Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Prevention

Treatment for Substance Abuse can be difficult to discuss with loved ones, this article may help you start a dialog.

Substance Abuse treatment
Substance abuse treatment given to the patient
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Understanding the Struggle: What is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex condition characterized by the uncontrollable use of a substance despite the negative consequences it creates in a person’s life. It’s a brain disorder because it actually changes the wiring and functioning of the brain, leading to intense cravings and compulsive substance-seeking behaviors.

We’ve all heard stories of how SUD can utterly derail someone’s life—breaking apart families, ruining careers, destroying health. 

But what we often don’t hear about is the pain, trauma, and mental health issues that frequently underlie addiction. SUD is not a character flaw or moral failing; it’s a legitimate medical condition that requires compassionate, evidence-based substance use disorder treatment.

The Diagnostic Criteria for Substance Use Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), substance use disorder is diagnosed based on a pathological pattern of behaviors related to the use of the substance. The diagnosis is based on 11 criteria, including:

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to.
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance.
  4. Cravings and urges to use the substance.
  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.
  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
  8. Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.
  9. Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.
  10. Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.

The severity of the SUD is determined by the number of criteria met:

  • Mild: 2-3 criteria
  • Moderate: 4-5 criteria
  • Severe: 6 or more criteria

The Scope of the Problem: Substance Use Disorder by the Numbers

The statistics around SUD are sobering:

  • Over 20 million Americans aged 12 and older have a substance use disorder
  • Over 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021 alone
  • Only about 10% of people with SUD receive any type of specialized treatment substance abuse treatment
  • Alcohol is involved in about 18.5% of ED visits and 22.1% of overdose deaths
  • The economic burden of SUD in the U.S. exceeds $600 billion annually

Behind each of these numbers are real human beings struggling with a devastating condition. SUD does not discriminate—it can affect people of all ages, races, genders, and walks of life. No one is immune to addiction, and we as a society must approach this issue with empathy, not judgment.


Breaking Free: The Journey of Substance Use Disorder Treatment

substance use disorder treatment

Detoxification: The First Step

Medically supervised detoxification, or “detox”, is often the first stage of substance use disorder treatment. As the body rids itself of substances, individuals may experience uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. 

Detox provides a safe environment to manage these symptoms and achieve a substance-free state. However, detox alone does not address the underlying issues fueling addiction—it’s just the beginning of the treatment process.

Behavioral Therapies: Rewiring the Brain

Behavioral therapies are the cornerstone of SUD substance abuse treatment programs. Through modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), individuals learn to identify and change the thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to substance use. Motivational interviewing helps resolve ambivalence about treatment and strengthens commitment to change.  

Contingency management provides tangible rewards for maintaining sobriety. By actively participating in substance abuse counseling, individuals build the skills and strategies needed to prevent relapse and navigate life without relying on substances.

Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT)

For certain substances like opioids and alcohol, medications can play a crucial role in the substance use treatment process. Medications for addiction treatment (MAT) work to normalize brain chemistry, reduce cravings, and prevent overdose. 

When combined with therapy and other supports, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) provided by treatment center for addiction can  significantly increase the odds of achieving and maintaining recovery. Despite being backed by decades of research, stigma and misconceptions about MAT persist. Increasing access to these life-saving medications must be a public health priority.

Support Groups: The Power of Connection

Addiction is often referred to as a “disease of isolation”. Support groups provide a sense of community and connection that can be transformative in the recovery process. 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer a framework for growth through working the steps with a sponsor. 

SMART Recovery employs a science-based approach focused on self-empowerment. Refuge Recovery is grounded in Buddhist principles and practices. There is no one-size-fits-all, and what works for one person may not resonate with another. The key is finding a supportive space to give and receive help without judgment.

Holistic Approaches: Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit

SUD treatment is increasingly embracing a holistic approach that goes beyond just addressing substance use to heal the whole person. Mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can help individuals cope with stress, regulate emotions, and increase self-awareness. 

Exercise releases natural feel-good chemicals in the brain and can help establish healthy routines. Nutrition education supports physical health and recovery. Creative arts therapies provide an outlet for self-expression and processing experiences in a new way. 

By nourishing all aspects of the self, holistic approaches lay the foundation for lasting, meaningful recovery.

