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What is Substance Abuse Treatment?

Many kinds of professionals provide treatment for substance use disorders. At ARC, the main caregivers are specially trained individuals that make up a treatment team. The ARC treatment team is made up of social workers, registered counsellors, case managers, nurses, consulting doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals.

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The counsellor will begin by gathering information about the person, asking many questions such as those about:

  • Kinds, amount and length of time of substance or alcohol use
  • Cultural issues around use of alcohol or drugs
  • Effects of drug or alcohol use on the person’s life
  • Medical history
  • Current medical problems or needs
  • Current medications (including pain medication
  • Mental health issues or behavioral problems
  • Legal or financial problems
  • Educational background and needs
  • Current living situation and environment
  • Employment history, stability, problems and needs
  • School performance, problems, and needs, if relevant

This means that medication will be used to help people safely withdraw from alcohol or drugs. People who have been taking large amounts of opioids (e.g., heroin,codeine), barbiturates or sedatives (“downers”), pain medications or alcohol – either alone or together – may need medically monitored or managed withdrawal services. Sometimes, alcohol withdrawal can be so severe that people hallucinate, have convulsions, or develop other dangerous conditions. Medication can help prevent or treat such conditions. Anyone who has once had hallucinations or seizures from alcohol withdrawal or who has another serious illness or (in some cases) a mental disorder that could complicate detoxification, may need medical supervision to detoxify safely. Detoxification may take several days to a week or more. During that time, the person will receive medical care and may begin to receive education about his or her disease.


At first, individual counselling generally focuses on motivating the person to stop using drugs or alcohol. Treatment then shifts to helping the person stay drug and alcohol free. The counsellor attempts to help the person:
•  See the problem and become motivated to change
•  Change his or her behaviour
•  Repair damaged relationships with family and friends
•  Build new friendships with people who don’t use alcohol or drugs
•  Create a recovery lifestyle.

Group counselling offers peer support and offers a medium whereby peers try to help one another cope with life without using drugs or alcohol. They share their experiences, talk about their feelings and problems, and find out that others have similar problems. Groups also may explore spirituality and its role in recovery.


People in treatment at ARC may be asked to read certain things (or listen to audiotapes), to complete written assignments, or to try new behaviours.


People learn about the symptoms and the effects of alcohol and drug use on their brains and bodies. Education groups use videotapes or audiotapes, lectures, or activities to help people learn about their illness and how to manage it.


This training can include learning and practicing employment skills, leisure activities, social skills, communication skills, anger management, stress management, goal setting, and money and time management.


Programme staff members regularly take urine samples from people for drug testing. ARC also makes use of a breathalyzer to test people for alcohol use. The ARC team regularly facilitate random urine sample drug testing for clients participating in our programmes.


Relapse prevention training teaches people how to identify their relapse triggers, how to cope with cravings, how to develop plans for handling stressful situations, and what to do if they relapse. A trigger is anything that makes a person crave a drug. Triggers often are connected to the person’s past use, such as a particular situation or emotion


This education can help you understand the disease and its causes, effects, and treatment. The ARC Family Education Group provides this education in the following ways: lectures, discussions, and group meetings.
The ARC Treatment Programme also provides counselling for families or couples on request. Family members are requested to participate as fully as possible in the family counselling the programme offers.


Participants in self-help groups support and encourage one another to become or stay drug and alcohol free. Twelve-Step programs are perhaps the best known of the self-help groups. These programs include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous, and Marijuana Anonymous.
Members themselves, not treatment facilities, run self-help groups. In many places, self-help groups offer meetings for people with particular needs. You may find special meetings for young people, women, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, newcomers, and those who need meetings in languages other than English.
Internet chat groups and online meetings are also available for some groups. The ARC treatment programme requires attendance at self-help groups. By attending, many people make new friends who help them stay in recovery. ARC also encourages people to find a “sponsor,” that is, someone who has been in the group for a while and can offer personal support and advice.
Self-help groups are very important in most people’s recovery. It is important to understand, however, that these groups are not the same as treatment.
There are self-help groups for family members, too, such as Al-Anon and Alateen
Our dual diagnosis clients are encouraged to participate in self help support group meetings such as those facilitated by the South African Anxiety & Depression Group (SADAG)


