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What Is Evidence Based Treatment?

How do addiction counselors, doctors, and other treatment providers know what works to treat addiction? Although many treatment centers use a tried and true model that includes individual and group therapy, where do their methods come from? Evidence Based Treatment, or EBT, is a toolbox of treatment approaches that professionals use when they are working with people with substance abuse disorder. Each approach addresses certain aspects of drug addiction and its effect on the individual, family, and society.

Pharmacotherapies Say What?!

In plain English, “pharmacotherapy” means “using a medication to treat a disease.” The most widely available pharmacotherapy method for addiction is methadone treatment. According to the National Institute of Health, methadone maintenance has been proved to be safe and effective treatment for heroin and opiate addiction. Other pharmacotherapy methods for addiction would include Vivitrol, Naloxone, and even other medications designed to help addicts with dual diagnosis issues. Of course, EBT is more than just looking at a study and deciding to prescribe someone methadone. It means examining the research that is available and using that information to choose the best possible course of treatment for the individual.

For example, studies of methadone have shown that women have different substance abuse treatment needs than their male counterparts; that methadone is very effective in heroin addicts who are male and “severely impaired” by addiction; and methadone does not affect the health of the fetus if used during a pregnancy. That means that a man who is a low-bottom heroin addict might be given methadone as part of his treatment plan, while a woman who had been in addiction for a year or less might not be given the medication. There is no “one size fits all” approach to treatment.

Although medication is often a critical part of treatment, and considered essential by many people in recovery, it is also a point of debate in the recovery community. How someone gets sober, how they maintain their recovery, and how they define their recovery is a personal choice. Many people benefit from the help that a medication like Vivitrol provides—and some say that they could not have attained lasting, long term recovery without it.

Working Out Those Behavioral Therapies

It’s not just pills and prescriptions. Evidence based treatment is used in behavioral therapy, too. Many organizations cover evidence based practices (EBPs) that are specific to substance abuse disorder. These practices might be used in individual or group therapy, to help people who are trying to recover from addiction. Some of these practices might also work for prevention, especially in young people, children, and people who show early signs of substance abuse but are not full-blown addicts.

Encouragingly, these organizations are treating addiction like what it is: a mental illness. For example, the Institute for Research, Education, and Training in Addictions (IRETA), offers information for both mental health practitioners and general public to deal with addiction. They talk about ways to constructively address addiction, such as sharing your story, advocating for change in recovery related policies, and keeping up to date with research findings. By specifying that addiction is a chronic disease, behavioral health groups can study it like one, as well. In some ways, behavioral approaches to addiction are no different than the ones used for other chronic, or even life-threatening illnesses that are also stigmatized, like HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Evidence based treatment is the practice of applying scientific research, educating mental health professionals in new findings, and teaching them how to apply the new research-based tools. Innovations in research and in treatment create more methods for treating, preventing, and healing substance abuse disorder.