What is Substance Abuse Rehabilitation?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Substance abuse rehabilitation, also called drug or alcohol rehab, has two main goals. These are helping a person quit using a substance, and supporting them so they will remain free of using the substance in the future. This can be complicated by the type of substance use, since certain things are much more difficult to quit because of their highly addictive qualities. In fact, the whole term is fairly imprecise and can describe a variety of methods aimed at achieving the two goals.

Substance abuse rehabilitation is a structured program to help people withdraw from drugs and alchohol.
Substance abuse rehabilitation is a structured program to help people withdraw from drugs and alchohol.

In particular, the first arm of substance abuse rehabilitation may or may not involve medical support. People can abuse things without becoming addicts, such as many users or marijuana. Abuse doesn’t necessarily translate to addiction, since any use of a medication for an unprescribed or illegal purpose is deemed abuse. Someone found to have used another person’s prescription pain meds, might be ordered to drug rehab, and similarly the person found driving a car with a high blood alcohol count could potentially have to head to Alcoholic’s Anonymous. In these cases, goal is to make certain people do not abuse substances in the future, but the primary goal of ending addiction may not be present.

Substance abuse rehab is recommended for people battling with alcohol issues.
Substance abuse rehab is recommended for people battling with alcohol issues.

Conversely, many people who seek substance abuse rehabilitation first require medical treatment to undergo withdrawal from a substance. They may do so at a hospital, drug treatment facility, or a rehab facility. Some people might require a replacement medication like methadone after undergoing the first few days of withdrawal from a drug like heroin. Where people go next or how they address ongoing psychological addicition to a substance is variable.

Many people who seek substance abuse rehabilitation first require medical treatment to undergo withdrawal from a substance.
Many people who seek substance abuse rehabilitation first require medical treatment to undergo withdrawal from a substance.

Sometimes, substance abuse rehabilitation centers help people with withdrawal, and then continue to oversee their rehabilitation. This could include having medical support, but also lots of different types of emotionally based therapy. Patients could expect meetings in groups, possibly meeting privately with a drug/alcohol counselor or therapist, and also participating in any forms of therapy that might help them begin to extrapolate the lessons they’ve learned to other settings. Many centers that work with those recovering from addiction offer forms of experiential therapy, where people, once through the medical difficulties of withdrawal, will use things like ropes courses, equine training or art therapy to help derive deeper meaning from their therapeutic experiences.

Attempts to suddenly stop taking morphine can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Attempts to suddenly stop taking morphine can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Drug rehab centers may also be the place where people figure out how to cope with the consequences of their substance abuse. There may be real life concerns people must face when they return to the real world. These could include facing criminal charges, working hard to reunite a family, trying to find work, or any number of other circumstances. Social workers or others may help people in rehab to make a viable plan for moving forward with life, and ones that are least likely to involve reusing substances.

Someone with an addiction to painkillers may need to enter a substance abuse rehabilitation program to help kick the habit.
Someone with an addiction to painkillers may need to enter a substance abuse rehabilitation program to help kick the habit.

Not all people who seek substance abuse rehabilitation are hospitalized, and not all can avoid it, since courts may sometimes mandate it. Those who have the choice may try detoxing at a local hospital and then pursuing help on the outside by attending meetings with groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA). These groups may have high success rates too, though many find they need more support than can initially be offered by other former addicts, to help them change their lives fully.

A substance abuse counselor may help patients work through psychological cravings for drugs or alcohol.
A substance abuse counselor may help patients work through psychological cravings for drugs or alcohol.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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