The Continuum of Care: From Treatment to Recovery

SUD treatment is not a one-time event, but rather a continuum of care that supports individuals through different stages of recovery. The continuum typically includes:

  1. Prevention: Strategies to prevent the development of SUDs, such as education and risk reduction.
  2. Early Intervention: Identifying and engaging with individuals at risk of developing SUDs.
  3. Treatment: Intensive services to help individuals stop using substances and develop coping skills.
    • Outpatient Treatment: Individuals live at home while attending treatment sessions during the week.
    • Intensive Outpatient/Partial Hospitalization: More structured and intensive than outpatient treatment, but still allowing the individual to live at home.
    • Residential/Inpatient Treatment: Individual resides at a treatment facility, receiving around-the-clock care.
  4. Recovery Support: Ongoing services to help individuals maintain sobriety and build a fulfilling life in recovery, such as peer support, housing, and employment assistance.

The specific path through the continuum of care will vary based on individual needs and circumstances. Some may start with outpatient treatment, while others may need the structure and intensity of residential care. The key is that treatment is not one-size-fits-all, and should be tailored to the unique needs of the individual.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use, Aspire Frisco offers a range of excellent outpatient programs to fit your recovery journey. Their Partial Hospitalization (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) provide tailored, expert care while allowing you to maintain your  daily commitments. 

Aspire Frisco’s programs are designed to promote lasting recovery and personal growth.

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Why Do People Develop Substance Use Disorders? Risk Factors to Know

Substance abuse risk factors

Biological Factors

  • Genetic predisposition – Research suggests 40-60% of addiction risk is genetic
  • Brain chemistry – Imbalances in neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin
  • Mental health disorders – More than half with SUD also have a mental illness

Environmental Factors

  • Early exposure to drugs/alcohol – 90% of addictions start in the teenage years
  • Adolescence substance abuse is a major risk factor for later addiction
  • Trauma and abuse – Adverse childhood experiences strongly predict later SUD
  • Peer pressure and social norms – Substance use in one’s social circle raises risks
  • Lack of family involvement – Less parental monitoring increases vulnerability
  • Easy access to substances – Wide availability of alcohol and drugs in society

Psychological Factors

  • Poor coping skills – Using substances to self-medicate stress and difficult emotions
  • Low self-esteem – Substances used to overcome insecurity and social anxiety
  • Impulsivity – Difficulty controlling urges even when rationally aware of the risks
  • Sensation-seeking – Substances used as a “shortcut” to excitement and pleasure

Many roads can lead to the development of a substance use disorder. While we can’t always control our genetic makeup or the circumstances we’re born into, understanding risk factors can help guide substance use disorder prevention efforts. With the right coping skills and support systems in place, even those at higher risk can lead healthy, fulfilling lives free from addiction.

The Role of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur in childhood, such as experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect; witnessing violence in the home; or having a family member attempt or die by suicide. ACEs are strongly associated with the development of substance use disorders later in life.

  • Compared to individuals with no ACEs, those with 5 or more ACEs are 7-10 times more likely to report illicit drug use and addiction
  • Each ACE increases the likelihood of early initiation of substance use by 2-4 times
  • ACEs are associated with an earlier age of drinking onset and increased likelihood of heavy drinking

The link between ACEs and SUDs underscores the importance of prevention and early intervention. By promoting safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for children, we can reduce the impact of ACEs and prevent substance abuse issues from taking root.

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Our mission at Aspire Frisco is to support you on your journey to holistic wellness. Our individualized therapies based on research and compassionate support are provided with our outpatient mental health and substance use treatment programs. Today, take the first step toward a better tomorrow. For the personalized care that you deserve, get in touch with us.

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Prevention is Power: Strategies to Stop Substance Use Before It Starts

Substance use prevention

They say an ounce of prevention from substance abuse is worth a pound of cure, and this couldn’t be truer when it comes to SUD. While treatment is critical, preventing problematic substance use in the first place is the ultimate goal.

So what works when it comes to substance use disorder prevention?

Building Protective Factors

Certain individual, family, and community “protective factors” can reduce the risk of developing a substance use disorder, even in the face of adversity:

  • Strong problem-solving, coping, and social-emotional skills
  • Stable, supportive relationships with family and friends
  • Opportunities for positive social involvement, like sports and clubs
  • Clear anti-drug use policies and consistent enforcement
  • Neighborhood resources like extracurricular activities and mentoring

As a society, we can nurture these protective factors through evidence-based parenting programs, school-based prevention curricula, community-building initiatives, and policies that support healthy development, particularly for at-risk youth.

Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) like abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction are one of the strongest predictors of later substance use disorders. Preventing ACEs and mitigating their impact on children is critical for reducing the incidence of SUD.

This means providing support to struggling families, increasing access to high-quality childcare and early childhood education, and equipping parents and caregivers with the tools to create safe, stable, nurturing environments. When ACEs do occur, early intervention through trauma-informed care is key.

Changing the Culture Around Substance Use

The way we talk about and portray substance use profoundly shapes societal norms and attitudes. Glorifying or normalizing substance use in media and advertising can send a dangerous message, especially to young people.

On the flip side, stigmatizing and criminalizing addiction can prevent people from seeking help. We need a cultural shift toward honest, nuanced conversations about the realities of substance use—both the appeal and the risks.

By raising awareness, challenging stereotypes, and promoting healthy coping and decision-making skills, we can create a culture that supports prevention and recovery.

Harm Reduction: Meeting People Where They’re At

Harm reduction is a public health approach that aims to minimize the negative consequences of substance use for individuals who are not yet ready or able to stop using.

Needle exchange programs provide sterile syringes to prevent the transmission of infections like HIV and hepatitis C. Naloxone distribution puts this life-saving opioid overdose reversal medication in the hands of people most likely to need it.

Safe consumption sites offer a hygienic, supervised space for individuals to use pre-obtained substances, reducing overdose deaths and connecting people to substance abuse treatment. While critics argue that harm reduction “enables” substance use, the research is clear—these strategies save lives and serve as a vital bridge to treatment and recovery.

The Road Ahead: Revolutionizing Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Prevention

Substance use treatment and prevention

We’ve made progress in understanding and treating substance use disorders (SUDs). We recognize the brain science of addiction, have evidence-based treatment programs, and increasingly view SUDs as a public health issue. Yet, there’s still a long way to go.

To overcome the addiction epidemic, we need bold changes at every level – from healthcare to policy. This means:

  • Expanding access to affordable, quality treatment and recovery support. No one should be left behind.
  • Shifting away from the “war on drugs” toward prevention, harm reduction, and community care.
  • Addressing the underlying issues that drive addiction: poverty, racism, and trauma.

The road ahead won’t be easy, but the destination is a world with fewer lives lost to addiction, where everyone has the chance to heal and thrive.

You don’t have to walk this path alone. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use, Aspire Frisco offers a supportive community and expert care to guide your recovery. Explore our substance use treatment programs and take the first step.

If you’re ready to take a step towards healing, contact us today at 469-249-9363 or email us at Our team can answer your questions and guide you on the path to recovery.

Together, with compassion and science as our guides, we can make this change happen. Let’s start today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What’s the difference between substance abuse and substance use disorder?

While often used interchangeably, substance abuse typically refers to the harmful or hazardous use of substances, while substance use disorder is the clinical term for addiction—compulsive drug use despite negative consequences. SUD is a more severe and chronic condition.

2. Can someone recover from a substance use disorder on their own?

While there are certainly instances of people overcoming SUD without formal treatment, this is the exception rather than the rule. Because SUD fundamentally changes brain chemistry and function, professional treatment is usually necessary to build the skills and supports needed for long-term recovery. Attempting to “white-knuckle” it alone can be dangerous and increases the risk of relapse.

3. How long does treatment for substance use disorder last?

There is no one-size-fits-all timeline for SUD treatment. Research indicates that good outcomes are contingent on adequate treatment length, with most people needing at least 3 months in treatment to significantly reduce or stop drug use. For some, treatment may involve multiple episodes of care over several years. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.

4. What’s the most effective treatment for substance use disorder?

The most effective treatment for SUD is an individualized combination of approaches tailored to the specific needs of the person. For many people, this includes behavioral therapy, medication (when appropriate), and mutual support groups, along with comprehensive care for co-occurring physical and mental health conditions. The best treatment is the one that works for the individual.

5. How can I help a loved one with a substance use disorder?

Watching a loved one struggle with SUD can be heartbreaking and overwhelming. Some ways you can help include expressing your concern and support, setting clear boundaries, learning about the disease of addiction, and encouraging (but not enabling) treatment-seeking. Connecting with family support groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon can provide invaluable guidance and solidarity. Remember, you can’t force someone to change, but you can be there for them when they’re ready.

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