Based on a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 4 percent of Americans met the criteria for a substance use disorder within the past year, while approximately 10 percent of Americans have struggled with a substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime (NIDA, 2015). Despite the need for substance abuse treatment, only 4.8 or 18.5 percent of individuals that needed treatment received treatment to target their substance use disorder (NIH, 2019). 

It is important to be aware of different treatment options, such as outpatient or inpatient/residential treatment programming, to increase accessibility to substance abuse treatment. Outpatient treatment involves a variety of programming, such as individual and/or group sessions at a specific treatment facility. Inpatient treatment programming can target more complex problems, such as co-occurring disorders. Structured programming is offered 24 hours a day, including access to medical care and safe housing. 

The goal of either kind of treatment is to support the individual in maintaining sobriety by teaching specific life skills to navigate employment, relationships, healthy recreation, and coping skills. Teaching these skills will help navigate their addiction and/or mental health disorders. However, it is important to ask the right questions in order to ensure you find treatment that will help you on your path to recovery. Here are a few things to consider when identifying an ethical treatment center.

1. An Individualized Approach

Recovery is different for everyone, which is why you should identify a treatment center that incorporates an individual approach to meet your needs. There are many different treatment modalities and treatment centers utilize different approaches. Some treatment programs include 12 Step programming, while others offer a variety of behavioral therapies to help individuals change their thoughts and behaviors related to substance use. Other substance abuse treatment facilities may offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to increase the cessation rates of their patients. 

When researching treatment programs, it is important for those seeking sobriety to determine what approach would work best to meet their individualized needs. For example, medical detox may be required as a component of the treatment program to stabilize patients and minimize their withdrawal symptoms. Accurate information about patients’ recent patterns of use is necessary to determine the need for medical detox.

A quality addiction treatment center should inquire about your unique situation and aim to understand it, with questions like “If treatment was previously attempted, what treatment approaches were effective or ineffective for you?”. Any facility that fails to do this is trying to fit you into a one size fits all approach and will not have your best interest at heart.

Effective treatment will include a biological, psychological, social, and spiritual assessment that ultimately shapes an individualized treatment plan. The assessment process helps the clinician better understand your unique needs and what treatment approaches will best support your recovery efforts.

2. Ask your own questions

Make sure to ask the right questions to ensure you will have the skills and support systems necessary to stay sober beyond treatment. Being inquisitive will help you better understand the goals of the treatment facility. the standards the facility is held to, and what will be expected of you as a patient. Some questions you could ask to get a better feel of the experience are:

  • How is drug use monitored during treatment? 
  • Do patients complete urine tests on a regular basis? 
  • Are specific outcome tools employed to track sobriety? 

Additionally, it is important to inquire about accreditation. A quality treatment facility will be accredited by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). JCAHO offers a national level of accreditation for healthcare entities; JCAHO accredits over 19,000 healthcare organizations throughout the United States (The Joint Commission, 2021). The Joint Commission is dedicated to improve the quality of patient care by ensuring safety and effective outcomes in health care organizations. Having this level of accreditation illustrates a commitment to continual improvement to enhance patient care. Don’t hesitate to ask for an agency’s credentials.

Also, be sure to include questions pertaining to the length of care. Many treatment programs may be 30 days in duration, which is usually long enough to detox but might not be long enough to address the long-term skills needed for sustained sobriety. An individual may require long-term treatment that lasts six months to a year. 

Make sure to inquire about what support is available after the completion of treatment. It is important for a treatment center to have a commitment to your sobriety outside their treatment facility.

3. Effective treatment programming

Treatment is a process and must be individualized to address the complexities of addiction. The approaches must target the unique needs of the patient, beyond the substance use disorder. Effective treatment programming will involve coordination of detoxification services, targeted behavioral counseling, medication-assisted treatment to increase cessation efforts, effective assessment and treatment options for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. Effective programming will also address relapse prevention skills (NIDA, 2019). 

Additionally, patient needs will change throughout the course of their treatment and their treatment plan must be adapted to address these evolving needs. Reviewing your treatment plan allows the patient and their clinician to identify progress and create additional goals. It is important to understand the frequency of this review process.

Committing to long-term treatment is an important step for many people on their path to recovery. Quality treatment programming can benefit an individual’s physical and mental well-being. However, it is important to research treatment options to determine the right fit. Ask the right questions to ensure the treatment facility is committed to serving you and your specific recovery needs.  


National Institute on Drug Abuse (2019). Treatment approaches for drug addiction.

National Institute on Health (2015, November 18). 10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives: 75 percent report not receiving any form of treatment. 

The Joint Commission (2020). Facts about Joint Commission accreditation and certification.