Outpatient Treatment for Substance Problems–a Process of Change

Outpatient treatment for substance problems can be a part of your recovery in various ways. It can be your first introduction to help, or can be the next step after rehab that helps you gain stability back at home. For many people, both scenarios are true, and have been helpful to countless people who have established a substance-free life after addiction.

Outpatient treatment for substance problems may or may not be the right fit for you or a loved one at this time. There are specific factors that call for a more intensive treatment setting than outpatient can provide. Some things that may indicate it is time to enter rehab rather than outpatient treatment are:

  • Overdose or a tolerance for large doses of substances that can lead to overdose.
  • Physical health problems complicated by compulsive substance use.
  • Serious mental health problems worsened or caused by substance use such as suicidality or psychosis.
  • Inability to carry on activities of daily life for self-care, work, family or school.

The above issues are not the only criteria for entering rehab. People do not have to wait until they are suffering dire consequences to seek help from a rehab program.

The Benefits of Outpatient Treatment as a First Step

There are many benefits of outpatient treatment as a first step in dealing with a substance problem. One of the most difficult of all issues in substance recovery is the need to get through denial about having a problem. Outpatient therapy can help work through denial so that action can be taken.

Denial is a core symptom of all addictions, and it is a different issue than most assume. Typically, we think of denial as someone who lies about a reality. For example, if a person is confronted about a wrongdoing, is aware of what he/she has done, but denies it, this is different than what happens in addiction. In addiction however, denial is the inability to see the issue at all. A person who denies having a substance problem may not be lying about the issue, but may actually not perceive a problem at all.

Effective outpatient treatment can move someone in denial closer to treatment by working through the denial. It can happen quickly or take a long time, but this process is something that anyone with an addiction needs to deal with in some way. Unfortunately, many get a ‘wake-up call’ out of denial when something horrible happens. This does not have to be the case. One can engage in honest conversation over a course of time in outpatient therapy before something dire happens.

Change is a Progression Not Perfection

There is a saying in 12 Step groups that in recovery we should focus on ‘progress not perfection’. This concept applies to the recovery process overall, but also to the ‘pre-recovery’ stages we go through. Lasting and effective change is progressive and takes place in stages. There are identifiable stages of change, and they theoretically progress from one to another, but most people will fluctuate between stages from time to time while overall moving forward.

People tend to become frustrated when treatment of any type does not ‘work’ immediately. This is true when we have physical or psychological issues. It is also tempting to become frustrated when we feel we make progress, only to take a few steps backward from time to time. However, overall this is how a healing process tends to work—there will be bumps along the way, symptoms flaring up, and momentum slowing down after making great strides. There are also plateaus. We may move forward quickly and then have no movement for a while. All such things are common in outpatient treatment for substance use.

Sensing a Problem, but Not Quite There Yet

Most people with a substance problem sense there is a problem somewhere, of some type. It’s not unusual to use substances regularly, but still be focused upon other things as problematic—perhaps work or relationship problems, for example. Of course, all of the above may be true, but there is typically a period of time in which thinking substance use contributes to problems is just not an option. In fact, conversely, during these times we believe using is a solution.

When we go to outpatient treatment during such a period in our lives, talking about substance use may be the very last thing we want to do. We can even believe that our counselors or healthcare providers are dramatically missing the mark. And, if they persist in talking about our use, we may even throw up our hands and decide counseling is useless.

However, this period is often what is known as a pre-contemplative stage. We haven’t even begun to contemplate that substances are a problem, but this doesn’t mean treatment at this stage is useless. To the contrary, treatment during such a time can move us forward, help us gain insight, and give us direction. If so, we can progress to actively thinking about the problem in depth.

Getting a Vision of the Problem

The second stage toward recovery involves getting a clearer picture of what the problem is. This is a period of breaking through denial, actually perceiving that substance use is not working, and contemplating the ramifications of substance use in one’s life. This stage of outpatient treatment can also move quickly or linger. However, it is a valuable stage to work through in outpatient therapy for many people who will eventually take a very focused action to overcome addiction. For some, this is the most effective route to recovery although it can be a very slow process.

This stage can also be one of turmoil and wrestling with denial, rationalization, and minimizing the issues. With effective help, however, the greater vision of one’s problem can eventually become more clear and steadier. This prepares you to move on toward taking action to find a solution.

Getting Mobilized to Tackle the Problem

Effective outpatient treatment can help anyone with a substance problem make a plan of action for recovery. Of course, it is important that you are working with professionals that are well-versed in addiction issues. Not every outpatient counselor can help you as effectively as those who have specialized in the treatment of substance issues.

Once having gotten a clear picture of how substance use is impacting your life, the issues can feel overwhelming still, but the direction in which you must move becomes more definite. This is often called the preparation stage—one begins to consider choice and to take greater responsibility for what choices are made. It can be a very internal process to prepare for tackling addiction head-on. We have a lot of fear, for example, about giving up what we think has helped us, and it is common to think that we won’t be able to cope without using. Good outpatient help can support us as we prepare, and help us identify ways to cope with going ahead toward abstinence.

Going for It—Taking Action

The stage at which people typically enter a rehab program is commonly called the action stage of change. One has made a plan and has chosen to act. For people with an addiction, it may very well have taken a great deal of time to get to this point.

Taking action to stop substance use does not necessarily mean one must enter a rehab program. However, there are many things to consider if you are weighing the options of how to proceed at this stage in recovery. People who are most successful in overcoming an addiction in outpatient treatment usually:

  • Have an active and recovery-oriented support system
  • Can avoid substances in the home environment
  • Have methods of coping with triggers to use substances
  • Do not need 24 hour medical supervision with withdrawing and detoxifying
  • Have daily, healthy and structured activity
  • Attend community support groups such as AA or NA (Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) in between outpatient sessions
  • Keep regular appointments with the outpatient provider

How to Choose the Right Treatment for You or a Loved One

Getting to the point of needing help for any problem in your life is a ‘blessing and a curse’ as they say. The most positive aspect is that you are beginning your recovery process at the very moment you reach out for the help you need. Another wonderful thing is that you don’t even need to know exactly what the problem is, or what course of action needs to occur. You can leave those details to the professionals, but your part is to get help, and to get the right help.

Finding the right treatment for you or a loved one who has a substance problem can be overwhelming. Substance use complicates everything, including your ability to be insightful and to solve problems. Your best bet, if substances are involved at all, is to seek a consultation with someone trained to assess substance problems. Even if you do not think substance use is the core issue, if you are using substances in a way other than prescribed, without prescriptions, or are over-indulging in alcohol to the point of regular intoxication, having an assessment is wise.

We can help you take the first action steps toward getting help in a free phone consultation today. Our staff is trained to help clarify your clinical issues, and make recommendations that can meet those needs. We are also able to clarify your insurance coverage, and get you details about various options such as the types of issues they address and their costs. We have worked hard to build relationships with treatment providers and programs, and have gathered extensive information about options all over the country. Let us help you find the help you or your loved one need today.