Mention the word "treatment" in relation to substance use and many people think of long-term residential facilities or detox. In fact, treatment includes both of those options — and many others.

Treatment addresses the individual's physical, psychological, emotional, and social conditions. Sustained reduction in alcohol or other drug use and sustained increases in personal health and social function are the primary goals.

The type of treatment is based on the severity of the problem. For risky users, treatment can be as simple as a screening and a brief intervention. For people exhibiting signs of dependence or addiction, a screening will probably lead to a referral for more intense attention.


All treatment starts with a screening, which is a series of questions about the amount and frequency of alcohol or other drug use and the consequences it may be causing. Screening can be done by many types of professionals, including a physician in a hospital or an office, a nurse, a clinical social worker, or a licensed substance abuse counselor. (People can screen their own use using a self-screener — visit our Assessment area for self-assessment quizzes.)

After a screening, some people may need a brief intervention, usually done by a health professional. During a brief intervention, people receive feedback on their substance use based on the screening results. Frequently, people are asked to cut back or stop their use. If they are ready to cut down, the health care professional will work with them to set a goal based on lower consumption. They may also be encouraged to reflect on why they use and how their lives will change by lowering their use. People who want to stop substance use will most likely be referred for additional evaluation or treatment.1

To help someone you know who you think may have a substance use problem, you first need to get them screened. Your best bet is to talk to your own physician or employee assistance professional about referring you to someone who can help, such as a licensed substance abuse counselor or family therapist.


Formal treatment takes many forms, and no one type of treatment is best for everyone. There are many roads to recovery.

You may think that you need to choose just the right program for your family member and if you don't, treatment will fail. But experts believe that any of a number of programs can lead to success - if the person is willing to accept help from others and invest energy in working on recovery. A physician or another health care professional can also help you choose where someone should go for treatment.


Drugs affect people in various ways. The effects can depend on the amount taken, the user's mood and their surroundings. Often a drug user will suffer a bad reaction. It's important to know how to respond. Here are a few tips, but never hesitate to call 911 Emergency Services if you believe there is serious danger or risk of death.

Amphetamines (speed), cannabis, ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms can sometimes make the user feel tense and panicky. If this happens:

  • calm them and be reassuring. Try not to panic. Speak in a normal voice and if you feel scared or worried, try not to let them see it;
  • explain that the feelings will pass;
  • encourage them to settle in a quiet, dimly lit room;
  • if they start breathing very quickly, calm them down and tell them to take long, slow breaths.

Heroin, tranquillizers and misuse of gases, glues and aerosols can make the user feel very drowsy. If this happens:

  • calm them and be reassuring. Speak in a low, quiet voice and try not to panic;
  • don't frighten or startle them, or let them exert themselves;
  • NEVER give coffee to rouse them;
  • if symptoms persist, place them in the recovery position
  • don't hesitate to call an ambulance if they don't start to become more alert.

Drinking too much alcohol can cause someone to become unconscious. This can also happen if someone uses heroin or tranquillizers; misuses gases, glues and aerosols; suffers a bad reaction to ecstasy or if an ecstasy-user dances energetically without taking regular breaks or drinking enough fluids. An overdose of most drugs will also cause unconsciousness. If this happens:

  • dial 911 immediately and ask for an ambulance. Never feel too ashamed to involve the emergency services;
  • place them in the recovery position so they won't choke if they vomit;
  • check breathing. Be prepared to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation;
  • keep them warm, but not too hot. However, if someone has taken ecstasy, and you think they may have overheated, make sure they have plenty of cool, fresh air and remove any excess clothing such as a hat, gloves, etc;
  • stay with them at all times. If you need to leave to call an ambulance, go straight back;
  • if you know what drug has been taken, tell the ambulance crew. If you find drugs but you're not sure what they are, give them to the ambulance crew.

If your child is heavily under the influence of alcohol, don't leave them to sleep it off alone because there is a risk of choking if they vomit. Keep an eye on them —make sure they sleep on their side, and check that they keep breathing.

SOURCE: The Partnership for a Drug-Free Americaª

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