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Five questions your next patient might ask you

January 18, 2012
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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NIDA publication seeks to make consumers more knowledgeable about what treatment entails.

If the next patient or family member seeking treatment asks someone in your program, “Is the program’s treatment plan backed by scientific evidence?” or “Does the program assess and adapt treatment as the patient’s needs change?”, it is very likely that this person has been prompted by advice in a new publication from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask, made available online this month, focuses on these two themes and three others in attempting to erase public misconceptions about what constitutes treatment and about treatment’s effectiveness. Based on NIDA’s Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide publication that is geared more to professionals, the new guide suggests that treatment seekers also ask these questions when trying to choose an appropriate program:

  • Is it tailored to the individual needs of each patient?
  • How long should the treatment take?
  • How do 12-Step programs fit into drug addiction treatment? 

Gaya Dowling, PhD, deputy chief of NIDA’s science policy branch, says consumers needed a publication more useful to their information-seeking process than the more technical Principles publication. With most public perceptions of treatment shaped by television portrayals, consumers need a clearer understanding that there are effective substance use treatments available, and they need to know more about what those treatments are, Dowling says. At the same time, she says, they need to know that no one treatment approach will work for everyone.

“People don’t realize how much science there is about treatment,” Dowling says. “This contributes to misperceptions that treatment isn’t working.”

NIDA officials believe consumers need to be armed with more information about treatment before they are ever admitted, and that programs need to be willing to answer key questions at this fact-finding stage for consumers. “This is a really tough time in their lives,” says Dowling. “It’s an enormous personal burden. We want everyone to go in with some scientific information, so they will not be at the mercy in some cases of programs that will set them up to fail.”

The question about 12-Step programs, Dowling says, is intended to give consumers a clearer understanding about how these programs fit within the overall continuum of care. She says NIDA considers 12-Step programs to be an important component of recovery, based on the research evidence, but the institute does not categorize 12-Step programs in and of themselves as “treatment” per se.

Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask is available online at



It is difficult to meet a client's specific needs for treatment if the only alternative to support is the 12-Step model. Many clients find my program a refreshing change of venue because I use the Stages of Change, not just the Disease Model, and I also offer SMART Recovery as another abstinence-based support group alternative to those who, for whatever reason, don't like 12-Step meetings. I got sober in AA and completely endorse AA, but ethically, I'm obligated to find and provide my clients alternative means of reaching recovery that works for them.

It's true that most individuals with substance abuse issues don't like the 12 step program; mybe it's because it cuts to the core of the problem...that very hard for many to accept. i think it's good to present all options to clients, with the an aggrement that if whatever treatment path they take, and it must show results acceptable to both counselor and client, or another path will be selected, or treatment will end. In the end, what can you do with an individual will not act on your matter what they are.
uc kirby, CDCA, SWA