With approximately 20.6 million individuals in the United States 12 years and older with a substance abuse disorder in 2011 and with over 14,500 substance abuse disorder treatment facilities in the United States; it can sometimes be challenging to assess which treatment center offers the best resources and interventions necessary to provide the best recovery outcomes for you or a loved one. Understanding the indicators of high-quality addiction treatment can be challenging if you are not familiar with the substance abuse industry and are not “in the know” on how the treatment works.



Best practice for substance abuse centers

In 2018 The Joint Commission announced that for accreditation going forward, they would require substance use disorder treatment facilities to begin using measurement-based methods as indicators of high-quality addiction treatment. This means that for the first time, addiction treatment programs will have to collect data on their performance and relative “effectiveness.” Programs should explicitly state their comparative “effectiveness,” whether it is a decreased frequency of usage, length in sobriety, or a decrease in re-admission rates.

A comprehensive, integrated treatment approach

Substance abuse facilities that screen their clients for co-occurring mental health disorders and eating disorders, as well as long-term physical complications secondary to their substance use disorder, usually have an improved likelihood of substance use disorder remission. Other terms for co-occurring disorders include dual diagnosis or dual track.

  • Aftercare: Substance abuse treatment programs that provide aftercare or continuing care to clients who complete their program tend to produce substantially better outcomes. Aftercare could include scheduling appointments with an outpatient therapist, actively referring a client to a community support group, a 12-step program, or an online peer support group.
  • Actively involving the family in the treatment process: Engaging significant others and family members in the client’s treatment increase the likelihood that the client will stay in treatment and that treatment gains will be sustained after treatment has ended. Techniques to clarify family roles, reframe behavior, teach management skills, encourage interventions, and access community services all help strengthen the entire family system and help family members cope with, and adjust to, the family system changes that occur in recovery.
  • Qualified multidisciplinary treatment team: Having multidisciplinary staff (addiction, medicine, psychiatry, dietary, spirituality) can help clients uncover and address a broad array of needs that can aid addiction recovery and improve functioning and psychological well-being. For example, some will be able to help with co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression and anxiety, while others have more experience in mindful eating. Staff members who have adequate certification and licensing in these specialty areas are indicators of higher quality programs.
  • Focusing on the individual and not the disorder: Every individual is different, regardless if they have the same substance abuse disorder and as a result, treatment should be tailored to the individual rather than the addiction, itself. Some individuals will need specialized trauma care, while others will require more family integrated therapy. Additionally, treatment programs that respect the individual for who they are, regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation will most likely have more effective treatment approaches, especially those clinicians who are educated and empathetic to minorities and who have undergone workshops in treating individuals in the LGBTQ community.
  • Standardized measurement of treatment outcomes: A further indicator of quality treatment has reliable, valid measurement systems in place to track clients’ response to treatment. This could be re-admission rates or relapse rates. For example, a client who is undergoing treatment for heroin addiction can be deemed “successful” if he is using less frequently than before. It is vital to have a specific tracking process rather than posting “success” rates on a website since “success” is a very ambiguous term in the substance abuse treatment industry. It is essential that the treatment center defines precisely what they consider success. Is it a percentage of clients who complete the program? Percentage who maintain sobriety for six months? A year? This measurement must be specified and appropriately recorded.