Do “Abstinence Only” Treatment Approaches Work?

Abstinence Only treatment has been proven to be successful, but in cases of severe addiction, other approaches might be more

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People living with substance use disorders often find the idea of quitting to be overwhelming.

Abstinence-based addiction treatment requires those in recovery to avoid alcohol or drug use altogether.

Abstinence has been associated with better recovery outcomes and more stable recovery and is considered to be an effective approach to treatment; however, it may not be the best option in all cases.

What Is Abstinence-Only Treatment?

Abstinence-only programs, such as 12-step programs, are centered around the idea that someone in recovery must practice complete abstinence from drug or alcohol use.

Abstinence-only approaches do not embrace medication-assisted treatment (MAT) or harm reduction.

The Effectiveness Of Abstinence-Only Treatment

Studies have shown that longer periods of abstinence and longer durations of sustained abstinence have a variety of physical, psychological, social, and mental health benefits.

For obvious reasons, sustained abstinence is also associated with a lower risk of mortality.

However, people who have a more serious addiction may require stages in their treatment that allows for reduced or controlled usage to give them the best chance of long-term recovery.

For example, studies have shown that comprehensive treatment for opioid dependence, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT), was associated with reduced relapse rates and better outcomes.

Alternatives To Abstinence-Only Treatment

Abstinence-only substance abuse treatment can be effective in some cases; however, there are a variety of effective evidence-based treatments and alternative treatment plans available.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a treatment method for alcohol and drug abuse that combines psychotherapy or counseling with medication.

MAT uses FDA-approved medications, such as methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine, to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders.

MAT is not always considered a part of abstinence-only treatment because medications like methadone do stimulate the opioid receptors but not as much as more addictive drugs.

Harm Reduction

A harm reduction approach helps those who live with alcohol or drug addiction to create positive change in their lives and their overall well-being.

Harm reduction strategies incorporate community-driven public health care measures such as risk reduction, prevention, and health promotion to help drug users live healthy lives.

Providers of harm reduction programs such as overdose education have been proven to prevent death, injury, disease, overdose, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Harm reduction programs also provide people with a point-of-contact should they choose to pursue sobriety in the future.

The Benefits Of Evidence-Based Treatment

Evidence-based treatment includes a variety of treatment options that have been scientifically proven to reduce drug use, increase participation, and prevent relapse.

Evidence-based treatments often use a combination of medications and psychotherapy to provide comprehensive support for addiction as well as any co-occurring mental health disorders.

While evidence-based treatment often incorporates some aspects of abstinence-only treatment, it is not exclusively dedicated to ensuring immediate sobriety, especially if MAT is a good option.

Start Your Addiction Recovery At Bedrock

If you or a loved one are seeking alcohol or drug treatment, we can help. Contact Bedrock Recovery Center to learn about addiction recovery at our treatment facilities.

  1. American Psychological Association (APA)
  2. Food And Drug Administration (FDA)
  3. National Association For Alcoholism And Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC)
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  5. National Library Of Medicine: PubMed,including%20social%20network%20improvements%2C%20increases/
  6. National Library Of Medicine: PubMed
  7. National Library Of Medicine: PubMed
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: February 1, 2024

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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