Substance Abuse: Professional Treatment vs Self-Medication

When it comes to professional treatment vs self-medication, both sides have pros and cons, and in this article we will help explain those.

If self-help books work for relationships, finances, career prospects, and the power of attraction, why can’t self-help replace addiction treatment? Self-help is particularly successful in relationships, finances, and career issues because the desire to share helpful tools and life-changing solutions with others is compelling.

We live in a proactive society with infinite knowledge at the click of a mouse or a conversation with Siri. We are strides ahead of past generations, with enough innovation to make your head spin. We can spend time outdoors, go to a yoga class, practice self-care, and read all the information written by professionals about addiction. But yet the professional treatment vs self-medication arguement related to substance abuse disorders requires external professional help that involves detoxification, individual therapy, family therapy, aftercare and space to address physical dependency, trauma, broken connections, and the importance of long-term abstinence. Self-help can be used a preventative measure to avoid a substance abuse disorder, but once the individual is addicted, self-help is no longer a viable approach, and professional treatment should be sought out.

Self-treatment and addiction

Self-help methods are useful for some individuals who are dealing with issues that may pertain to their stress and relationships however these individuals must be strong enough and have enough personal insight to be able to acknowledge their problem, articulate their problem, dedicate the time and energy to achieving their desired outcome and then share their results with others. The obsessions, compulsions, and loneliness associated with addiction prevent individuals in the real world to be able to think rationally and cognitively and connect with others. Individuals with an addiction are no longer in control of their disorder because their disorder has hijacked their brain. The overflow of dopamine when the abused drug enters the body is so strong that the user is unable to walk away from this euphoric high without any long-term professional intervention, not to mention that some chemical withdrawals can be life-threatening. The desire to continue to use and use again is so strong that it can re-wire the brain to the point that no amount of self-help books, yoga or nature can work to uncover the underlying triggers of why the addiction started in the first place.

  • Physical dependency on drugs and alcohol cause the “next fix” to be the highest priority regardless of the consequences.
  • Home detoxification has low success rates and often leads to relapse simply because the impulsivity of the addicted brain runs rampant, not to mention home detoxification can be life-threatening.
  • Drugs interfere with the communication system of the brain, hindering the performance of neurons, hijacking any sense of ration and control, thereby impairing the decision-making process while losing control of normal mental functioning.
  • Self-help addiction treatment lacks the foundation of recovery: connection to others.

Professional treatment and addiction: detoxification

Substance abuse treatment is a long-term process that involves a stepwise treatment regimen beginning with detoxification, and whether the treatment is needed for you or a loved one it can be difficult. Detoxification involves eliminating the abused substance from the body, which depending on the individual and the drug can take anywhere from 3 days to 7 days. Detoxification can be extremely painful and even lethal, and therefore it is never recommended that any individual undergoes detoxification at home but instead enters into a professional treatment center where they can be monitored and given medication to ease their withdrawal symptoms. Many treatment programs use medication-assisted therapy (MAT), which involves prescribing a slow taper of medications to reduce the withdrawal symptoms and prevent any life-threatening side effects. Benzodiazepines, methadone, naltrexone, and Suboxone are all popular medications administered to individuals who are addicted to alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids.

Professional treatment and addiction: changing the environment

A temporary or permanent environment change does wonders for addiction treatment, primarily because a difference in the environment often leads to a shift in perspective. The individual escapes from the negativity, the drug connections, the “bad influences” and the same unhealthy routine. Additionally, professional treatment provides a safe space in the presence of others giving the individuals the ability to connect with others around them. Connection is vital in the drug addiction treatment process, as the lack of connection will often push the individual further into their addiction.

Professional treatment: underlying triggers

One of the most significant components to the professional treatment vs self-medication arguement is uncovering the individual’s underlying triggers that caused them to become addicted in the first place. Past trauma, low self-esteem, mental health disorders, eating disorders, childhood abuse, interpersonal conflicts can all be directly linked to substance abuse. Uncovering and recognizing these underlying triggers requires a trained eye, hours of therapy, and a clear, sober mind. The client must become aware of his/her triggers and learn positive coping skills to deal with these triggers during their road to recovery.

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