Can Someone Beat a Drug Addiction On Their Own?

Medical experts recommend always detoxing under the supervision of trained medical professionals. Not only does it reduce the risk that there will be a serious medical complication, but it also increases the odds of a successful recovery.
Evidence Based
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For most people with drug addiction, recovery isn’t successful until they receive professional treatment. Occasionally someone can overcome addiction on their own, but long-term success is rare. Instead, people who have access to medication (in some cases), counseling, and other treatment tools do better in recovery.

Not all recoveries include medication. A support network is always an important part of long-term recovery.

The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey found that treatment is not a cure-all, nor is it necessary for everyone battling addiction. The study revealed that of the 4,500+ respondents who had ever experienced alcohol dependence, only 27 percent had gone to treatment of any kind. Only one-third of the group continued to abuse alcohol at the time of the study.

But the study only addressed alcohol dependence and did not take into account the length of time respondents had been abusing alcohol versus how successful they were recovering without treatment. It also didn’t take into account the long-term results of all study participants.

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Dangers of Detoxing & Withdrawing Alone

In addition to the difficulty of recovery from long-term alcohol use disorder and/or drug addiction, the detoxification phase can be dangerous without medical supervision.

Breaking a physical addiction to certain drugs, especially heroin, prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol, triggers unpleasant symptoms. Detox also takes a toll on a person’s health. Cold turkey detox – completely denying the body the substance of choice – can cause potentially fatal side effects that vary based on addiction and include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Delirium tremens
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Catatonia
  • Coma

Medical experts recommend always detoxing under the supervision of trained medical professionals. Not only does it reduce the risk that there will be a serious medical complication, but it also increases the odds of a successful recovery.

Medically assisted detox also ensures the person with an addiction will have access to medications needed to ease withdrawal symptoms and be treated if an overdose is in progress.

Graphic of 3 different types of medication bottles and pills.

Are Medications Needed To Recover Successfully?

Medication is sometimes used to enhance recovery. It targets symptoms that occur during detoxification and reduces the risk of relapse. Medication is also prescribed to treat co-occurring conditions that contributed to alcohol or drug use.

Some of the most common types of medications used to reduce withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings

The most common medications used in alcohol and opioid use disorder treatment include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Extended-release naltrexone
  • Lofexidine
  • Naltrexone
  • Disulfiram
  • Acamprosate
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Types of Effective Addiction Treatments

There are many different approaches to drug and alcohol treatment. Determining the “best” treatment for a given individual depends on a variety of factors.

A study from the University of New Mexico found that the most effective approach for helping a person recover from alcohol use disorder was an initial quick and impactful encounter with a medical professional. For example, a person might visit his or her primary care physician for an annual physical or other health concern. This is opposed to a formal intervention or forcing a person into rehab.

The study determined that when a doctor revealed to someone complications present from abuse of alcohol, such as poor liver function, motivation to change occurred with only limited additional intervention. Someone’s unrelated doctor’s visit led to addressing drug or alcohol use. It was a wakeup call and enough to make the person aware of the effect of alcohol on his or her body.

For many, a referral to AA or other outpatient treatment for alcohol use disorder followed the initial interaction. Doctors also worked with patients to set goals to reduce alcohol consumption. The approach is self-directed, but a medical professional was there to offer support and guidance.

A second option the study found to be as effective was motivational interviewing. This approach involves therapy that encourages a person to assess his or her reasons for using drugs or alcohol and setting goals for recovery. If the person resists, therapy explores the desire to resist instead of pushing for abstinence.

The study ultimately revealed that even in a situation where traditional admittance to therapy wasn’t used, people benefited from professional medical intervention.

Other more traditional treatment options that are successful include:

  • Long-Term Residential Treatment
  • Short-Term Residential Treatment
  • Outpatient Treatment Programs
  • Individualized Drug Counseling
  • Group Counseling
  • Partial Hospitalization

These treatment options tend to incorporate a variety of different therapeutic approaches, including:

It’s also important to note that different combinations of approaches work for different people. For example, a person might initially be reluctant to participate in in-patient rehab but will find value in a 12-step program. Or he or she might require detox and immediate support but do better long-term with a less aggressive approach.

The most successful treatment approaches take the individual and his or her needs into account.

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Benefits of Professional Therapy

Despite professional therapy not being the right option for everyone, it helps many people recover and maintain sobriety. Treatment programs that address the whole person and consider not only detoxification and initial recovery, but also long-term abstinence are most successful.

Treatment offers companionship and understanding. People with similar challenges surround the person in treatment and professionals with extensive experience dealing with addiction are also there for support.

Treatment programs also offer an opportunity to communicate about addiction. Many people with addiction problems aren’t sure how to discuss the thoughts and feelings that play a role in their addiction. Treatment programs offer opportunities and access to communication skills someone might not learn otherwise.

The treatment approaches listed above also provide insight into a person’s addiction. Counseling helps the person explore addiction triggers and prepares him or her to react in healthy ways when an addiction trigger arises.

Finally, treatment creates a system of personal accountability. The person with the addiction is encouraged to take responsibility for his or her choices. Recovering alone means only being accountable to yourself. For many people, this is not enough and they need additional support.


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Resources

“The Surprising Truth About Addiction.” Psychology Today, 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200405/the-surprising-truth-about-addiction-0. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Types of Treatment Programs.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment and Recovery.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery.

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Updated on: August 7, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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