How to Overcome Drug Addiction

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Drug addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), is when someone continues using a drug despite harmful consequences to their daily functioning, relationships, or health. Using drugs can change brain structure and functioning, particularly in areas involved in reward, stress, and self-control. These changes make it harder for people to stop using even when they really want to. 

Drug addiction is dangerous because it becomes all-consuming and disrupts the normal functioning of your brain and body. When a person is addicted, they prioritize using the drug or drugs over their wellbeing. This can have severe consequences, including increased tolerance to the substance, withdrawal effects (different for each drug), and social problems.

Recovering from SUD is possible, but it takes time, patience, and empathy. A person may need to try quitting more than once before maintaining any length of sobriety. 

This article discusses how drug addiction is treated and offers suggestions for overcoming drug addiction.

Family on a mental health therapy session

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How Common Is Addiction?

Over 20 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder in 2018.

Treatment Options

Substance use disorders are treatable. The severity of addiction and drug or drugs being used will play a role in which treatment plan is likely to work the best. Treatment that addresses the specific situation and any co-occurring medical, psychiatric, and social problems is optimal for leading to long-term recovery and preventing relapse.

Detoxification

Drug and alcohol detoxification programs prepare a person for treatment in a safe, controlled environment where withdrawal symptoms (and any physical or mental health complications) can be managed. Detox may occur in a hospital setting or as a first step to the inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation process.

Going through detox is a crucial step in recovery, and it's these first few weeks that are arguably most critical because they are when the risk of relapse is highest.

Detox Is Not Stand-Alone Treatment

Detoxification is not equivalent to treatment and should not be solely relied upon for recovery. 

Counseling

Counseling gets at the core of why someone began using alcohol or drugs, and what they can do to make lasting changes. This may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which the patient learns to recognize problematic thinking, behaviors, and patterns and establish healthier ways of coping. CBT can help someone develop stronger self-control and more effective coping strategies.

Counseling may also involve family members to develop a deeper understanding of substance use disorder and improve overall family functioning. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown effective in helping people overcome addiction. In one study, 60% of people with cocaine use dependence who underwent CBT along with prescription medication provided cocaine-free toxicology screens a year after their treatment.

Medication

Medication can be an effective part of a larger treatment plan for people who have nicotine use disorder, alcohol use disorder, or opioid use disorder. They can be used to help control drug cravings, relieve symptoms of withdrawal, and to help prevent relapses.

Current medications include: 

  • Nicotine use disorder: A nicotine replacement product (available as patches, gum, lozenges, or nasal spray) or an oral medication, such Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Zyban (varenicline)
  • Alcohol use disorder: Campral (acamprosate), Antabuse (disulfiram), and ReVia and Vivitrol (naltrexone).
  • Opioid use disorder: Dolophine and Methados (methadone), buprenorphine, ReVia and Vivitrol (naltrexone), and Lucemyra (lofexidine).

Lofexidine was the first medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid withdrawals. Compared to a placebo (a pill with no therapeutic value), it significantly reduces symptoms of withdrawal and may cause less of a drop in blood pressure than similar agents.

Support Groups

Support groups or self-help groups can be part of in-patient programs or available for free use in the community. Well-known support groups include narcotics anonymous (NA), alcoholics anonymous (AA), and SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training). 

Roughly half of all adults being treated for substance use disorders in the United States participated in self-help groups in 2017.

Online Support Group Options

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, these groups that were often out of reach to many are now available online around the clock through video meetings. Such groups are not considered part of a formal treatment plan, but they are considered as useful in conjunction with professional treatment.

Other Options

Due to the complex nature of any substance use disorder, other options for treatment should also include evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety (known as dual diagnosis). 

Follow-up care or continuing care is also recommended, which includes ongoing community- or family-based recovery support systems.

Substance Use Helpline

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Steps for Overcoming Drug Addiction

Bear in mind that stopping taking drugs is only one part of recovery from addiction. Strategies that help people stay in treatment and follow their recovery plan are essential. Along with medical and mental health treatments, the following are steps you can take to help overcome substance use disorder. 

Commit to Change

Committing to change includes stages of precontemplation and contemplation where a person considers changing, cutting down, moderating, or quitting the addictive behavior. Afterward, committing to change can look like working with a professional in identifying specific goals, coming up with a specific plan to create change, following through with that plan, and revising goals as necessary.

Surround Yourself With Support

Enlisting positive support can help hold you accountable to goals. SAMHSA explains that family and friends who are supportive of recovery can help someone change because they can reinforce new behaviors and provide positive incentives to continue with treatment.

Eliminate Triggers

Triggers can be any person, place, or thing that sparks the craving for using. Common triggers include places you've done drugs, friends you've used with, and anything else that brings up memories of your drug use.

