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Opioid Awareness

Plan for a Marathon on the Road to Recovery

Photo: Courtesy of Isaac Wendland

Paul H. Earley, M.D., DFASAM

President, American Society of Addiction Medicine

People with addiction, a disease of isolation and despair, might experience setbacks due to the uncertainty of the world today. But they should not lose hope, as evidence-based treatment does work.

Many of us are feeling desperate as jobs are lost, regular activities are curtailed, health and safety is threatened, and contact with family and friends is limited. People living with addiction, a chronic brain disease characterized by episodes of remission and lapses in recovery, should recognize lapses as a stage in the recovery process and seek the care they need to re-establish remission.

Science-based interventions

Treatment for addiction can be successful. It requires people to examine every part of their lives, an approach that physicians refer to as a multidimensional assessment, to identify the practical recovery tools necessary to sustain remission.

Well-trained clinicians use a multidimensional assessment such as the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Criteria®, which essentially is an evidence-based roadmap for treatment. This helps to determine which medications, lifestyle changes, emotions-based interventions, and social supports will help patients reengineer their lives. As the severity of substance use disorder varies, the type and intensity of care that meets the needs of one patient often looks very different from another patient’s best care plan.

While dealing with issues and emotions is important, clinical evidence supports the use of medication along with professional care that teaches drug refusal skills, other relapse prevention strategies, and pain and depression management. These tools help patients navigate challenging situations that inevitably emerge on the long road ahead.

Plan for a marathon

Overcoming addiction often requires multiple attempts and a steadfast commitment. There is no magic cure that allows people with a moderate-to-severe opioid use disorder to sprint to the end of the race. Like training for a marathon, it takes time and concerted effort to rearrange a person’s life for recovery.

Assessing what level of care is needed, not where to go for treatment, should be the first step. An evaluation with an addiction medicine physician or other addiction expert can help patients focus on the big picture. Additionally, the online Addiction Treatment Needs Assessment, available at, provides patients and loved ones with guidance on starting their search for care.

Clinical guidance combined with careful cost-management puts patients on the right track for improved outcomes, increasing their chances of success in the long run.

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