Charlie Sheen Substance Abuse: FAQ
Experts Weigh in on Common Questions About Addiction and Outrageous Behavior
What Happens if You Don't Get Treated for Addiction?
When actor Martin Sheen was interviewed about his son's drug problem, he called it "a form of cancer." Is addiction really like a disease? Howell thinks it is. "Addiction is a disease process, and we know that the diseased organ is the brain," she says.
Just like cancer or any other serious disease, addiction can become life-threatening if it's not treated. "It is a potentially fatal disease, and I've seen people die from overdose, from complications, from poor judgment -- accidents," Howell says.
Which Treatment Works Best for Addiction?
That depends on the addiction. Cocaine withdrawal is typically treated supportively and does not always require medication or hospitalization. Medications can help withdrawal symptoms for some addictions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people recognize the situations where they're most likely to use. Motivational incentives provide good reasons to stay off drugs.
This broad range of therapies allows for a very individualized treatment approach. "I truly believe that there's no best treatment for everyone, and different treatments work better for different problems and different individuals," Goldman says.
What's most important is that you recover in a supportive setting where other people are also trying to get clean, Howell says.
Depending on the addiction, treatment may start with a medically supervised withdrawal, commonly called "detox," to get you off the addictive drug. Then you need to completely abstain from not only your drug of choice, but other drugs too.
Whatever you do, don't try to treat yourself for an addiction.
Though Sheen claims to have cured himself with "the power of my mind," Howell says trying to self-treat for an addiction is a dangerous prospect.
"It doesn't work," she says. "As a psychiatrist, I've been trained in how to do psychotherapy, but I never do psychotherapy on myself. If you're a surgeon you don't take out your own appendix. You have to have an outside person or support system helping you who has a perspective that you can never have for yourself."
How Are People With Both Addiction and Mental Illness Treated?
Treating addiction without addressing the underlying mental illness isn't enough.
"Many years ago when we were treating addiction, we had the false belief that if you treated the addiction and waited, some of the psychiatric problems would resolve themselves. We no longer believe that," Goldman says. "You really need to treat both of them simultaneously to be effective."
Considering that so many people who show up for addiction treatment also have a mental illness, centers today are well equipped to deal with both conditions.