Deciding to seek treatment for alcohol and other drugs is a big step, and it can feel overwhelming for someone who already has a lot happening in their life.

We take you through the process and describe some of the different treatment options available to help you plan what to do. If it’s your loved one who is considering treatment, you might like to share this page with them to start thinking about what type of treatment will meet their needs.

How do I know if I need treatment?

You should seek help if your alcohol or drug use is affecting your:

  • health
  • family
  • relationships
  • work
  • school
  • financial
  • other life situation.

There are support services to help you, and to help your family and friends if they need them.

If you’re using alcohol or drugs and aren’t ready to stop, you should still get regular check-ups with your GP and get some harm minimisation advice to help you use as safely as possible. Treatment services have this information, as well as organisations like Harm Reduction Victoria.

Your treatment should be developed with your input, and be tailored to your specific needs and goals. Different treatments can work for different people at different times in their life, so the type of treatment you’re using might change over time. But you should always be involved in making the decision about what’s going to work for you.

How can I get help?

  • Start with your local doctor who probably knows your medical history. They can give you information, refer you to a treatment service, and help with ongoing care after your specialist alcohol and drug treatment wraps up.
  • You can also contact a range of organisations that are national, state or territory-based to help you find treatment.

Once you’re put in touch with a service, there will be an assessment either over the phone or face-to-face. Once that’s done you can discuss the different treatment options.

There’s often a waiting list for services, but if the treatment you’re after isn’t available at your centre they’ll refer you to another one that provides it.

There are also services specifically geared towards helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, women, men, the LGBTQI community, parents with young children, young people, or people with particular mental health issues.

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What kinds of treatment are available?

There are many types of treatments you can access as a public or as a private patient.

In line with Australia’s National Drug Strategy, many treatment services follow the harm minimisation approach. This means that they work to reduce the harms caused by alcohol and drugs. This doesn’t always require you to stop using, because that’s not always possible.

Different types of help can also be combined with each other to suit your needs.

Options include:

Withdrawal or detoxification (detox) involves stopping or reducing your AOD use while minimising the unpleasant symptoms you can experience, and the risks involved.

Many people who detox/ withdraw and don’t engage with other treatments wind up relapsing. So talk to your doctor or treatment service about support options for you following the detox.

Using a medication to replace a drug is called ‘substitution pharmacotherapy.’ The medication is given as a legal, measured, prescribed dose of a drug to help take away the cravings and allow you to focus on other aspects of your recovery.

This is only available for some drugs, and your doctor or treatment service can give you more information about what’s available for your specific situation. For example, opioid dependence treatment might include buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone.

This is the most common kind of treatment, and there’s a lot of variety in the approach counselling takes. It could be talking through your problems, learning to change the way you think, or planning how you’ll deal with difficult situations.

Counselling can be individual or in a group setting, and it’s available for people using AOD as well as their family members or support people. Support services can offer counselling directly, or might direct you to another service. To find out what’s available near you talk to your doctor, AOD treatment service, or local community health service.

Find help and support services.

Rehabilitation (rehab) programs take a long-term approach to treatment and are aimed at helping you achieve an AOD-free lifestyle.

Residential programs provide accommodation as well as a structured care plan, and can last from a few weeks to a number of years. They don’t tend to provide withdrawal medication, so it’s very important that you’ve already completed your withdrawal treatment.

Residential withdrawal is available from some treatment services.

Find out more about withdrawal.

These include treatments such as:

  • Massage
  • Relaxation therapies
  • Herbal or natural remedies

Because withdrawing from some drugs can be life-threatening, you should always seek advice from your doctor or treatment service first.

Usually started by people with personal AOD experience, these groups are often (but not always) based on the 12-step model (like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous). You can access peer support as a person using AOD, and as a family member or support person.

Social support services can help you out with housing, financial, legal, general health, dental and other assistance. For details relevant to your area, talk to your local community health service or AOD treatment service.

How much will it cost?

There can be a small cost for certain public services, but many treatment options (like counselling and withdrawal) are usually free.

Before you start your treatment, contact Medicare and/or your private health insurer, to confirm exactly what you’re covered for. If you’re wanting to access private treatment, private health insurance is recommended.

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