Early intervention can help to reduce symptoms and improve health and wellbeing in those suffering from substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder (the clinical descriptors for drug addiction and alcoholism).
While addiction is incurable, it is a treatable condition. With comprehensive and continuous care, it is possible to recover from addiction to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs. Early intervention can help mild substance use disorders from developing into moderate or severe SUDs.
If substance use disorder is not treated, symptoms typically worsen. Fortunately, there are many evidence-based early intervention strategies to help connect those in need of treatment with rehab centers and mental health professionals.
What is Early Intervention?
Early intervention can happen in many settings, including:
Mental health clinic
Primary care doctor’s office
In many cases, early intervention comes when the person is not looking for help with addiction or mental health issues. This can take the form of an intervention involving friends and family members hoping to help someone with an addiction engage with treatment. Others run into early intervention services when seeing a doctor or social service for an unrelated health condition.
The core goal of early intervention is to help the individual concerned to moderate or discontinue substance use before a mild SUD becomes worse and you become more dependent on substances to the extent of severe addiction.
Early intervention can improve health and overall functioning in the person grappling with addiction. If addiction is caught before it fully develops, outpatient treatment is proven effective. Without this, more complicated and intensive residential rehab might be required.
Screening is the first step in early intervention. There are many tools doctors can use to screen for substance misuse and substance use disorders.
Expect to answer questions based on the diagnostic criteria for addiction in DSM-5-TR, the most current edition of APA’s benchmark diagnostic tool.
If your responses to screening questions suggest you are at risk of substance abuse, a healthcare professional will show you how your substance use compares to levels considered safe or moderate. At this stage of early intervention, a doctor may give you some basic advice on making healthier decisions regarding substance use.
Many people confronted by early interventions remain ambivalent about seeking treatment. Motivational interviewing is an approach that is proven effective for treating substance use disorders. A counselor will help you explore your motivation for altering your patterns of substance use.
In the event of the early intervention provider determining that a brief intervention is insufficient for dealing with your SUD, you can expect a referral to a specialist.
If it is not possible to arrest substance use at an early stage, an intervention will pave the way for inpatient or outpatient treatment at a drug and alcohol rehab.
Why is Early Intervention Important?
Addiction is defined by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) as a chronic and relapsing condition. A brain disorder, addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of substances despite obviously negative outcomes.
Early intervention programs of all types can help stop an addiction from progressing from mild to moderate or severe substance use disorder.
How about early intervention age?
Well, many substance abuse problems start during early adolescence. Many teens experiment with alcohol and drugs, using substances for some time before any signs of abuse or addiction manifest. Adults who start experimenting with the use of addictive substances can also face the same problems. Successful intervention hinges identifying the warning signs of drug or alcohol addiction.
Look out for the following red flags for substance abuse:
Loss of interest in favored activities
New social circle
Spending large amounts of time using substances
Early intervention acts as a bridge between prevention and substance use disorder treatment.
If transportation or mobility issues prevents someone from attending a rehab center, early intervention services can help arrange remote therapy or telehealth. Studies show that remote therapy can offer similar outcomes to face-to-face treatment.
Benefits of Early Intervention
There are many advantages of early intervention services for addiction, including:
Intervening early can catch the person while they remain in regular contact with healthier environments and influences.
An early intervention lays out hope for positive long-term effects and sustained recovery at a time when the person may feel gloomy about the future.
Early interventions help to arrest a cycle of substance use before it becomes too central to the individual’s life.
Early intervention services can help connect someone with addiction with treatment before the physical side effects of alcohol or drug abuse become too pronounced.
The earlier the intervention, the more chance there is of preventing the person’s life trajectory from shifting too radically.
Family members of the person with an addiction can learn how to change any unhealthy or enabling behaviors that could be contributing to the person’s ongoing substance abuse.
Early intervention is liable to make treatment more straightforward than if the addiction were allowed to continue unchecked.