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Los Angeles is a thriving, creative city, but it’s one where drug abuse, addiction and dependence are serious problems.1 Drug overdose, including alcohol, is the fourth leading cause of death in Los Angeles County, and drug offenses account for the highest percentage of felony arrests in the county.

Around 60,000 local residents seek treatment through publicly funded rehab programs every year, according to the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department. Getting help for a drug problem can potentially save your life and ensure you don’t end up incarcerated or incapacitated by medical or mental illness.

Treatment works. It helps you improve your self-esteem, find purpose in life and enjoy a sober life. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people who need help with a substance use disorder seek addiction treatment in Los Angeles. Some are afraid of who they’ll be without drugs or alcohol, while others are concerned about the cost of treatment. Still others may not want co-workers, family or friends to know they have a drug problem and therefore try on their own to quit, but in most of these cases, life becomes an alternating cycle of relapse and remission.

Treatment works. It helps you improve your self-esteem, find purpose in life and enjoy a sober life.

This article is a comprehensive overview of substance abuse, addiction and dependence and explains how treatment works to restore your life and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Abuse, Dependence and Addiction

Drug abuse, dependence and addiction are not the same thing. Knowing the differences can help guide treatment choices as well as help you understand the complexities of substance use disorders.

Drug Abuse

The University of Maryland defines drug abuse as using illegal drugs, misusing prescription drugs, or drinking alcohol in a way that causes problems in your life, such as financial, relationship, legal or health issues.2 For some, drug abuse can lead to addiction and dependence. Whether it does is about 50 percent genetic and 50 percent environmental, biological and cultural.


Dependence on drugs is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when the drug use is discontinued. When you abuse drugs, your brain changes the activity of neurotransmitters in order to compensate for the presence of the drug. These changes in brain function lead to developing a tolerance for a drug wherein you need increasingly higher doses to get the same effect.

Chronic abuse leads to more and more dramatic changes in brain function, which leads to heavier drug use to compensate, and at some point, brain function may reach a tipping point so that it now operates more “normally” when the drug is present than when it’s not. When the drug is withheld, brain function begins to rebound, and this is what causes withdrawal symptoms, which may range from mild to severe and in some rare cases may be dangerous or fatal.


Addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of a drug despite negative consequences for your health, finances, relationships or legal status. Marked by changes in brain structure and function, addiction leads to changes in thought and behavior.

Drug abuse affects the centers of the brain related to learning, reward and memory. The brain makes an initial connection between pleasure and drug use, and each time you use, that connection becomes stronger. Eventually, it may cause intense cravings similar to those that govern essential life-giving functions like eating and procreating. Compulsive drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors mark the development of an addiction.

The brain makes an initial connection between pleasure and drug use, and each time you use, that connection becomes stronger.

The vast majority of experts agree that addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease that is diagnosable and treatable. Just as lifestyle choices can lead to other chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, lifestyle choices are a factor in developing an addiction. But once present, addiction—like other chronic diseases—requires medical treatment to send it into remission and prevent relapse.

Addiction is treatable, but willpower and good intentions alone are rarely enough to send an addiction into remission for the long-term.3 Treatment is essential for addressing the complex underlying issues that led to the drug abuse and educating an individual about the disease and the skills and strategies essential for managing it.

Treating Dependence

The first step of a high-quality addiction treatment program addresses the physical dependence on drugs or alcohol through medical detox.

Detox is the process of allowing traces of a drug to leave the body so that brain function can begin to return to normal. If you’ve developed a dependence on drugs or alcohol, withdrawal symptoms probably set in when you try to stop using or cut down on your use. These symptoms can range from mild to excruciating, and they can quickly lead you back to using just to end the discomfort.

Medical detox is offered through inpatient and outpatient drug rehab programs. Supervised by medical and mental health professionals, medical detox involves administering various medications as they’re needed to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and even shorten the time it takes to detox.

medical detox involves administering various medications as they’re needed to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and even shorten the time it takes to detox.

Medical detox does not address the underlying causes of addiction and does very little to curb future drug use.4 Detox only addresses the physical dependence on drugs.

Treating Addiction

Addiction is far more complex than dependence and requires intensive therapy to address the complicated underlying factors, which often include trauma, mental illness, stress and family dysfunction. During treatment, clients learn about the mechanics of addiction and develop a toolkit of skills, strategies and techniques to withstand cravings, combat stress and improve social functioning to reduce the risk of relapse.

Addiction is far more complex than dependence and requires intensive therapy to address the complicated underlying factors, which often include trauma, mental illness, stress and family dysfunction.

There is no single right way to approach addiction treatment.5 The path to recovery is different for everyone, and a holistic approach is absolutely essential for improving the chances of long-term recovery.

