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10 Questions to Ask to Find the Best Treatment

When it comes to our loved ones, we only want the best – whether it's treatment for cancer or treatment for addiction. Most communities in Utah have several agencies that offer substance abuse treatment services. Furthermore, if you ask each agency if they provide the best treatment services, it would be remarkable if the answer was anything but yes.

So how should you go about finding a good substance abuse treatment agency? Below is list of questions to help guide you.

1. Are you licensed by the state to provide substance abuse treatment? Do you accept my insurance?

These are the basics. Agencies must be licensed and financial considerations are a reality. Many agencies have sliding scales and are willing to work with individuals who do not have health insurance. The most expensive agencies do not necessarily offer the best services.

2. What philosophy of treatment do you use?

There is no superior philosophy. However, agencies should not have difficulty answering this question. A philosophy of treatment that includes caring about individuals who have addictions and working with them during fluctuating motivation is critical.

If clients feel comfortable in treatment, they stay in treatment. If they stay in treatment, they improve.

3. How long is treatment?

Research shows that treatment needs to be at least three months in length. When there are complicating factors, such as another mental health disorder (depression, anxiety, etc.), or lack of other external resources (unemployed, homeless) treatment needs to be longer.

The treatment agency should constantly evaluate clients’ progress and should increase or decrease the level of care - as well as the length of treatment - as needed.

4. Will my loved one have access to both group and individual therapy?

Agencies should offer a variety of treatments, including psycho-educational classes, group therapy, and individual therapy. If clients only receive group therapy, it’s difficult for staff to truly evaluate clients' progress in treatment and it’s almost impossible to address the personal issues that lead to urges, cravings, or relapses.

5. Do you have someone who can provide medication management if necessary?

Mental health problems often go hand in hand with addictions. Many people begin using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to mask distressing feelings. In addition, the results of long-term drug or alcohol use can precipitate mental health problems. Simultaneously addressing the mental health issues and the addiction is best practice, and sometimes clients need medication in addition to therapy. Therefore, agencies which employ or have access to prescribers can provide more comprehensive treatment.

6. How do you deal with relapses or continued use?

Outpatient agencies should not discharge individuals from treatment because they keep using drugs or alcohol. If an outpatient agency expects an individual to be completely abstinent while engaged in treatment, then look elsewhere.

The exception to this is residential treatment where the use of alcohol or drugs by one individual affects the entire therapeutic community. Still, residential treatment agencies should examine each situation on a case by case basis rather than implementing a global policy to immediately discharge someone who has relapsed.

Agencies should express awareness that addiction can be a relapsing disease. They should indicate they explore relapses, help clients learn from them, and strengthen coping strategies for future high-risk situations. Clients should only be terminated from outpatient treatment if there is a sustained period during which the client has not participated in treatment.

7. Will you work with my loved one even when he/she isn't very motivated?

It’s normal for motivation to fluctuate during treatment. It’s easy to work with clients when they are highly motivated, but it takes more skill and different tools to work with clients whose motivation hits a low.

Agencies should believe in the importance of keeping clients engaged, including calling them when they have missed appointments and providing continued support during more difficult times, since that's when they need it most.

8. Will you encourage my loved one to sign a release of information just so I know they are showing up for treatment?

Therapy is a very private experience, and it is unnecessary and often counterproductive for you to know what’s being discussed in treatment. However, when your loved one is an adult who lives in your home, or if you are paying for treatment, knowing if they are participating will help you set appropriate limits, make the best decisions you can, and help you determine the best way to support your loved one.

9. Will you involve me in the treatment process?

Treatment should involve those who are closest to the individual struggling with addiction. Groups, classes, couples counseling, or time spent educating loved ones about addiction and how they can be supportive but still respect their own personal boundaries is important and should be available in treatment.

10. Do you offer recovery services such as aftercare groups?

Recovery services are critical for sustaining abstinence. Agencies should either offer their own services or should encourage client participation in other services such as community support groups (AA, NA).

Ideally, agencies should develop an aftercare plan with their clients and encourage attendance in recovery services before actual discharge from treatment. This allows clients to explore their feelings about the transition with their therapist and for the therapist to support and encourage clients to continue to engage in recovery services. Both of these increase participants’ likelihood of participating in aftercare.