What does "continuum of care:" mean in addiction treatment?

Hello again friends. I’m continuing my mental health education series on substance use disorders and addiction, and focusing on making sense of addiction and substance use disorder treatment. I get a lot of calls from family members and parents trying to get help for their loved ones, and it’s apparent how little information is out there in the community about the different types of treatment for substance use disorders.

The first thing to understand about addiction and substance use disorder treatment is the treatment “continuum of care”. The continuum of care includes every type of substance use disorder treatment from AA support groups to detox and residential treatment, and everything in between. The reason why there is a “continuum of care” is because most people who are seeking treatment for addiction and substance use disorders will seek multiple types of treatment along the continuum. The continuum also helps professionals decide the level of treatment that is most appropriate for the individual at that time.

It’s widely understood in the addiction treatment world, that the longer someone is involved in treatment of some kind, the longer they will stay sober. What this means is that when an individual completes one level of care, it usually means they will be referred to the next appropriate level of care on the continuum.

Let me give an example of a common continuum of care in addiction treatment. Many people who have an alcohol use disorder need to enter treatment at the detox level. They will normally complete detox, and then transition to residential treatment for anywhere from 4-6 weeks. Once they have completed residential treatment, they will then return home or to a sober living environment where they may do an intensive outpatient program or engage in individual counseling, while attending self-help support groups like AA. This is just one version of what a continuum of care looks like. Each person has their own unique continuum of care that is created to address their unique needs.

So as you can see, treatment for addiction can be complex. If you or a loved one are considering addiction treatment, it is important that you talk to an addiction professional who is well versed in the continuum of care, and also the various treatment facilities that offer each level of care.

I hope this post is helpful! Reach out anytime!