseases that can be passed through people using intravenous drugs and sharing needles. For many people, reducing substance use is a more realistic goal than quitting altogether.
Using medications to treat substance dependency
Sometimes, a prescribed medication is used to replace the substance a person is trying to stop using. This is called substitution pharmacotherapy. For example, methadone is sometimes prescribed for (addiction).
is a synthetic drug that is taken in place of heroin. Like heroin, methadone belongs to the opiate family. While it doesn't provide the same 'high' as heroin, it eases the withdrawal symptoms. Methadone works for longer than heroin, so it only needs to be taken once daily instead of every few hours.
Substitution pharmacotherapy may not be suitable for everyone and is not available for all substance dependency.
Benefits of substance pharmacotherapy
Depending on the substance a person is using, benefits of pharmacotherapy can include:
- An easing of withdrawal symptoms, allows you to function in day-to-day life.
- You are no longer taking a substance that is manufactured in a 'backyard lab' with no quality control or knowledge of its purity.
- You are no longer using a substance in harmful amounts or using a potentially dangerous method, such as injecting with used needles.
- You have the chance to address life issues without having to worry about finding enough money each day, getting the substance and using it.
Types of medications used for substance dependency
Examples of pharmacotherapies for different substances include:
- – acamprosate (Campral), disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone (Revia)
- opioids (such as) – buprenorphine (Subutex, Suboxone), methadone, naltrexone (Revia)
- – nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) such as patches, gum and inhalers, bupropion (Zyban), clonidine, nortriptyline.
Relapse prevention during substance dependency treatment
If you are undergoing treatment for substance dependency you need considerable support to make a successful transition to a substance-free lifestyle. There are various support programs available – such as help to find employment or housing.
Community support for substance dependency
You gain insights into your substance use by talking to others who have been in a similar situation. Many of these groups can also offer support services.
Also, there are 'therapeutic communities', which encourage personal growth through the understanding and care of others in the community. A person may join a therapeutic community for months or years.
Substance services for women
Because women are less likely to seek help for substance use than men, several treatment options have been established specifically for women – for example, group counselling sessions that are for women only, with childcare available if required.
Some of Victoria’s alcohol and other drug services specifically for women include: