Treatment | Family & Friends

The 11 Indicators of Quality Addiction Treatment


Research has identified elements that quality substance use disorder treatment facilities should possess.

Whether you are seeking help for yourself, a family member, or a friend, finding the right treatment for a substance use problem or addiction can be overwhelming and confusing. Our partners are working tirelessly every day to address the many factors that are contributing to this uneven and chaotic treatment landscape. Our goal is to give you the all the necessary information to help you find the right starting point for you or your loved one.

  1. Assessment and Treatment Matching (Identify)

Finding effective help for an alcohol or other drug use disorder begins with reliable and valid screening for a range of substance use disorders and related conditions, as well as any physical or mental health conditions. This is followed by a more comprehensive assessment of substance use history and related disorders, medical history, psychiatric history, an individual’s family and social networks, and assessment of available recovery resources (“recovery capital”). These assessments help uncover the many interrelated factors affecting the patient’s functioning, life, and readiness to change. This careful and comprehensive assessment finds important aspects of a person’s life, such as trauma or chronic pain, which aids in long-term recovery success.

  1. Comprehensive, Integrated Treatment Approach (Treat)

As discussed above, patients in treatment may have co-occurring psychiatric disorders, like depression and anxiety, as well as other medical problems like hepatitis C, alcoholic liver disease, or sexually transmitted diseases. Programs should incorporate comprehensive approaches that directly address these additional concerns, or otherwise assertively link patients to needed services. Treating the whole patient will improve the likelihood of substance use disorder recovery and remission.

  1. Emphasis and assertive linkage to subsequent phases of treatment and recovery support           

Continuing care is defined as the ‘ongoing care of patients suffering from chronic incapacitating illness or disease.’ Ongoing care provides essential recovery-specific social support and necessary recovery support services after the patient leaves or transitions away from the initial phase of treatment. Programs that strongly emphasize this continuing care aspect will provide more than just phone numbers or a list of people to call, but instead, will provide assertive linkages to community resources, on-going health care providers, peer-support groups, and recovery residences. This ‘warm hand-off’ or personalized introduction to potential peers and resources in the recovery community, produces substantially better outcomes.

  1. A dignified, Respectful, Environment

The treatment program should possess at least the same type of quality environment as one might see in other medical environments (e.g., oncology or diabetes care). You don’t need palm trees and luxury mattresses, but you should expect a clean, bright, cheerful, and comfortable facility. It is important that the program treats substance use disorders with the same professionalism and allocates similar resources for patient care as other chronic conditions. Creating a respectful and dignified environment may be particularly important for addiction patients because those suffering from substance use disorders often feel as if they’ve lost their self-respect and dignity. A respectful environment helps them regain it.

  1. Significant Other and/or Family Involvement in Treatment

Engaging significant others and loved ones in treatment increases the likelihood that the patient will stay in treatment and that treatment gains will be sustained after treatment has ended. Techniques to clarify family roles, reframe behavior, teach management skills, encourage monitoring and boundary setting, re-intervention plans, and help access community services. All family involvement strengthens the entire family and helps family members cope with the family changes that occur in recovery.

  1. Employ strategies to Help Engage and Retain Patients in Treatment

Dropout from addiction treatment within the first month of care is around 50% nationally. Dropouts lead to worse outcomes, so it is vital to employ strategies to enhance engagement and retention. These include creating an atmosphere of mutual trust through clear communication and transparency of program rules, regulations, and expectations. Treatment programs can also work to retain patients by providing person-centered, empathic, counseling that works to build strong relationships. They also can use motivational incentives to reward patients for continued attendance and abstinence.

  1. Use of Evidence-based and Evidence-informed Practices

Programs that deliver services founded on scientific research and principles and that are delivering the available “best practices” tend to have better outcomes. In addition to psychological interventions, these should include accessibility to FDA approved medications for addiction (e.g., buprenorphine/naloxone, methadone, naltrexone/depot naltrexone, acomprosate) as well as psychotropic medication for other types of psychiatric conditions (e.g., SSRIs etc.). This is typically combined with qualified staff (see below).

  1. Qualified Staff, Ongoing Training, and Adequate Staff Supervision

Having multi-disciplinary staff (e.g., addiction, medicine, psychiatry, spirituality) can help patients uncover and address a broad array of needs that can aid addiction recovery and improve overall functioning and psychological wellbeing. Staff with graduate degrees, and adequate licensing or board certification in these specialty areas are indicators of higher quality programs. In addition, clinical supervision and team meetings should take place at least once or twice a week for outpatient programs and three to five times a week for residential and inpatient programs.

  1. Personalized Approaches that include Specialized Populations, Gender and Cultural Competence

Stemming from individualized comprehensive screening and assessment, programs should treat all patients as individuals attending to their needs accordingly. One size does not fit all, and neither does one treatment approach work for every individual. High-quality treatment programs identify the potentially different needs of men and women, adolescents versus adults, and those from different minority communities (e.g. LGBT) or cultural backgrounds, creating in turn, treatment and recovery plans that address their specific needs and acknowledge their available strengths and recovery resources.

  1. Measurement of Program Performance Including During-treatment “Outcomes”

A further indicator of quality treatment is having reliable, valid measurement systems in place to track patients’ response to treatment. Similar to regular assessment of blood pressure at each check-up in treating hypertension, addiction treatment programs should collect “addiction and mental health vital signs” in order to monitor the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the individualized treatment plan and adjust it accordingly when needed. Without any kind of standardized metrics, it is difficult to document and demonstrate patients’ progress.

  1. External Accreditation from Nationally Recognized Quality Monitoring Agencies                             

Accreditation from external regulatory organizations such as the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO; aka “the Joint Commission”), the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and the Council on Accreditation (COA); and other programs licensed by the state are required to offer minimum levels of evidence-based care. These licensing and accreditation requirements serve as quality assurance that the treatment program is incorporating a certain level of evidence-based care in its model and is open to random audit of its clinical care.

This guide was developed with the guidance of the Recovery Research Institute. Please visit their site for more evidenced-based information on treatment and recovery.


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Facts About Drugs

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Addiction: Defined

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