What to Look for in a Drug Treatment Center

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The most important decision in the addiction recovery process is the one to seek treatment, but it’s not the only decision that matters. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that no single treatment option is the right choice for all who need help, and it’s critical to match services, interventions and settings to patients’ specific needs. This means that it’s important for people to ask questions, both of themselves and of potential treatment programs, in order to find the right fit.

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If you’re ready for treatment, or have a loved one who is, a few initial decisions need to be made. One is to choose between a residential or outpatient program. In residential treatment you live and receive services in the same facility, meaning that distractions are minimized and you can focus your full attention on recovery goals. If you have job or family responsibilities you need to maintain during treatment, an outpatient program can allow you to get help while continuing with day-to-day tasks.

Another decision to be made is whether you’re willing to travel or prefer to stay close to home. Being willing to travel opens up many more options and may reduce location-related temptations. On the other hand, staying close to home may allow for more family support. Generally, people travel for residential treatment, but it’s possible to also travel for an outpatient program and obtain lodging nearby. Some outpatient facilities even have local partnerships with organizations that can provide housing.

When choosing a treatment center, it’s wise to consider the following:

  • Licenses and accreditations – Some state governments license treatment programs as do a handful of national and international agencies. These include the All-States program, the Joint Commission, the National Committee for Quality Assurance and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. These can ensure that a facility meets certain requirements and standards of treatment.
  • Staffing – All programs have counselors, but not all counselors have the same training or level of experience. Possible certifications include CAC (Certified Addictions Counselor), LADC (Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor), LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) and CCDP (Certified Co-occurring Disorders Counselor). Depending on the services offered, a program may also employ physicians, nurses, nutritionists and others. A lower ratio of patients to staff is likely to translate into more individualized care.
  • Detox – Some facilities include detoxification clinics, where patients can undergo drug withdrawal as safely and comfortably as possible prior to beginning the treatment phase, while others only accept patients after they’ve completed the detox process. For some patients, depending on the degree of addiction and substance used, detox isn’t necessary.
  • Treatment of co-occurring disorders – Many people who struggle with addiction also suffer from a co-occurring mental health condition such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that almost 8 million people in the United States experience both a substance use and mental health disorder. Research has shown that patient outcomes are best when all conditions are treated in an integrated and coordinated way.
  • Aftercare – Recovery is a journey, and it’s important to continue to receive support after the primary phase of treatment has been completed. You need to know the aftercare options, especially if you or your loved one travels for treatment.

The opioid crisis has led to the proliferation of new drug treatment centers that aren’t all focused on quality care. An NBC news report listed some possible signs that programs may be putting profits ahead of patients. They note that daily or near-daily lab tests can be a red flag. In addition, if a program doesn’t ask you for in-depth patient information or for access to previously used therapists or counselors, it may be a sign that they care less about patient fit than about simply filling beds.

Most people have financial considerations when choosing a treatment center. Generally, a program will work with your insurer to determine coverage. Many also charge on a sliding, income-based scale. When weighing the cost of addiction treatment, it’s important to also consider the cost of doing nothing. Addiction has both financial costs, reflected in such things as lost wages and increased healthcare, and the cost of the drugs themselves. Then there are also non-financial costs that are harder to quantify. When deciding to make an investment in the quality of the rest of your life, it’s wise to choose carefully.


Written by Martha McLaughlin

A writer for Foundations Recovery Network

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