Health A-Z

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The first goal of treatment is detoxification (withdrawal from the drug). Detoxification usually involves gradually reducing the dose of the drug or temporarily substituting a medication that has less serious withdrawal symptoms. The substitute medication, if used, also will be reduced gradually. Depending on the severity of the drug dependence and other factors (significant heart or lung disease, liver failure, high blood pressure, age older than 65), detoxification may need to take place in the hospital.

All addictions are complex and have multiple causes. Drug abuse is usually not an isolated problem. Commonly, people with depressant addictions are also struggling with other mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

Thus, treatment is best tailored to the multiple needs of the individual. This should begin with a comprehensive evaluation (medical, psychological and social) to identify the variety of troubles that are fueling the drug abuse or misuse.

Counseling, behavioral therapies, and group programs (such as 12-step or rational recovery) can help a person address the addiction. Medications or psychotherapy can address other symptoms or problems that are discovered in the course of evaluation and treatment.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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