Substance use treatment
Learn about treatment and support options for substance use and addiction. Hear real stories from people who have found their path to wellness and learn where to get help.
On this page
- Substance use and your health
- Types of treatment and supports
- Treatment settings
- Real stories
- Get help
Substance use and your health
Substance use is different for everyone. It can be viewed on a spectrum, with varying stages of benefits and harms. Some substance use can have negative impacts on your life and loves ones, but there are treatment options available to help you. You don't need to have an addiction to ask for help.
If you're trying to reduce your substance use, it's important to look at your mental, emotional, physical and social well-being. All of these components of your health interact. This is why many treatment options for substance use include other supports like therapy.
- reduce your risks
- improve your health
- connect you with important health and social services
Addiction (which is called a substance use disorder when medically diagnosed) is a treatable medical condition that affects your brain. It's the compulsive and continuous use of a drug or alcohol, despite negative consequences to yourself or others. Not everyone who's concerned about their substance use has a substance use disorder.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to addiction treatment. The choice of treatment depends on your own circumstances and the substances you use. For example, an alcohol use disorder is treated differently than an opioid use disorder.
The chronic nature of addiction means that re-using drugs or alcohol after stopping use is common. However, returning to treatment and healthier behaviours after re-use should be considered a success.
Returning to a healthier lifestyle after addiction is possible, but it looks different for everyone. Talk to a health care provider if you're concerned about your substance use. They will help you find appropriate options that are available to you.
For more specific information on opioid use disorder and opioid agonist therapy, see Opioid use disorder and treatment.
Types of treatments and supports
No matter where you are with your substance use, there are various options to help you move towards a healthier lifestyle. If you are ready for help, a combination of health and social supports, like medication and therapy, will give you the best results.
A good treatment program should also include ways to reduce your harms from substance use in case you use substances again.
Medications can help you with various substance use issues or addiction. Some examples include:
- a nicotine patch, gum or inhaler, or varenicline (Champix) or buproprion (Zyban) for quitting smoking
- naltrexone (Revia), to reduce alcohol cravings
- acamprosate, to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, depression and cravings
- opioid agonist therapy (OAT) like buprenorphine or methadone for people with opioid addiction
Psychological supports like therapy and counselling are talk-based approaches that can help you reduce or stop using substances.
Psychological supports can:
- help manage cravings and temptations
- provide practical advice and support on abstinence or reduced use
- motivate and encourage you to remain in treatment and reduce your substance use
- help find ways to meet people and form relationships that aren't focused on substance use
- increase your awareness of how substance use affects your life and what puts you at risk of substance use
- address underlying factors that trigger substance use, such as anxiety, depression, unhealthy relationships or situations and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Therapy can take place one-on-one or in a group. There are different kinds of therapy. Examples include:
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT):
- helps you see how your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and feelings affect your behaviour and cause you problems
- helps you manage your problems by changing your thoughts and actions
- solution-focused therapy:
- focuses on how your life will be different when the problem is gone or improved
- helps you construct solutions rather than focusing on problems
- is based on hope and positivity for the future
- contingency management therapy:
- is a behaviour therapy for addiction
- is based on positive reinforcement
- rewards you for making positive change in your life
Counselling is also a type of psychological support where you will receive professional help and advice to help you deal with your substance use. For example:
- motivational interviewing is an effective counselling method that focuses on respect and having conversations. It can be used to:
- guide you when you're ready, willing and able to seek help for or discuss your substance use
- empower you to change by helping you realize your meaning and importance
You might need short-term help dealing with substance use withdrawal (also called detoxification or detox). Withdrawal management is the initial supervised, controlled period of stopping the use of a substance.
It can help you manage your withdrawal symptoms while you stop using the substance. At the same time, you'll learn more about your treatment options.
You'll likely also need psychological (mental and emotional) support. Some withdrawal management services offer day programs for counselling and education.
Given the high risk of relapse and harm, you should transition immediately after withdrawal management services to mental health and substance use services.
If you have opioid use disorder, withdrawal management alone isn't effective or safe. The best way to manage an opioid use disorder includes:
- medication-assisted treatment
- strong support systems such as family, friends and peer support groups
- services like therapy, drug education and harm reduction
Peer support can be helpful before, during and after formal treatment. It's usually run by trained peers or people with lived or living experience, and focuses on:
- emotional support
- sharing experiences
- practical activities
Peer support is available through:
- group therapy
- support groups
- self-help groups
- peer-to-peer support
Peer support can be face-to-face, on the phone or online. It may be daily weekly, monthly or ongoing.
Information about drugs and alcohol
You can learn more about drugs and alcohol to understand the risks associated with them. This can help you to make informed choices. Some treatment programs also offer education to your family members.
Abstinence means stopping the use of the substance that's causing concern. It doesn't necessarily mean that you must stop using all substances. For example, you may be trying to stop your use of opioids but may still choose to use alcohol or cannabis. You can also use medications that support the goal of reducing or stopping use.
Abstinence may be the right choice for some people, but may not be realistic or desirable for others. You and your health care provider will decide whether abstinence is the best choice for you.
Treatment can take place anywhere. Some examples include:
- your home
- health care facility
- live-in health care facility ("rehab")
- youth shelter
- mental health facility
- rapid access addiction medicine (RAAM) clinic (walk-in clinic for people with high-risk substance use or opioid use disorder)
- live-in program with 24-hour care
Virtual care is also an important part of the continuum of care for addiction treatment. It can remove barriers to treatment and improve access to health care services.
These are personal stories from people who have experienced addiction, treatment and a path to recovery and wellness.
- Opioids and youth: Exploring different approaches to wellness
- Building Hope: Daniel's Spotlight
- Building Hope: Trevor's Spotlight
- Tom's drug addiction story
- Megan's drug addiction story
- Karlee's drug addiction story
- Virtual opioid agonist treatment (OAT) videos
- Real stories about stigma
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