A holistic approach to treatment addresses issues of body, mind and spirit. It involves a variety of both traditional and alternative research-based therapies, and it requires meeting the various needs in your life. These needs may include addressing any legal or financial problems, mental or medical health issues, vocational or educational needs, or housing or transportation issues.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identifies four major dimensions of a life in recovery:

  • Health: Managing physical and mental health problems, engaging in a high level of self-care and making healthy, informed choices that promote good overall health.
  • Home: Having a stable and safe place to live.
  • Purpose: Conducting activities that are meaningful, such as working, attending school, taking care of family members, engaging in creative endeavors and having the independence and resources to fully engage with and participate in society.
  • Community: Having healthy relationships and a social network that offers support, love, friendship and hope.

A high-quality treatment program will address each of these dimensions with an end goal of increasing self-esteem and self-efficacy, helping you identify a purpose in life, addressing interpersonal issues and helping you develop an arsenal of skills, strategies and techniques for addressing triggers like cravings and stress.

The Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

Many people believe that the best treatment is inpatient treatment, but if you have the motivation to recover and enjoy plenty of support at home and in the community, outpatient treatment can be highly successful in helping you overcome your addiction and live a happy, healthy life.

Because inpatient treatment should ideally last at least 90 days, many who need treatment are unable to commit to that much time away from work, school or family responsibilities. Outpatient treatment offers a high level of flexibility while providing intensive counseling and other essential services for those in recovery. Other benefits of outpatient treatment include:

  • A higher level of privacy, since there’s no need to explain an extended absence.
  • The ability to put new skills and strategies to use right away in real-world situations.
  • The ability to continue working, attending school or caring for the family while receiving treatment.

Traditional Therapies Used in Treatment

A high-quality treatment program will offer a range of therapies to help you on your path to sobriety and to improve various aspects of your life. Therapy is administered in both individual and group settings.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

The most successful and widely used therapy for addiction treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which addresses your thoughts and behaviors and the relationship between them. Through cognitive-behavioral therapy, you learn to evaluate your thoughts, ideas, attitudes, feelings and behaviors and replace those that are self-destructive with healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational enhancement therapy helps you resolve any ambivalence about engaging in rehab and maintaining long-term sobriety. Comprised of up to four therapy sessions, this program helps you strengthen your motivation for quitting drugs and build a plan for long-term change. It’s also been found to improve engagement in treatment, which is essential for the best chances of success.

Family Therapy

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence stresses that addiction is a family disease.6 It affects the very fabric of the family system, leading to dysfunctional behaviors from all family members as they try to maintain stability, cope with negative experiences and keep a sense of order in the household. Family dysfunction is a major relapse trigger that must be addressed for the best possible outcome of treatment.

Family dysfunction is a major relapse trigger that must be addressed for the best possible outcome of treatment.

Family therapy is an essential component of standard addiction treatment. During family therapy sessions, family members address a variety of issues, learn healthier ways of communicating and work to restore function to the household. Family members also participate in educational workshops that help them understand addiction and how to best support their loved one in recovery.

Peer Support Groups

Peer support groups like Smart Recovery or Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous are a highly effective way to increase personal accountability and responsibility in recovery. They give you the opportunity to help others through rough patches and get additional support during your own difficult days. They promote healthy relationships with others in recovery, foster everyday mindfulness and enhance the coping skills that are essential for successful ongoing recovery.

Alternative Therapies Used in Treatment

A variety of alternative therapies are shown by a large body of research to be highly effective for treating addiction. A high-quality program will employ a number of alternative therapies to complement traditional approaches to treatment.

Music Therapy

Music therapy involves listening to, moving to and playing music to help you identify and work through difficult emotions. Music therapy is associated with a higher level of engagement in treatment and an increased motivation to change.7 It helps individuals achieve and maintain positive emotional states and improve self-esteem, reduces stress and helps participants find common ground and develop strong relationships.

Art Therapy

Art therapy involves looking at, talking about and creating visual art to help you express yourself, tell your story and synthesize difficult emotions and experiences through creative and imaginative exercises. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health points to a decade of research finding that art therapy is effective for helping to heal emotional wounds, increase self-awareness, promote self-reflection and alter negative patterns of thinking and behaving.8


Biofeedback therapy helps you learn to control your body’s responses to stress, including high blood pressure, an increase in body temperature and muscle tension. During biofeedback therapy, the therapist attaches sensors to your body, and various body functions are displayed on a monitor. By watching the monitor as you conduct exercises like deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, you learn to reduce stress and anxiety on the spot to mitigate these powerful triggers.


In recent years, meditation has become increasingly mainstream as its benefits are proven through research. Mindful meditation helps people manage a wide range of symptoms associated with numerous medical conditions, including addiction. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, improve self-esteem and self-awareness, reduce cravings, improve emotional states and promote an overarching sense of calm and well-being.

Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy takes individuals out of a clinical setting and into nature, where they solve problems, work together toward a common goal and commune with something larger than themselves. A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment cites adventure therapy as an effective way to reduce the risk of relapse, improve cravings, reduce the frequency of negative thoughts, improve decision-making skills and build upon the motivation to change.9

Spiritual Counseling

Whether or not it involves worshipping an entity called “God,” spirituality is an important focus in treatment. Spirituality is a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves and usually involves a search for personal meaning in life. Spirituality is a powerful tool in recovery, but it can be a difficult topic to discuss or even define. Spiritual counseling can help you get in touch with your deeper self and hone your relationship with Nature, the Universe, Love, God or any other “higher power” that helps you see a bigger picture and greater meaning in life.

Sober Living Facilities

In addition to treatment, sober living residences can make a huge difference in long-term recovery, especially for those who may lack essential practical skills like managing money or maintaining a home. These facilities are ideal for people with an unsafe or unstable living situation or who feel they need extra support during their journey through early recovery. An article published in the Journal of Psychoactive drugs points out that sober living facilities can mean the difference between relapse and successful long-term recovery

Sober living facilities provide a safe, sober place to live that offers a bit of structure and enforces essential rules to help residents develop healthy relationships, practical skills and a higher level of self-care and self-efficacy. They help people transition from a life of addiction to a life of sobriety in a way that’s filled with positivity, a high level of support, and a sense of joy.

Benefits of spending some time in a sober living facility include:

  • The opportunity to develop healthy relationships with other non-users.
  • The opportunity to practice skills and strategies learned in treatment in a safe, supportive environment.
  • A high level of support, including mandatory on-site peer support group meetings.
  • Regular drug testing to enhance motivation for sobriety.
  • The opportunity to develop practical household skills like shopping for groceries, cooking, tidying up and managing household finances.

A Word About Relapse

The relapse rates for drug addiction are similar to those of other chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension.11 Around 40 to 60 percent of people who are in recovery will relapse at some point.

It’s important to note that relapse is no longer considered to be the catastrophe we once took it for. Rather, it’s an opportunity for growth. A relapse is an indication of a missing skill, such as coping with stress or engaging in a higher level of self-care. When a relapse occurs, swift intervention will help you determine what went wrong and develop the skills you need to avoid future relapse.

When a relapse occurs, swift intervention will help you determine what went wrong and develop the skills you need to avoid future relapses.

The attitude with which you approach a relapse can make or break successful recovery.12 Those who suffer from guilt, shame, self-hatred and frustration may end up scrapping the idea of sobriety altogether, often out of fear that a life of sobriety is impossible to achieve.

But those who approach a relapse with a positive attitude and a strong sense of hope for the future tend to recover more quickly from the relapse. They often come back to sobriety with more motivation, better skills and a stronger resolve to maintain long-term recovery.

Relapse is considered to be an integral part of recovery for many, and it’s essential to forgive yourself, build missing skills and move on. For over half of all people in recovery, it takes more than one attempt at sobriety for it to stick, and that’s perfectly normal.

There is Hope

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cites hope as the foundation of recovery. Hope is the belief that the challenges and conditions of recovery can be overcome, and it’s a belief in a future that’s addiction-free and fulfilling.

Whether you’re mired in addiction or concerned that your drug abuse may lead to addiction or dependence, treatment works to put you on a solid path to long-term recovery while helping you get to know yourself better and find true joy and meaning in life. Taking the first step and seeking addiction treatment in Los Angeles is, for many, the hardest part of recovery. It can be scary to contemplate a life without drugs, but treatment addresses this and other fears from the start to help you move successfully through treatment and beyond.

Give us a call or come visit our California Treatment Center


  1. Fact Sheet: Drug Use and Misuse in Los Angeles County. (2010, September). Retrieved from http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/sapc/FactSheet/DrugUseFactSheet.pdf
  2. Drug Abuse. (2016, January 31). Retrieved from http://umm.edu/health/medical/ency/articles/drug-abuse
  3. DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. (2016, August). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
  4. Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Science Says. (2016, February). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
  5. Recovery and Recovery Support. (2015, October 5). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/recovery
  6. Family Disease. (2016, February 24). Retrieved from https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/family-disease
  7. Aletraris, L., Paino, M., Edmond, M. B., Roman, P. M., & Bride, B. E. (2014, October). The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. Journal of Addiction Nursing, 25(4), 190-196. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268880/
  8. Stuckey, H. L. & Nobel, J. (2010, February). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254-263. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/
  9. Bennett, L. W., Cardone, S., & Jarczyk, J. (1998, September). Effects of a Therapeutic Camping Program on Addiction Recovery. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 15(5), 469-74. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9751006
  10. Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010, December) What Did We Learn from Our Study on Sober Living Houses and Where Do We Go from Here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425-433. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057870/
  11. Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. (2014, July). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
  12. Melemis, S. M. (2015, September 3). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325-332. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/
Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles
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