Overcoming an addiction

Overcoming an addiction is not easy. But it can be done. Treatment will take on different specifics depending on the particular habit or substance used. Some treatments are short in duration; others may take longer.

There is a difference between "detox" and treatment – detox will clear the substance of use out of one's system, but ongoing treatment is still needed, including seeking group or individual counselling, learning new coping skills, and, if possible, changing one's social environment (e.g., changing friends or moving).

Addiction therapy and counselling is the most common form of treatment for alcohol and other drug use problems. It can be delivered on a one-on-one basis with a therapist or counsellor, or via group therapy formats.

Opioid agonist maintenance treatment, also known as medication-assisted treatment, has been shown to be more effective than detoxification in preventing addiction relapses and overdoses. Opioid maintenance therapy includes the use of methadone (Methadose®) or buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone®), and can be combined with therapy, counselling services and peer support. Nonetheless, replacement therapy with methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone is not a "cure" and, like all treatments for addiction, it requires a commitment from the person involved.

Overdoses can occur in any individual who is taking opioids, regardless of whether they are addicted to them. Key signs of an opioid overdose include slow, shallow breathing; constricted pupils; pale or cold skin; blue fingernails; and becoming unresponsive. Naloxone, a drug available in community settings used to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, can be administered as a nasal spray or injection to save a person’s life while they’re waiting for emergency services to arrive.

Although addictions are chronic in nature, they are highly treatable. While the problem behaviour may cease with treatment, the underlying disease of addiction will remain and, as part of it, so can the denial around having the disease. Thus, it is important for individuals who are dealing with addictions to work with their health care provider to develop a continuing care plan. The situation can be likened to that of a person with diabetes: while the condition may be brought under control with ongoing treatment, the disease does not go away and the person must actively maintain their recovery.

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