Drug treatment can seem like a big step so here’s a brief guide on what happens in drug treatment.

Treatment of drug problems is like any other treatment:

  1. you notice that something is wrong;
  2. go to get expert help
  3. are assessed
  4. and a course of treatment is discussed with you.

For the treatment of drug problems:

1. You may have realised that you aren’t in full control of your drug use and that it’s causing problems. The problems could be a lack of money, strained friendships, broken relationships, losing a job, or getting arrested.  And if you are getting a problem with prescribed or over-the-counter medicines, you may find you have been increasingly hiding the amount you are taking.


2. There are two main ways you can choose to get in to treatment – self-referral or through your GP:


  • Self-referral – when you go straight to the treatment service to get help. Details of treatment services are available online, from your local NHS services, the phone book, etc. 
  • Through your GP – your GP makes a referral for you to a treatment service.


3.Before treatment can start, you will discuss your drug use with a doctor, other health professional or a trained substance misuse worker. They will let you know what treatment options are available for your drug use and any other health problems you may have. You’ll be asked to develop and agree a care plan that details your immediate and longer-term treatment goals and that is updated throughout your time in treatment as your needs and circumstances change.


4.Your treatment should be tailored to your circumstances and needs – everybody’s treatment journey is slightly different. But, most treatment will involve elements of talking therapies to help you achieve your goals, with drug treatment prescribed for only certain drug problems:


  • Talking therapies are when you talk about your drug problems. This may involve exploring the reasons for your drug use but may focus on what you can do to resist taking drugs or to achieve other positive goals, or may involve a mixture of these. Motivational treatment approaches, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are well known therapies used, but there are others. Depending on the circumstances, as well as individual therapy, you might be offered group therapy or a period of therapeutic work with your partner or with your family. For many problem drugs, talking therapies alongside care planning and supportive work are really the only proven treatments. For problems such as cocaine dependence, there are no drug treatments that have been shown to be effective.
  • Substitute prescribing refers to prescribing an alternative to the problem or street drug, e.g. methadone instead of street heroin. It is only widely available for problems with opiates (like street heroin) as part of the first stage of treatment. It is also used in some carefully selected individuals with problems with tranquillisers (like diazepam or Valium). Prescribed methadone is probably the best known alternative to street heroin but buprenorphine is also used. The initial aim is usually to replace the very dangerous street drug with a much safer prescribed opiate. The longer-term goals of substitute prescribing are much wider and include first stabilising you on a dose of medication that avoids you experiencing any withdrawals, and on a dose that helps you to stop using your problem drug; and then using the initial period of stability to help you take the next steps to full recovery. There is very good evidence to support the use of opiate substitution treatment as one part of a path to recovery. The aim is usually then for the dosage of the substitute drug to be decreased, alongside talking treatments and other support for recovery agreed as part of the overall care plan.


Recovery from a drug problem often involves a long-term lifestyle change, and a number of social factors can help you to not use drugs (called abstinence) and can help you to achieve an improved quality of life. These include having stable accommodation, developing a new network of non-drug using friends, re-engaging in education or work, and support from others who have had the similar problems. Mutual aid groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous, can play an important role in this for many people; and new forms of peer support (e.g. Smart Recovery groups) have been developing recently in the UK.

Intensive rehabilitation is when you attend a special centre where you receive your treatment daily in a structured and more intensive way. This may be provided on a day patient basis in your local area but is commonly provided as residential rehabilitation when you live away from your usual circumstances and influences, usually to focus on achieving and sustaining long-term abstinence and recovery goals.

View as PDF


The Have I Got A Problem website is a free online resource to help people better understand any issues or concerns they may have about mental health or addiction. The website includes resources specifically focused to; general Mental Health, Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Insecurities, Self-harm Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Anger Management, Eating Disorders, Coping, general Addiction, Alcohol, Smoking, Gambling, Drugs, Cocaine, Heroin, Marijuana (Cannabis) Ecstasy, PCP, Mephedrone, Ketamine & Crystal Meth.

The site was created to give the public information to help them understand mental health and addiction issues and to assist people in making better informed decisions about their life and personal choices. was created and is run by 'Advising Communities’, which is a UK registered charity (Charity No. 1061055)


"I want to stop myself from doing drugs before it's too late. I want to get clean and turn my life around before I start taking harder drugs."


MoreSend us your Quotes

Tips & Hints

  • Decide to make a change

    For many people struggling with addiction, the biggest and toughest step toward recovery is deciding to make a change. It’s normal to...
  • Reach out for support

    Don’t try to go it alone. Whatever treatment approach you choose, having a solid support system is essential. The more positive influ...
  • Keep triggers and cravings in check

    While getting sober from drugs is an important first step, it’s only the beginning of the recovery process. Once sober, the brain nee...
  • Learn healthy ways to cope with problems

    Even once you’ve recovered from drug addiction, you’ll still have to face the issues that led to your drug problems in the first pl...
  • Don’t let relapse keep you down

    Relapse is a common part of the recovery process from drug addiction. While relapse is understandably frustrating and discouraging, it ...
  • More Tips & Hints