Getting Help for Drug Addiction

The brain is a powerful tool but is easily affected by what we put in our bodies. The reward signals the brain receives are greatly affected by drugs and can lead to addiction. Positive forms of motivation, habits and routines are vastly influenced by what happens in the brain’s basal ganglia, including pleasurable effects from healthy activities such as eating, socializing, and sex.

Drugs over-activate this ‘reward circuit’, producing euphoria and reducing any pleasure the brain receives from naturally rewarding activities. This circuit adapts to the repeated presence of the drug, lessening its sensitivity and creating a vicious cycle of intense cravings which leads to a compulsion to keep using the drug.

Becoming addicted to drugs or is nothing to be ashamed of; nor does it make you weak or flawed. Trying but failing to achieve sobriety without help does not make anyone a failure; it simply means that drug requires more than willpower alone to overcome. But recovery and sobriety are completely possible with the right support and treatment. [1]

The First Steps Towards Recovery

Although the hardest; admitting that you have a problem and deciding to make a change is the first and most important step in recovery. Understandably, feelings of uncertainty, failure or withdrawal worries might occur as you consider the changes needed to achieve sobriety. Try to ignore these feelings as taking this first will leave you ready to get the help you need.

What Addiction Means for You

Addiction, although technically referring to the compulsive physiological and physical need for and the use of a habit-forming substance, can mean different things for different people. [2] A good example is cocaine; you don’t have to use cocaine every day to be addicted. A simple sign of addiction could be that you have tried to cut down or stop but have been unable to.

Where To Get Help

It can be nerve-wracking to make that first step towards professional help, and many find it helpful to talk with partners, friends, or family about their drug use. Our loved ones usually only want to help us and won’t judge. Explain that you are committed to achieving sobriety and ask them to support you.

Your GP is the best starting point in receiving professional help. Try to discuss your drug use honestly to allow your GP to find the best possible path for your recovery, whether that is treated with the GP or referral to NHS, charity or private drug and alcohol treatment services.

For those that don’t feel comfortable reaching out to their GP, you can self-refer to your local NHS drug and alcohol treatment services.

Your First Appointment

The first appointment is always the most daunting, as you don’t know what to expect.

  • Your health care provider will discuss your drug use and how it is affecting you. Try to be honest as staff will need the full picture to find the right treatment plan. Any prescribed medications or referrals may also rely on what and how you take them.[4]You’ll also be asked about your life concerning family, your housing situation, and any work you do.
  • Don’t be surprised if you are asked to provide a urine or saliva sample, as this is standard practice.
  • The different treatment and any specialist referral options will then be discussed with you, to create a tailored treatment plan view to supporting you as you give up drugs.
  • Staff can also tell you about any local support groups for users, families, and carers.
  • You’ll also be given a key worker who will support you, so rest assured you’ll have all the support you need.  [5]

Different Drug Addictions

Any treatment you receive will depend on what you are addicted to, as different drugs require different approaches. For example, those suffering from heroin addiction can be offered a different drug or opioid such as Methadone to reduce the harsh effects of withdrawal or the risk of buying street drugs. This means you can focus on your recovery without extra stress. [6]

In contrast, there are no such drugs that can assist with cocaine addiction, but you may be offered short term medicines to help you sleep as this is a related symptom. The treatments more likely to be beneficial for overcoming cocaine addiction are talking therapies, such as CBT.[7]

Treatments Explained

Drug addiction treatment plans can range from a variety of treatments depending on the individual’s needs, and the type of drugs they are trying to overcome. The most successful treatments include a combination of different elements such as counselling, medication, support groups and/or rehab.

Talking Therapies

Psychological therapies such as CBT or psychodynamic therapy are extremely helpful in getting to the root of a drug use problem and helping the individual to overcome it. Family members might also be offered family intervention therapy or behavioural couples therapy if both partner’s use recreational drugs.


The type of drug you are trying to overcome will determine if any medicines are prescribed. Heroin addictions are likely to be treated with methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone, due to dangerous withdrawal symptoms. 

However, medication is unlikely to aid in mental health problems that are directly caused by your use of alcohol or recreational drugs. Individuals diagnosed with a mental health problem before they started abusing other substances might be prescribed drugs to treat it. Care must be taken when using prescribed drugs not to mix them with recreational drugs; this can be dangerous as they interact negatively with each other to cause adverse effects. [8]


Detoxification can be helpful for people who would like to stop taking opioids like heroin completely, as it can help the individual cope with their withdrawal symptoms. This is the first step in the process of purging your body of drugs.

Self Help

Some prefer to take control of their treatment, and many like to obtain the support they need from support groups like Narcotics Anonymous. Your health care keyworker can point you in the directions of your nearest group.

Avoiding Harm 

Staff at your local drug service centre can also help you reduce the risk of any harm associated with drug use, which could include testing and treatment for hepatitis or HIV. [9]

Long-Term Follow Up 

Whichever treatment path you follow, it should always include long-term follow-ups to aid in preventing relapse and allowing the individual to maintain sobriety. Attending regular in-person support groups or online meetings can help keep your sobriety on track as they provide long term check-ins.

Locations of Treatment

Most of these treatments will either take place in your home, in daycare or as outpatient therapy. You may also be referred for rehab. Residential rehabilitation is particularly helpful in allowing safe medically managed drug detoxification combined with specialist multidisciplinary help. This provides a fully supportive inpatient environment.

Helping Yourself Towards Recovery

If you’re struggling or don’t feel your treatment is working, it’s essential to speak with your health care provider. You may need a more intense or longer course of treatment depending on the type of drug and how much and how often you take it. However, there are other ways you can try to help yourself and minimise the risk of relapse.

Remember to utilise the support offered by friends and family. Relationship or family counselling can also be beneficial if you are worried or have feelings that you have let them down.

Building a sober social network is imperative to avoid triggers and to obtain the support your recovery needs. Moving into a sober living home could be useful as it provides a safe, supportive place to live while recovering from drug addiction.

Learning healthy ways to cope with stress, your emotions, and your environment is essential in allowing you to overcome the problems that led to the drug abuse in the first instance. Feelings of stress, anger, sadness, frustration, and anxiety, etc., are all part of normal life, and learning to deal with these will be a key tool for your recovery as you develop healthier ways to keep your stress levels in check.


The road to recovery can be arduous and long but will change your life for the better if you simply believe you can achieve sobriety by following your treatment plan. You’ll need commitment and the ability to be kind to yourself, but there is no reason you can’t achieve and stay in recovery just like anyone else.

[1] NIDA. 2020, July 10. Drugs and the Brain. Retrieved from on 2021, June 7