According to the most recent figures available from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the United States is home to more than 13,000 drug treatment centers and more than 23 million people who are in need of substance abuse treatment. Of those 23 million, less than 3 million actually received treatment at one of the available drug treatment centers in the year of SAMHSA’s survey. Why do so many substance abusers go untreated? That is a difficult question to answer, as there are as many reasons for not seeking treatment as there are drug users. One possible reason, however, is that people don’t know how to find drug treatment centers thatcater to their own unique needs.
The population of the United States is made up of extremely diverse groups of people, and members of minority groups often have trouble connecting with drug treatment centers that offer special treatment programs designed with them in mind. In fact, many people don’t even know that such programs exist and would be surprised to learn that more than 80% of drug treatment centers
in the United States offer at least one special program that is designed to meet the unique needs of a particular group of people. Some of the special populations that can benefit from personalized treatment programs are discussed below.
Dual Diagnosis (Co-occurring Psychological and Substance Abuse Disorders)
Nearly 40 percent of drug treatment centers offer a special program or group for patients who are suffering both from a substance abuse problem and mental illness, a situation often called ‘dual diagnosis.’ Treatment for this special population is so common because psychiatric disorders and drug or alcohol addiction frequently occur together. Research has found that for addiction treatment to be effective in this population, both conditions must be treated. This is a complicated process because the association between substance abuse and mental illness is extremely complex. Most commonly abused substances can produce symptoms of a psychiatric disorder on their own, and they can also trigger an existing psychiatric disorder or make symptoms worse. Drug addicts or alcoholics who have a dual diagnosis are best treated at a facility that is equipped to handle both disorders.
About 33 percent of drug treatment centers offer programs specially designed for women with drug or alcohol addictions. It is only in recent years that substance abuse researchers have made a point of including female populations in studies, and drug treatment centers are beginning to offer programs that focus on the unique needs of female addicts. Women often delay substance abuse treatment because of childcare responsibilities, a limited income and dependency on partners who are also drug users. Drug treatment programs designed for women reflect these common concerns by offering support and services relating to abuse, co-dependency, childcare and emotional trauma.
Pregnant women are a particularly difficult special population to help in standard drug treatment centers. Drug and alcohol use presents a serious risk to the fetus, but there can also be dangers associated with withdrawal from drugs. Drug treatment centers who work with pregnant women must consider needs such as prenatal care, nutrition and childcare in addition to traditional addiction treatment. Currently around 14 percent of drug treatment centers in the United States offer a special program or group for pregnant or postpartum women.
Treating adolescents for substance abuse problems comes with a variety of unique concerns that make typical adult addiction treatment programs inappropriate for those under 18. One issue that drug treatment centers for teens must deal with is legal restrictions based on age of consent and mandatory reporting requirements. Other concerns have to do with the patients’ stage of mental and emotional development; teens are at a high risk for suicide and overdose, and tend to be very resistant to receiving treatment. Certain treatment methods are also particularly effective for teens, such as group and family therapy. About a third of drug treatment centers offer special services for adolescents.
Racial and Ethnic Minorities
Cultural differences between racial and ethnic groups can be significant, and drug treatment programs that don’t recognize these differences risk alienating members of these special populations. Most people are more comfortable receiving treatment from professionals who understand their culture, language and customs. The majority racial/ethnic group will find this in virtually every treatment center, but people who closely identify with a minority group may do better when treated at a center whose employees and treatment methods reflect the diversity of their own community.
A large proportion of crimes committed in the United States are related to drug abuse or addiction, so it isn’t surprising that a large number of people in the criminal justice system are in need of substance abuse treatment. Drug addicts in prison have unique needs that require special treatment programs. For example, drug addicts in prison are about 4 times as likely to have a dual diagnosis as the general population. They also face a forced detoxification process and may require access to maintenance therapy during the withdrawal process. Treatment with medication is complicated in prisons, which often have an underground market for drugs. These issues require different approaches to treatment designed particularly for this special population.
The main issue of concern in addiction treatment for elderly people is appropriate medical care. The body’s rate of metabolism slows as we age, which means an amount of drugs that would be nontoxic in someone younger can result in a toxic buildup of drugs in the elderly. Older people are also much more likely to be on a variety of medications that may interact poorly with each other or with drugs typically used in addiction treatment. Managing necessary medications properly is an important component of addiction treatment in elderly people. Other areas of concern include the possibility that elderly patients are experiencing social isolation, abuse or neglect in their everyday life, which may play a significant role in their substance abuse.
If you or a loved one are a member of these or any other special populations, it is worth it to look for a drug treatment center that caters specifically to your needs. Finding the right treatment program is key to a successful recovery, and drug treatment centers are recognizing this by offering special programs designed for groups of people who have been overlooked in the past.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (June 14, 2007). The DASIS Report: Facilities Offering Special Treatment Programs or Groups: 2005. Rockville, MD.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies (2008). Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (NSDUH Series H-34, DHHS Publication No. SMA 08-4343). Rockville, MD.