Opioid addiction is a chronic disease, like heart disease or diabetes. A chronic disease is a medical condition for life. It cannot be cured, but it can be managed. A person with addiction can regain a healthy, productive life. In order to make this shift into long-term recovery most people seek help. There are many options for someone seeking help for addiction as well as their family and friends.
The addiction of a loved one or in your own life can feel overwhelming, but addiction can be treated. The road to long-term recovery can be rocky and difficult. Addicts may enter treatment many times for an addiction before staying clean for good, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. Relapse is often part of the recovery process and can be a lifelong struggle.
Most experts and treatment centers strongly recommend participation in some form of therapy. Therapy can take place in many settings. It can be individual, group or family therapy. Both medication-assisted treatment facilities and abstinence-based treatment facilities typically offer therapy. Therapy is appropriate for the person struggling with addiction as well as friends and family members.
Medication Assisted Treatment
Medication-assisted treatment is a treatment for addiction that includes the use of medication along with counseling and other support. Treatment that includes medication is sometimes the best choice for opioid addiction. If a person is addicted, medication allows him or her to regain a normal state of mind, free of drug-induced highs and lows. These changes can give the person the chance to focus on the lifestyle changes that lead back to healthy living. Used properly, the medication does NOT create a new addiction.
There are three medications commonly used to treat opioid addiction. These are methadone, buprenorphine (also called Suboxone, Buprenex, and Subutex), and naltrexone (also called Vivitrol). All of these medications have the same positive effect: they reduce problem addiction behavior.
Methadone and buprenorphine trick the brain into thinking it is still getting the problem opioid. The person taking the medication feels normal, not high, and withdrawal does not occur. Methadone and buprenorphine also reduce cravings.
Naltrexone helps overcome addiction in a different way. It blocks the effect of opioid drugs. This takes away the feeling of getting high if the problem drug is used again. This feature makes naltrexone a good choice to prevent relapse (falling back into problem drug use).
Abstinence-Based Recovery Facilities
Abstinence-based recovery means going without any drug - including the medicines some programs use in medication assisted treatment. Some people believe that being completely abstinent from all substances is the only way to achieve recovery. Many abstinence-based programs have residential treatment centers where people can begin the process of recovery and detox in a supportive environment. These residental recovery centers also provide counseling or therapy for their residents.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is an international network of community-based meetings for those recovering from drug addiction. Modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), NA is a 12-step program with a defined process for overcoming narcotic addiction.
NA is an abstinence-based program. This means that the NA program is opposed to the use of medication-assisted treatment. However Methadone Anonymous is a 12-step program that supports the use of methadone or Suboxone in recovery from narcotic addiction.
Other Peer-Support Groups
Many people recovering from addiction find it very helpful to talk to people who are also recovering or in long-term recovery. In these peer-groups the person can find others with similar experiences and may feel more comfortable talking about their struggles. Talking with people who are further along in their recovery journey can also be a powerful motivator and source of hope. Most communities have a number of different groups. Some groups are for specific groups, like women or men, the LGBTQ community, veterans, etc.
WRAP is an advocacy committee that informs the community, region, and the world that people can and do recover from addiction.
SMART Recovery is a self-empowering addiction recovery support group which teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance. Participants can attend meetings online or in-person. There are a number of meetings in the area, see the website for details.
There are also peer-support groups for the friends and family members of those struggling with addiction, most notably NarAnon. The Nar-Anon Family Groups are a worldwide fellowship for those affected by someone else’s addiction. As a twelve step program, they offer help by sharing experiences, strength, and hope.
Will my insurance cover treatment?
Many insurance plans cover substance use disorder treatments including Medicaid and Medicare plans. To find out if your insurance covers treatment call the customer service phone number on the back of your insurance card.
Page material adapted from the following sources:
WebMd. (2016). Treating an Addiction to Painkillers. Retrieved from
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction: Facts for Friends and Families. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4443. Retrieved from