Even when a person has successfully completed a treatment programme, the danger of returning to alcohol or drug use (called a “slip” or relapse) remains. The longer a person stays in treatment, including follow up, the more likely he or she is to stay in recovery. Once a person has completed basic treatment, a programme will offer a follow up care programme at the treatment facility.
Statistics have shown that the longer one spends engaged in the treatment process, the better the chances are that the treatment will be successful. One study done by Hazelden in the U.S.A showed that the chances of successful treatment outcomes doubled with every 28 days spent in primary care. This is why we specifically run our programme on a 12 week cycle. It is important to strongly consider our 12 week in-patient programme should finances and/ or employment restraints allow.
We also understand that a client may have financial or work restraints, which is why it is important that, should a client only be admitted only for the 4 week programme, that they strongly consider attending our 12 week aftercare programme along with our halfway house programme. This programme is designed to supplement the work done during the primary care phase and the results yielded by those who have attended aftercare far surpass the success of those that have only completed the in-patient programme. Our aftercare programme runs from 6pm to 7pm, Mondays to Fridays.

Clients attending will be asked to ensure prompt time keeping, to complete “Homework Assignments”, and will be randomly and regularly tested for alcohol and other substances.
Follow up care is very important to successful treatment. Once a person is back in his or her community, back in school, or back at work, he or she will experience many temptations and cravings for alcohol or drugs. In follow up care, your family member will meet periodically with a counsellor or a group to determine how he or she is coping and to help him or her deal with the challenges of recovery.


As we discussed earlier, the ARC treatment programmes begins with a clinical assessment of a person’s individual treatment needs. This assessment helps in the development of an effective treatment plan.

A medically prescribed detox is prescribed by the ARC doctor. This will be supervised by the 24 hour nursing staff at the ARC facility.

The treatment team, along with the person in treatment, develops a treatment plan based on the assessment. A treatment plan is a written guide to treatment that includes the person’s goals, treatment activities designed to help him or her meet those goals, ways to tell whether a goal has been met, and a timeframe for meeting goals. The treatment plan helps both the person in treatment and treatment programme staff stay focused and on track. The treatment plan is adjusted over time to meet changing needs and ensure that it stays relevant.


Substance use disorders affect every part of a person’s life. For that reason, treatment needs to affect every part of a person’s life as well.
Treatment involves more than helping someone stop drinking alcohol or using drugs. Actually, stopping alcohol use or drug use is just the beginning of the recovery process. Your family member will need to learn new ways to cope with daily life. He or she will need to relearn how to deal with stress, anger, or social situations and how to have fun without using drugs or drinking. Learning these new skills is a lot of work. Many people enter treatment only because of pressure from the legal system, employers, parents, spouses, or other family members.
The first step in treatment then is to help them see that they do have a problem and to become motivated to change for themselves. This process often takes time.
Your family member also will need time to understand and begin to use the support of the self-help groups mentioned before. These groups will be important to his or her recovery for many years to come.
Remember: It can take a long time for the disease to develop and it is often chronic; therefore, it can take a long time to treat it.


A: Understanding how a person can be dependent on alcohol or drugs and still keep a good job is difficult. The media often portray people with substance use disorders as unemployed, unproductive, criminal and homeless. However, many people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs do not fit this stereotype; they have jobs and live with their families. The illness does tend to worsen over time. Eventually, your husband’s drug use may increase, and with no help, he may begin to experience more serious problems. The earlier your husband can get treatment, the better chance he has of recovery.

A: Perhaps your mother does not understand the purpose of treatment. She is correct to some degree; a substance use disorder is often chronic – but it is treatable. This is also true of many other long-term illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension. Treatment for substance use disorders is designed to help people stop alcohol or drug use and remain sober and drug free. Recovery is a lifelong process. Staying in recovery is a difficult task, so your mother will need to learn new ways of thinking, feeling and acting. Treatment can help your mother accept, manage and live with her illness.

A: Sober life skills are the new behaviours and ways of living that your partner will need to work on. Before treatment, your partner spent a great deal of time obtaining a substance, using drugs or drinking alcohol, and getting over the substance’s effects. Most of his or her activities centered on drugs or alcohol. Most of his or her fun activities included drinking alcohol or using drugs, and many of your partner’s friends used or abused substances, too. For these reasons, people recovering from substance use disorders need to learn a whole new way to live and to make new friends.

A: Treatment professionals know that substance use disorders affect the whole family. It makes sense, then, to offer help to the whole family. Some programmes offer family education, and others involve the family or couples in counselling sessions. It’s hard to grow up with a parent who uses alcohol or drugs. It can be helpful if you learn more about the disease and the effect it has had on your family and on you. Talking to someone who understands substance use disorders can make a big difference for you

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