Drug addiction treatments

If drink or drugs are causing you problems there are services that can help. But what do they actually do?

Young man sat talking to therapist or doctor

There are people who can help with your addiction.

“When it comes to getting help with drug problems, one size doesn’t fit all and there are a range of options available,” says Andy McNichol from former drugs information charity DrugsScope (now archived by DrugWise). “Many services offer information, counselling and advice through a helpline or by appointment, and there are different types of drug treatment and support services available, including various self-help support groups run by organisations such as Narcotics Anonymous.

“Your local GP should also be able to offer help and advice on drug problems and related health issues. They can give advice, sometimes prescribe substitute drugs as part of drug treatment, and should have information on local drug services.”

Drug treatment services

You can find services through the NHS, charities or private organisations. You can use the NHS choices website to search for your nearest NHS drug clinic or FRANK’s search for other drug services.

There are different teams working with young people under 18 and those over 18. Adult drug services are mainly accessed by Class A drug users (heroin and cocaine) and referrals as a result of a court or an order, such as a DRR (Drug Rehabilitation Requirement).

Drug services for under-18s

Young people’s services are designed to be user-friendly and deal with prevention as well as reducing dependence on alcohol or drugs. Services are free of charge and easy to access. Most services will operate in a community setting, often in places such as sexual health clinics, One-Stop Shops, or as part of a Youth Offending Team.

Dolores Crawford works for Addaction, a drugs and alcohol treatment charity. She explains how services for under-18s work:

“Each young person’s service will have what is called a targeted worker and a specialist worker,” she says. “The role of the targeted worker is to provide early intervention and prevention, so it’s quite an educational role. Their aim is to provide advice and information on substances, harm reduction and to assess the extent of your use, and identify any problematic issues. They will also link you in with other young people’s services in your local area to ensure all your needs are met.”

“The role of the specialist worker is to provide one-to-one non-medical intervention,” Dolores continues. “They will work with the young person to explore their use, and use tools such as The Cycle of Change, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Motivational Interviewing counselling, to name but a few.”

What do drug workers need to know?

Drug treatment services can only work with the cooperation of the person they are trying to help, and one of the key ways you can help is being honest when answering their questions. Drug treatment agencies can only be effective if the person they are trying to help wants to change.

“When accessing a service an assessment is carried out,” says Dolores. “The sort of questions that will be asked are about what drugs you use, how much, for how long, and whether you or anyone else see your use as a problem.

“As well as drug use, they’ll also look at other areas, such as physical health, mental health, housing, family background and education. This assessment can sometimes take more than one session to complete.”

What kinds of drug treatment could you receive?

Exact treatment options depend on what drugs you are having problems with, and what symptoms you have. Some users might just want to explore their use and cut down. Someone with a heroin dependency may need prescription drugs, whereas stimulant users may access alternative therapies, such as Electro Stimulation Therapy. “Each individual will have a care plan which will have clearly identified goals and timescales,” says Dolores.

What actually happens on a drug treatment programme?

“You will be allocated a key worker and have a care plan,” Dolores explains. “Often you are given a drug diary to record where, when and with whom you use so as to begin to understand your use.”

Advice, information and support will be given around relapse prevention, harm reduction, understanding cravings and overdose. Each programme is designed around the individual, and no two people’s treatment journeys are the same.

How long will drug treatment take?

“A drug service’s aim is to get the person to a place where they are drug-free or using in a safer and reduced way,” says Dolores. “It will take as long as the person needs it to take. Some people might have to access services a few times.”

Thanks to Addaction and former charity DrugScope for their help producing this article.

Photo of young man talking to clinician by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • Addaction helps people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.
  • FRANK offers friendly, confidential advice on all things drugs-related. Call now on 0300 123 6600
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015