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Intensive Outpatient Programs: Early Intervention Can Mitigate the Need for Residential Treatment


The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Similar to other chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes, addiction, if left untreated can develop into a more severe condition over time.  The negative impact of addiction can range from physical and emotional damage, to severe life impairment and even death.  This progression of the disease can occur over many years, however it often begins with use of a substance to induce a desired mood change.  The discovery of this perceived benefit can then lead to the individual’s misuse of the substanceor using to the point of intoxication in order replicate this sensation.  Substance misuse can further progress as the individual exploits this relationship between the substance use and its desired outcome.  This would be considered substance abuse, and the individual may continue to use the substance even despite the fact that it is beginning to interfere with their life, impact their work or personal relationships.   If not addressed, substance abuse can then develop into a substance use disorder. Individuals struggling with a severe substance use disorder often require a greater amount of the substance in order to feel the same effect as the first use, and negative physical symptoms such as withdrawal may occur if the substance use is discontinued. As the illness progresses the difficulty to stop using the substance increases. 

The development of an addiction is often characterized by negative consequences such as DUIs, performance issues at work or family concern. Some of these consequences can serve as warning signs that the substance use is becoming out of control. By recognizing the warning signs and realizing that perhaps one’s substance use has progressed to misuse or even abuse, an individual can be proactive in avoiding the progression of the illness and prevent further negative physical, mental and social consequences. Early detection of the illness however may require insight into the personal problems that fuel the substance abuse.  Help from a professional addiction counselor may be a necessary means of addressing the substance use issue. It is important to get help and there is a range of treatment options available depending on the severity of the problem. For those appropriate, treatment is possible without having to attend a residential rehabilitation program. For example, mild and moderate substance use disorders can be effectively treated within an outpatient context.  One possible option is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).

Components of an IOP include group process and counselling, psycho education on the disease of addiction and recovery, relapse prevention, cognitive behavioural therapy, aftercare planning and substance use monitoring.  The goal of the IOP is abstinence from mood altering substances, and therefore clients will learn to establish relapse prevention tools, but they will also begin to address underlying issues associated with the substance use and bring them to the surface. This can help them understand what is perpetuating the addiction and help to find other means of coping with stress or relationship issues, for example.

Family-SupportdollsAn intensive outpatient program is well suited to individuals who are motivated to address their substance use issues, before they further impact their health and well-being. They are also ideal for individuals who have supportive home environments, with loved ones who will encourage them in their recovery. While addiction is a very serious health issue, the good news is that it can be effectively treated, especially in its early development. Participation in programs such as an IOP, can be an important and meaningful way to address substance use issues before they lead to more severe problems.

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