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Addiction is a complex brain disease, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A voluntary choice to take drugs or drink alcohol gradually becomes an involuntary and compulsive behavior that involves seeking and using the substance at all costs.


When addicted, your body develops an uncontrollable urge for alcohol or drugs. Going without results in terrible withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, shaking, sweating, vomiting and depression.

There’s no cure for addiction and simply telling a person to stop doesn’t work. Fortunately, however, there are effective ways to treat addiction. What treatment is best depends on various factors and circumstances, such as severity of the addiction and whether there’s accompanying mental health conditions (like anxiety or depression). Here’s a closer look at treating addiction.

Detoxification (or Detox). Detox may be necessary for severe alcohol or substance addiction. Getting the person off drugs or sober becomes the first goal of treatment. During detox, drugs or alcohol is flushed out of the body. It’s done under strict medical supervision because withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, even potentially deadly.

Residential Treatment. Individuals may attend long-term treatment that lasts about six months to a year, where they’re involved in intensive and structured treatment. Short-term programs usually involve a three to six week stay at a treatment center, with additional therapy afterward and participation in a self-help group.

Psychotherapy. In individual psychotherapy, a person learns ways to manage underlying issues and become and remain abstinent. There are various types of psychotherapy for addiction. With cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), people look at the pros and cons of continuing their addiction and learn the tools and skills to identify and prevent factors that activate abuse and cope with stress and triggering situations.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) helps people get motivated about wanting to stop their addiction and pursue treatment. It uses motivational interviewing and teaches coping strategies. Studies show that it’s effective for treating alcohol abuse and possibly some drug abuse. In general, it works well in engaging people in treatment.

The Matrix Model addresses stimulant abuse. Individuals work with a therapist, who acts like a supportive coach, to learn important information about addiction, how to prevent relapses and what self-help programs are available. Regular drug testing is included.

Group therapy can also help because individuals are able to share their experiences and support each other’s recovery.

Family Therapy. When appropriate or necessary, the patient and their family participate in family therapy. There are several types of therapies that are effective for younger sufferers. Basically, family therapies focus on familial interactions that might worsen abuse or behavioral problems.

Medication. Medications are prescribed to help curtail the craving for drugs or alcohol. For instance, methadone is administered in specialized clinics to individuals addicted to opioids. It helps curb cravings and minimize withdrawal. The medications buprenorphine and naltrexone are also used for opioid addiction but can be administrated in outpatient settings. Naltrexone helps with alcohol addiction along with acamprosate (Campral) and Disulfiram (Antabuse), all of which work in different ways. Research has shown that people generally get better when medication is combined with counseling.

12-Step Programs. Along with professional treatment (or after), 12-step programs can help individuals with addiction. They include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous. The goal is for people to achieve and maintain abstinence. Individuals accept that they have a disease, surrender it to a higher power and actively participate in all 12 steps.

Exercise. Research has shown that exercise, in addition to traditional treatment, helps with smoking cessation, because it boosts mood and decreases stress. Experts believe it may help with other addictions, too.