Drug Addiction is a Chronic Condition Needing Chronic Treatment

In the recent publicity related to the death of yet another celebrity due to drug use, Glee star Cory Monteith, People Magazine wrote a piece suggesting that 30 days of inpatient treatment for substance use disorders may not be enough treatment, and recommended extended care for up to 90 days in sober living facilities.  While I believe this to be a step in the right direction, even 90 days is usually not enough treatment support to adequately curtail a disorder that is commonly believed to be an incurable and chronic condition.

Medical professionals would never suggest short-term treatment for other conditions considered incurable, such as diabetes and hypertension, but would insist that they be adequately contained with ongoing monitoring and medication,.  So why is the treatment of substance use disorders any different?

Sure, there are recovery support groups available in the community that provide adequate long-term support, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and Women for Sobriety, but these self-help meetings are not for everyone who has suffered from substance-related disorders. Often, people need ongoing professional help and support through counseling, relapse prevention skills, and the provision of one of the growing number of addiction medicines used to help block the euphoric effects of drugs or reduce the cravings for these substances.

While I am not suggesting long-term inpatient treatment, I believe in long-term outpatient treatment to arrest these disorders.  Studies have shown that participation in even a once-weekly supportive intervention could significantly increase the prevention of relapse to substance use.  These supportive meetings can be group sessions or individual sessions.  These meetings can take place face to face, or even be held online in the form of videoconferenced sessions, chat discussions, email therapy, or phone sessions.

I personally lead weekly long-term group sessions for recovering addicts and alcoholics.  Some of the members have been attending for over 10 years.  Is it a coincidence that the 15+ individuals who have attended these sessions weekly for years have maintained consistent sobriety?  I think that ongoing support is essential for maintaining sobriety.  Why hasn’t the rest of our society caught on yet?  Thirty days at an inpatient facility may be the start of treatment, but it is certainly not THE treatment.  Let me know your thoughts on the subject.


Nicholas Lessa is the Clinical Director of Chat2Recovery, an online substance abuse treatment program, and Inter-Care, a leading substance abuse treatment program in New York City. He has been in the field of substance abuse treatment for over 30 years. He is the lead author of two books, Wiley’s Concise Guide to Mental Health: Substance Use Disorders and Living with Alcoholism and Drug Addiction.  He can be reached at nlessa@chat2recovery.com.

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