Every year, state and federal governments spend more than $15 billion, and insurers at least $5 billion more, on substance-abuse treatment services for some four million people. That amount may soon increase sharply: last year, Congress passed the mental health parity law, which for the first time includes addiction treatment under a federal law requiring that insurers cover mental and physical ailments at equal levels.Treatment must be tailor-made to fit the individual. People come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their problems. Isn't it reasonable to expect that there would be various treatment methods? Some may not like to admit it, but treatment often involves trial-and-error: if one form doesn't work, then the therapist has to switch gears and try something else. Evidence-based therapies seek to eliminate trial-and-error.
Many clinics across the county have waiting lists, and researchers estimate that some 20 million Americans who could benefit from treatment do not get it.
Yet very few rehabilitation programs have the evidence to show that they are effective. The resort-and-spa private clinics generally do not allow outside researchers to verify their published success rates. The publicly supported programs spend their scarce resources on patient care, not costly studies.
And the field has no standard guidelines. Each program has its own philosophy; so, for that matter, do individual counselors. No one knows which approach is best for which patient, because these programs rarely if ever track clients closely after they graduate. Even Alcoholics Anonymous, the best known of all the substance-abuse programs, does not publish data on its participants’ success rate.
When practiced faithfully, evidence-based therapies give users their best chance to break a habit. Among the therapies are prescription drugs like naltrexone, for alcohol dependence, and buprenorphine, for addiction to narcotics, which studies find can help people kick their habits.
Another is called the motivational interview, a method intended to harden clients’ commitment upon entering treatment. In M.I., as it is known, the counselor, through skilled questioning, has the addict explain why he or she has a problem, and why it is important to quit, and set goals. Studies find that when clients mark their path in this way — instead of hearing the lecture from a counselor, as in many traditional programs — they stay in treatment longer.
"Motivational interviewing" appears to currently be the method with the most buzz. When I went through grad school 13 years ago, everyone was talking about brief therapy.