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Stages of Treatment and Importance of Early Intervention-2024

Stages of Treatment and Importance of Early Intervention

Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Treating an addiction, also known as a substance use disorder, is very similar to treating any other type of medical condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure; the goal is to reduce problematic symptoms and improve your overall well-being and lifestyle. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance misuse or addiction, early interventions can help you prevent complications associated with addiction that may include unwanted health side effects, financial turmoil, problematic behaviors, legal trouble, and unhealthy or broken relationships.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, only 11% of people received treatment for an addiction. The majority of people with an addiction do not seek treatment because they feel they do not need it, there is a stigma surrounding addiction and treatment, or they do not have the resources to seek treatment. Early interventions help those who have an addiction, who are not aware of their addiction, or who do not believe they need to seek help.

Research shows that the most effective way to help someone with a substance use problem who may be at risk for developing a substance use disorder is to intervene early before the condition can progress. Early intervention cannot only save your life from an overdose, but it can prevent many of the complications that are associated with addiction.

What is early intervention?

Early intervention focuses on education and awareness about substance misuse and addiction. People who are educated about substance misuse and addiction are more likely to seek treatment, and as a result, outreach and education are important aspects of early intervention in addiction recovery. Early intervention is the bridge between prevention and addiction treatment. While late-stage and severe addiction require specialized addiction treatment in rehab facilities, most people struggling with substance misuse or addiction do not initiate their treatment journey in a dedicated addiction rehab facility.  

Early interventions for substance misuse or addiction often can take place in a number of settings such as psychiatry clinics, schools, or primary care doctor’s offices schools. Mental health and medical providers may first begin early intervention services when their patient presents with another condition, such as depression or diabetes. They may provide education, screening tests, brief interventions, and treatment advice as early intervention strategies. 

What is early intervention

Early intervention can be effective in preventing addiction and the associated physical, mental, emotional, and social consequences that come with addiction. Early intervention can be effective in preventing your addiction from worsening by the following:

  • Increasing Awareness: Early intervention strategies such as education and awareness campaigns can increase public awareness of addiction, its causes and underlying triggers, and the consequences associated with addiction. Education can come in all forms, from in school, through social media campaigns, flyers and pamphlets at community centers, addiction treatment education from rehabs, and having conversations with your primary care doctors, mental health professionals, friends, and loved ones. You can take steps to educate yourself and your loved one and seek out educational opportunities about addiction to understand the importance of seeking addiction treatment right away.
  • Early Detection: If you are aware of the signs, symptoms, and triggers associated with substance use, you are more likely to detect a problem in yourself or your loved one. Your doctor can also do screening tests to detect early signs of substance misuse or addiction. The sooner you detect there is an unhealthy pattern, the sooner you can get to the root of the problem, and the easier it is to treat before it progresses.
  • Addressing Underlying Issues: Early intervention can help identify and address underlying triggers or co-occurring disorders that may be associated with your substance misuse. These can include stressors, unresolved trauma, or mental health conditions that may have contributed to your substance misuse. Identifying and treating these underlying factors can help prevent your addiction from worsening and also help improve your treatment outcomes.
  • Providing Prompt Treatment: Early intervention strategies make sure that you or your loved one receives timely and appropriate treatment interventions that are tailored to your specific needs. Depending on how mild or severe your addiction is, this can be outpatient therapy, community support groups, or inpatient rehab. Early intervention works at recognizing which level of care is best for you at this time.
  • Reducing Stigma: Since education and awareness are early intervention strategies, these can help reduce the stigma associated with addiction and treatment, thereby encouraging you and your loved ones to speak out and share your journey in hopes of educating others in your community. Reduced stigma is known to improve access to addiction treatment and, therefore, increase treatment success rates.

To read about warning signs associated with alcohol use disorder, click here.

Seeking treatment and the stages of recovery

Regardless of whether you are in the early stages of your substance misuse and have sought out early interventions or if you are deep in your addiction and have hit rock bottom and have started treatment at a rehab center, you are on the right path because you have reached out for help. Just like how there are stages to your addiction, there are also stages to your treatment that are divided into early, middle, and late.

Early stages of recovery

In the early stage of recovery, your cognitive impairment from substance abuse is at its most severe, and as a result, you may have rigid thinking patterns and a limited ability to solve problems. You are still living with an “addiction brain”. You may be experiencing emotional turmoil and a strong urge to use and may believe that you can return to recreational substance use once this present crisis is treated. In the early stages of your treatment, you may follow the treatment expectations out of fear of consequences rather than from a sincere desire to stop drinking or using drugs. This is a very vulnerable time as traumatic feelings may arise, you’re not at your best mentally, physically, or emotionally, and you do not yet have the skills to overcome triggers or negative emotions. You may even be resistant to treatment and still in denial.

Middle stages of recovery

Your cognitive abilities and capacity begin to return to normal in the middle stages of treatment. The brain’s frontal lobe activity in a person addicted to cocaine is dramatically improved after approximately 4–6 months of abstinence. You will feel more “clear,” and you will have developed skills to identify and work through triggers and negative emotions that arise.  
However, you may distinctly remember the comfort of your past history with addiction and forget just how bad the rest of your life was and the seriousness of the consequences that loomed before you came into treatment. As a result, the temptation to relapse remains a concern. Additionally, you may be in a “less intense” form of treatment, such as outpatient treatment, compared to when you first entered treatment into a higher level of care, such as inpatient treatment. You may no longer be under constant supervision or surrounded by people in the addiction recovery community and may experience more opportunities for relapse.

Late stages of recovery

During the late stages of recovery, also known as the maintenance stages, you strive to work towards new goals and seek out new environments that are no longer intertwined with your history of abuse. You go back to regular day living but without alcohol or drugs, and this is challenging. You may be forced to make new relationships, start a new job, find new hope, and pave a new road for yourself while overcoming triggers and urges to use.

As you work to start a new life and your substance abuse fades into the background, you may notice that underlying issues start to emerge. Poor self-esteem, relationship problems, past trauma, and shame will often creep back into your daily life, and you will have to learn how to approach and deal with these issues in a healthy manner. This may be talking to a trusted friend or therapist about your past so you can try to understand and resolve these conflicts.

You want to be able to resolve these underlying past conflicts, or else you can be at risk not only for relapse but also for other compulsive behaviors that may hide as coping mechanisms, such as excessive exercise, overeating, or excessive promiscuity.  

No matter where you are in your addiction or your recovery journey, it is never too late to seek help.


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