How Substance Abuse Treatment Has Come a Long Way

How Substance Abuse Treatment Has Come a Long Way

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Modern addiction treatment has come a long way in the past two centuries. Though mankind has been using psychoactive substances since time immemorial, substance abuse wasn’t recognized as a public health problem until the 19th century, when the prevalence of heavy drinking was thought to cause health and societal problems. Since the 1800s, knowledge of how to effectively treat substance abuse has increased substantially, with today’s addiction specialists able to provide comprehensive treatment options.

Up until the last two centuries, the availability of drugs has been low and the potency of drugs much milder. As time marched onwards, alcohol and narcotics became increasingly more powerful and readily available. Today, both illegal narcotics and legal drugs like painkillers are extremely powerful, leading to an opioid epidemic across America and Europe.

The benefits of modern addiction treatment

Today’s treatment facilities will usually treat alcohol, prescription, and illegal narcotic addiction. Drug treatment in LA and other major cities facing staggering addiction rates typically offer both detox and rehab to patients. Though different processes, experts consider both necessary components of addiction treatment. They are often administered at the same facility. Here is a brief breakdown of both processes:


Detox is the process where a person’s body adjusts to the absence of addictive substances. Depending on the drug and the severity of the addiction, the detox process can take several days to several weeks. For instance, the detox phase of opioid addiction treatment can last anywhere from one week to one month. Most people with a serious addiction need to detox in a clinical setting, but treatment centers put a tremendous focus on making these environments as home-like and relaxing as possible.

During detox, withdrawal symptoms set in. Often, if people try to quit “cold turkey” by themselves, the withdrawal symptoms become so intense that they have little choice except to continue using the drug. This is particularly true with heroin, which causes extreme sickness. Alcohol, as well, has serious symptoms in severe cases, which can include hallucinations, delirium, and heart attacks or strokes.

Because withdrawal symptoms are painful and sometimes dangerous, experts recommend medically supervised detox. Under a doctor’s care, patients are treated with medications and other therapies that ease withdrawal symptoms. Once the withdrawal symptoms subside, the patient is ready to start rehab.


Rehab is about therapy, which occurs in both individual and group settings. Group therapy provides a support network for clients. It gives them a forum where they are able to share their experiences while learning strategies to defeat addiction.

Therapy also includes treatment for underlying medical conditions that contribute to addiction. Often, patients have co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression or PTSD. Treating these conditions reduces the chances of relapse.

Rehab centers also provide aftercare. This includes follow-up therapy and support after the client leaves the rehab facility. Aftercare also provides support in overcoming situations that can trigger a relapse.

How addiction used to be treated

At the beginning of the 20th century, addiction treatment took a leap backward. Prior to that, addicts were treated in inebriate homes, which had a similar structure to today’s rehabs, though they lacked the medical treatments and therapies of today. Around the turn of the century, the inebriate homes were closed.

Alcoholics and people with drug addiction were placed in jails and insane asylums. They received little or no care for painful and often life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Forced sterilization laws for alcoholics and addicts were passed in many states. Often, addiction was treated by giving patients drugs that only made them worse.

From the 1970s onward, addiction treatment has improved drastically. The AMA began to recognize addiction as a medical problem in need of medical treatment. The FDA approved several medications that help stop addiction, control withdrawal symptoms, and reverse overdoses. With increased medical knowledge, how addiction used to be treated was replaced with the modern addiction recovery center.

People suffering from addiction now have options for effective treatment. Health insurance plans are required to cover people for addiction treatment. Patients can now safely and affordably recover from drug and alcohol addiction.

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