The Field of Substance Abuse Treatment Is Still Growing

Substance abuse treatment has come a long way. Some might remember when addiction was considered “a man’s disease” and the goal of treatment focused on abstinence and removing the dependence upon the drug. Yet, substance abuse treatment has become more refined and the needs of women and adolescents have since been recognized, making alcoholism and drug addiction not just a man’s disease.

Recovery Is Different for Teens and Adults

For instance, it took some time for drug treatment experts to recognize that teens and adults recover differently. It was in the 1950’s when clinicians began to recognize that the behaviors of teens with addiction were different than adults with addictions and that they deserved different treatment methods. In fact, with this recognition, the first adolescent treatment center opened in 1952 with Riverside Hospital in New York City. Treatment centers specifically for teens grew more rapidly in the 1980’s through the 1990’s due to increasing research pointing to the drug treatment needs of adolescents.

Women in Recovery

The same is true for women in recovery. Perhaps the first women’s sober living home was New York’s Inebriate Asylum in 1864 where 400 of the first 4,000 of the applicants were women. And interestingly, the majority of women seeking treatment did so to treat their addictions to opium, morphine, chloral, and chloroform. Other early centers for women’s sobriety included the Water Street Mission in New York City in 1872 and the Christian Home for Intemperate Women. However, since then, more recent research on substance abuse treatment reveal that men and women are different in their:

  • Roots and patterns of addiction
  • Obstacles and approaches to treatment
  • Pathways, styles and stages of long-term recovery.

Substance Abuse Treatment Is Still Growing

Yet, despite these growths in the field of substance abuse treatment, there is still more growing to do. Today, it’s clear that the field needs more of what is known as evidence based practices. Evidence-based practices are those that are based upon research and have been proven to bring health to patients in the fields of psychology and medicine. In a treatment center or sober living facility, evidence-based therapies that facilitate sobriety include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, group therapy, relapse prevention, and drug treatment aftercare.

In fact, many articles and experts in the field are communicating this need in order to help continue the growth and refinement of substance abuse treatment. Experts recognize that the need for evidence practices comes from a deeper need to reintegrate the world of addiction treatment with the medical model. On the whole, addicts seeking sober living and recovery were rejected by medical establishments, and so, instead they received help outside of the field of medicine. This split is part of the healing that needs to take place. Dr. Walter Ling, a leading addiction specialist at UCLA put it this way: “Drug abuse treatment developed outside mainstream medicine. We’re still suffering from that.”

In 2012 and 2013 there were articles in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and across the Internet indicating that the field of addiction, recovery, and sober living needed to improve. Although the field has come a long way, there is much more development to undergo. The integration of substance abuse treatment into the field of medicine is one area of growth.

Certainly, one way that experts in the field have been doing this is by emphasizing that addiction is in fact a medical disease, not a personal flaw. For instance, the American Psychological Association categorizes addiction in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and recognizes the disease as one that affects the functioning and activation of the brain. Drugs and alcohol, and other behavioral addictions, activate the brain’s reward system, causing compulsive behavior in the user. This reward system can perpetuate the need for the drug until it becomes the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. This physical and psychological impairment severely affects the health of an individual. Furthermore, alcohol, opiates, and cocaine, for example, increase levels of the chemical dopamine in the reward pathway of the brain. With repeated use, baseline dopamine levels wane to compensate and a drug becomes less pleasurable, requiring ever-larger doses.

Sadly, about 21 million Americans have a substance-abuse disorder for which they need drug addiction treatment. Having treatment methods rooted in research and evidence continues to be a strong need of the recovery field, not only to improve the field of substance abuse treatment, but also to facilitate sober living in the lives of those who need it.


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