Over the years, there have been many approaches in treating individuals with addiction. From mental institutions to prisons to high-end rehabs rivaling vacation resorts, addiction has been tackled by medical professionals, law enforcement, neurologists, clergy and psychologists alike. Addicts have been punished, medicated, prayed over, bribed, analyzed, isolated, you name it.
Today, treatments are still hit-and-miss, although longer stays in inpatient drug and alcohol rehab centers are providing better outcomes for participants and offer some hope. A combination of behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, medication, treatment of co-occurring disorders and life skills training also seem to help many people, especially when integrated with 12 step programs. Still, what works for one person, may not work at all for another.
One thing's for sure though. As an addict myself, I am happy that the following 7 approaches are no longer used. These treatments range from harmless, yet ineffective, to potentially dangerous. Over time, they’ve been ruled out as evidence-based treatment.
1. Electric Shock Therapy
Electric shock therapy (ECT) has been used for a variety of psychiatric and behavioral disorders for years. It was developed in 1938 and found to be an effective means of treating mental illnesses like severe depression and bipolar disorder. At first glance, electroshock therapy may seem a barbaric practice, but it is still in use today. Of course, today the procedure isn’t done on resistant patients, as was common in the past. When more advanced medications were developed, ETC was pushed to the back burner.
Even though its use as a treatment for addiction has not been found effective, there are those that maintain it is a viable method. Success stories are likely due to the fact that ECT can treat underlying psychiatric issues that may be contributing to the addiction. The downside to ECT is that it can cause severe memory loss and cognitive deficits.
2. Ultra-Rapid Detox For Opiate Addiction
For people who are dependent on opiates, the idea of ultra-rapid detox is attractive. You go in and in a short period of time (as little as 30 minutes) you are free of the problem. This treatment was developed about fifteen years ago to help addicts get through detox as quickly and painlessly as possible. However, ultra-rapid detox has serious drawbacks, and is incredibly expensive. For someone with a medical issue, the process is dangerous, even life-threatening. Even someone in good health is taking a risk. Not only that, but there is no evidence that the treatment is an effective means of treating the addiction. Other than they are no longer physically dependent on opiates.
3. Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970’s. While many people swear by it as a strategy for “curing” everything from schizophrenia to a fear of heights to addiction, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
4. Scared Straight
The Scared Straight program was introduced in the 1970s as a way to “scare” at-risk youth into behaving. It was proposed that when these kids saw the reality of life behind bars, they would be less likely to engage in drug use or criminal activities. It’s a compelling thought, however it hasn’t been shown to work, and is potentially harmful. Aside from the fact that it can traumatize kids (especially those who have likely already experienced trauma and violence) it can also backfire. Many of the participants have gone on to prison, and some actually reported finding the experience made them want to continue on to a life of crime and incarceration. Apparently, some kids thought it was cool.
5. DARE Prevention Programs
Introduced in the 1980s by First Lady Nancy Reagan as a means to keep kids off drugs, the intentions behind this program are good. Unfortunately, there’s been no evidence that it works.
6. Synanon Style Boot Camps
“Tough-love” was a big thing back in the 70s, and the cult-like organization Synanon played a big part, with heavy-duty doses of that tough-love given at their “boot camps.” Synanon promised frightened parents that their children would return to them drug-free, happier and healthier, but the reality is that it was ineffective at best, and traumatizing and harmful at worst.
7. Beta Blockers, Stimulants and More
So far, medication hasn’t been a complete answer for addiction. While it is an effective way to help people detox from opiates, benzodiazepines and alcohol, medication doesn’t cure addiction. Attempts have been made to come up with medications to treat cocaine, alcohol and stimulant addiction, but so far none of these have been proven effective.
There are very few proven treatments for addiction, and even those that are considered evidence-based don’t necessarily work for everyone. My hope and wish for the future is that science will continue to pursue the best approaches to treatment and that it be treated as a public health issue and not a criminal one. The move of the medical community to now offer a specialty in addiction sciences is a big step in the right direction. I am hopeful that as the stigma fades and awareness is raised the treatment outcomes will improve significantly.