So, what’s the purpose of outpatient addiction treatment? There are several aspects to addiction treatment, and it’s important to understand the transitional phases. In the beginning, the main goal of treatment is to assess and stabilize. If the assessment shows outpatient treatment is appropriate, then the person is medically assessed to make sure there are no physical complications. Addiction presents itself as an acute, immediate problem, characterized by loss of control, legal problems, relationship problems, financial problems, employment problems, physical problems, emotional problems, etc. Not everyone coming into treatment is dealing with problems in all these areas, but they have problems associated with drug use. When I write “drug use”, I also mean alcohol, which is simply a legal drug, even though it causes more problems, collectively, than any other drug.
Although treatment professionals are presented with symptoms of addiction in the beginning, after a period of assessment and stabilization, treatment shifts to a different client/therapist relationship, an educational/therapy phase. Outpatient treatment doesn’t have the luxury of inpatient treatment where the patients are a captured audience. Outpatient clients go home after group, so it’s important to educate the client on abstinence skills from the beginning. Relapse prevention education should start immediately in outpatient. Once the client enters group, there’s a dual approach of group therapy and education. The client is taught that they are responsible for their recovery, although they don’t have to do it alone — there’s support available. Recovery support can come from different sources: family, employer, 12 Step groups, churches, etc. Clients in addiction outpatient treatment are encouraged to develop relapse prevention plans that best suit them and their situations. Not everyone has a supportive boss, or a job, and not everyone goes to church, and not everyone has a supportive family — so the individual works with the counselor to develop a realistic recovery plan.
As outpatient treatment comes to an end, the client should understand by this point that recovery is a long term process. When the client came into treatment, they presented with an acute, emergency situation with lots of symptoms, but the client learned addiction is a chronic and progressive condition that will only get worse if they don’t manage their recovery long term. Treatment is the difference between dealing with symptomatic problems with symptomatic solutions and dealing with fundamental problems with fundamental solutions. Although outpatient addiction treatment programs deal with symptoms in the stabilization phase, treatment is about applying fundamental solutions to fundamental problems. Too many people deal with the symptoms of addiction and never address the fundamental problems.