Family, friends play key roles in treatment for addiction, doctors say

Published: Saturday, Dec. 8 2012 5:42 p.m. MST

Successful treatment for addiction and chemical dependency relies heavily on a commitment from the individuals involved, as well as a supportive system of friends and relatives

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SALT LAKE CITY — Successful treatment for addiction and chemical dependency relies heavily on a commitment from the individuals involved, as well as a supportive system of friends and relatives.

While health insurance and financial options often dictate where a person receives care, it is best to get into treatment as soon as an addict recognizes a problem is evident, said Dr. Ken Wander, a psychiatrist and medical director at Intermountain Healthcare's LDS Hospital inpatient psychiatric unit.

If families wait until desired facilities have openings, it might be too late, Wader said.

Individuals also differ in whether they should attend an intensive outpatient program or residential treatment, but the differences in cost can be significant, Wander told a caller to Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline.

"Families often want inpatient treatment, where they perceive the most invasive intervention taking place, but patients usually want the programs that are most convenient," he said, adding that outpatient programs allow a person to continue working.

Studies show that the two options offer similar outcomes, as each are equally effective in the broad spectrum, Wander said.

LDS Hospital's Dayspring Treatment Center offers a three- to five-day medical detoxification process, outpatient treatment programs and aftercare meetings that individuals and their families can attend for as long as necessary.

The program provides a structured environment while allowing participants to "live in the real world," where they can "exercise what they're learning in treatment," said Jan Frederickson, an addiction substance abuse disorder counselor at Dayspring.

When people can keep their job and stay living with family, "it gives them something to stay clean for," Frederickson said.

Couples are not advised to receive treatment or go through detox together, as it can prohibit the environment of honesty they create for themselves in the process.

Individuals without insurance or the finances to go through the often expensive treatment process can benefit from public programs offered throughout the state. Those interested must first show a sense of commitment by attending free, weekly meetings and pass a test with Assessment and Referral Services, housed at the University of Utah's department of psychiatry.

"The county-run programs are great, but there is sometimes a wait to get in," Wander said.

He said it is difficult for individuals to kick addictive habits on their own, and individuals often exhibit other behaviors that stem from underlying conditions that must also be addressed. A hospital or medical setting provides optimal access to professionals, such as social workers, who can help with depression, which is a common condition experienced by addicts.

While a family can be helpful in providing support, it is also important that doctors hear their side of the story. Parents can also sometimes provide a more extensive medical history than the patient alone.

"Individuals in the throes of addiction are not the best historians, as their memory is often impaired by whatever substance they're abusing," Wander said.

Privacy laws, however, can be difficult to navigate.

Wander suggests that parents and family members write and mail letters to doctors regarding the details of their loved ones' pasts. The method bypasses the physician's acknowledgment that a patient is being treated, a part of the law that cannot be breached by email or a phone call.

Oftentimes, addicts require multiple therapies, including for depression, various sleep disorders and other problems that can either stem from the addiction or have been intensified by it. The trick, Frederickson said, is sticking with it. She said some patients stay in aftercare for years, just because it feels right to them.

The health hotline is offered to readers through a partnership between Intermountain Healthcare and the Deseret News. It covers a different health topic the second Saturday of each month.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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