You may not be able to eliminate every trigger, but in the early stages of recovery it's best to avoid triggers to help prevent cravings and relapse

Find Healthier Ways to Cope With Stress

Stress is a known risk factor or trigger for drug use. Managing stress in healthy ways means finding new ways of coping that don’t involve drug use.

Tips to Cope With Stress

Coping with stress includes:

  • Putting more focus on taking care of yourself (eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and exercising)
  • Concentrating on one challenge at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed
  • Stepping away from triggering scenarios
  • Learning to recognize and communicate emotions

Learn More: Strategies for Stress Relief

Cope With Withdrawal

Coping with withdrawal may require hospitalization or inpatient care to ensure adequate supervision and medical intervention as necessary. This isn’t always the case, though, because different drugs have different withdrawal symptoms. The severity of use also plays a role, so knowing what to expect—and when to seek emergency help—is important.

For example, a person withdrawing from alcohol can experience tremors (involuntary rhythmic shaking), dehydration, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. On the more extreme end, they can experience seizures (sudden involuntary electrical disturbance in the brain), hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling, or tasting things that do not actually exist outside the mind), and delirium (confusion and reduced awareness of one's environment).

Withdrawing from drugs should be done under the guidance of a medical professional to ensure safety. 

Deal With Cravings

Learning to deal with cravings is a skill that takes practice. While there are several approaches to resisting cravings, the SMART recovery programs suggest the DEADS method:

  • Delay use because urges disappear over time.
  • Escape triggering situations.
  • Accept that these feelings are normal and will pass.
  • Dispute your irrational “need” for the drug.
  • Substitute or find new ways of coping instead of using.

Avoid Relapse

The relapse rate for substance use disorders is similar to other illnesses and estimated to be between 40%–60%. The most effective way to avoid relapse and to cope with relapse is to stick with treatment for an adequate amount of time (no less than 90 days). Longer treatment is associated with more positive outcomes. Still, relapse can happen and should be addressed by revising the treatment plan as needed with medical and mental health professionals. 

Intervention

An intervention is an organized effort to intervene in a person's addiction by discussing how their drinking, drug use, or addiction-related behavior has affected everyone around them.  

How Does an Intervention Work?

An intervention includes trained professionals like a drug and alcohol counselor, therapist, and/or interventionist who can help guide a family through the preparation and execution. It occurs in a controlled setting (not in the person’s home or family home). Intervention works by confronting the specific issues and encouraging the person to seek treatment.

Who Should Be Included at an Intervention?

Depending on the situation, interventions can include the following people:

  • The person with the substance use disorder 
  • Friends and family
  • A therapist
  • A professional interventionist

The Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS)Family First Interventions, and the Network of Independent Interventionists are three organizations of professional interventionists.

You may also want to consider if anyone in the list of friends and family should not be included. Examples are if a person is dealing with their own addiction and may not be able to maintain sobriety, is overly self-motivated or self-involved, or has a strained relationship with the person the intervention is for.

What Should Be Said During an Intervention?

While a person is free to say anything they want during an intervention, it’s best to be prepared with a plan to keep things positive and on track. Blaming, accusing, causing guilt, threatening, or arguing isn’t helpful.

Whatever is said during an intervention should be done so with the intention of helping the person accept help.

Bear in mind that setting boundaries such as “I can no longer give you money if you continue to use drugs,” is not the same as threatening a person with punishment. 

Summary

Overcoming drug addiction is a process that requires time, patience, and empathy. A person will want to consider actions they can take such as committing to change, seeking support, and eliminating triggers. Depending on the addiction, medications may also be available to help.

Loved ones who are concerned about a person’s drug or alcohol use may consider an intervention. Interventions are meant to encourage treatment. Ongoing support and follow-up care are important in the recovery process to prevent relapse. 

A Word From Verywell 

No one grows up dreaming of becoming addicted to a substance. If someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, please bear in mind that they have a chronic illness and need support and help. Learning about addiction and how not to enable a person is one way you can help them. Having the ongoing support of loved ones and access to professionals can make all the difference.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I help someone overcome drug addiction?

    Helping someone overcome drug addiction requires educating yourself on the drug and on substance use disorder, not enabling the person's use, avoiding having unrealistic expectations of their immediate recovery and change, practicing patience and empathy, and encouraging the person to seek and stick with professional treatment.

  • What are common signs of drug addiction?

    Common signs of drug addiction include:

    • Drug-seeking behaviors
    • Drug cravings
    • Using drugs despite the negative consequences
    • Being unable to cut back or stop using
  • How long does it typically take to overcome drug addiction?

    Overcoming drug addiction is a complex process that can occur at different paces for different people. There are 30-, 60-, and 90-day treatment programs, but even afterwards a person can benefit from follow-up care or continued care in the form of support groups or personalized therapy. These can get at the root of what was causing the person to start using.

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