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Substance use disorders (SUDs) affect a significant number of families, individuals, and communities. Telehealth can be used along with other treatment methods to be part of a combined approach to treating SUDs. This can include:

  • Screening and diagnosis
  • Counseling online
  • Consultations for prescriptions

Individual and group therapy for substance use disorders

What are the Consequences of Substance Use?

Individuals struggling with addiction frequently have one or more associated health issues. Scans, X-rays, and blood tests can show the harmful effects of long-term drug use throughout the body. This may include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Mental health conditions
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Lung disease

It is well-known that tobacco smoke can cause cancers, methamphetamine use can cause serious dental problems (known as meth mouth), and opioids can lead to overdose and death. Additionally, inhalants can damage or destroy nerve cells, in the brain or the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord.

Addiction and Infection

telehealth for addiction The risk of contracting infections is also increased by drug use. Hepatitis C (a serious liver disease) and HIV can happen from sharing injection equipment or from unsafe sex practices like not using a condom. Infection of the heart and heart valves (endocarditis) and skin infection (cellulitis) can also occur after exposure to bacteria from injection drug use.

Drug Use and Mental Disorders

Frequently, drug use and other mental illness co-exist. Sometimes mental disorders may appear before addiction such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia

In other cases, drug use may trigger or make those mental conditions worse.

In an attempt to relieve anxiety or depression, some people may self-medicate by using drugs. This may actually make their mental disorder worse in the long run, as well as increase the chance of developing addiction.  This is why treatment for both conditions should happen at the same time.

Impact on Other People

Besides the harmful consequences for the individual with the addiction, drug use can cause health problems for other people. Some of the more serious consequences for others include:

Effects of Drug Use While Pregnant or Breastfeeding

The substance or medication use of a mother while pregnant can cause her baby to suffer withdrawal symptoms after it’s born.

Harmful Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand tobacco smoke exposes other people to about 250 chemicals that are harmful, especially to children. It increases the risks of heart disease and lung cancer and raises the question about similar risks associated with marijuana smoke.

Increases the Spread of Infectious Diseases

Drug injection is responsible for 1 in 10 cases of HIV and is a major factor in the spread of hepatitis C.

Risk of Causing Vehicle Accidents

The use of drugs can make driving a car unsafe, the same as drinking alcohol. Drugged driving puts everyone on the road at risk. After alcohol, marijuana is the substance linked most often to impaired driving.

The Importance of Treatment for SUDs

As you can understand, addiction is a serious illness. Finances, relationships, careers, and health can all be ruined. The leading cause of preventable illnesses is the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Still, many people underestimate the importance of formal SUD treatment. However, recovery begins with the recognition that there is a problem.

A lot of people will cheat themselves and choose to abstain from their substance of choice and go “cold turkey.”  They do this without working on the underlying issues that caused them to use substances in the first place. In reality, recovery from addiction is much more than just quitting. Quitting the substance still leaves them with the mental triggers and urges that kept them using. Without recognizing their underlying issues, and making the effort to fix them, the person is likely to repeat the same mistakes they made in the past.

Often, the process of recognizing the problem is complicated by a lack of understanding about addiction or denial. Concerned friends or family can prompt treatment in these cases. Because addiction is a chronic illness like high cholesterol or high blood pressure, people with addiction have a high likelihood of relapse. And because SUD affects many parts of a person’s life, several forms of treatment are usually required.

SUD Treatment Methods

There are effective treatments for SUD. But treatment needs to be very individualized. One person may need several different types of treatment at different times in their recovery. Additionally, treatment for SUD frequently needs some form of continuing care to be effective since SUD is a chronic condition as mentioned earlier. Because people with SUD often have a co-occurring mental health condition (called a dual diagnosis), treating them together instead of separately is always better.

Three Main Forms of Treatment

The three main approaches to treatment include:

Detoxification (Detox)

In detox, the individual stops taking the substance which allows them to leave their system. Depending on the severity of the addiction, the substance may have to be tapered off to reduce the effects of withdrawal.

Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) helps treat SUD and any co-occurring mental health issues. The healthcare providers might recommend behavior and cognitive therapies alone or with medications. Some examples of effective evidence-based therapies include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented type of therapy. In CBT, a person begins to understand how their thoughts affect their actions and can begin to unlearn negative thoughts and behaviors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is effective for people who are having problems regulating and managing their emotions.

Contingency Management

Contingency Management (CM) encourages healthy behavior by offering rewards for positive behaviors.

Medication-Assisted Therapies

Medication can be part of a treatment plan. Medications help change brain chemistry to help treat specific SUDs. Medication can also relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings, especially for opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, and tobacco use.

Also, these forms of treatment may take place in several different types of treatment settings:

  • Inpatient, or residential, treatment–living at the treatment center.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment–attending therapy sessions several days a week at the treatment center.
  • Outpatient counseling–attending sessions once or twice a week.
  • Long-term therapeutic communities such as sober living homes–living independently with others in recovery.

What is Telehealth for Addiction Treatment?

Telehealth, or telemedicine, refers to the ability of medical providers to work from a distance, using telecommunications technology, to communicate with their patients. They may:

  • diagnose conditions,
  • provide treatment, and
  • consult with other providers to make sure quality healthcare services are maintained.

Facts from the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services and the National Mental Health Services Survey show an increase in the percentage of substance use and mental health treatment centers offering telehealth services between 2015 and 2020.

The COVID Effect

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more facilities having to adapt their services and increase their use of technology. Between 2019 and 2020, behavioral health treatment facilities experienced a marked increase in the number of facilities providing telemedicine. The percentage of substance-use treatment facilities with telemedicine services more than doubled in one year from 27.5% in 2019 to 58.6% in 2020.

Telehealth has been able to offer a safe workable option to people with substance use disorder during the pandemic and has made care more accessible. Phone or video calls help eliminate the stigma linked with getting effective SUD treatment. The online format can also make care more accessible to people in remote areas.

Benefits of Telehealth for Addiction Treatment

telehealth opioid treatment

The benefits of using telehealth for addiction treatment include:

  • Shorter wait times–This means quicker responses for care and prescriptions.
  • Greater privacy–People can receive care in the privacy of their homes rather than going to a public place such as a clinic.
  • Less stigma–Patients can connect to providers who understand addiction and aren’t judgmental.
  • Continuum of care–People can continue their treatment with their usual providers while receiving in-person or at-home treatment.
  • Home observation–Care providers can get more insight into the person’s condition by observing their home environment.
  • Digital aids–Text messaging and apps can add to treatment plans by providing immediate support to help deal with low-grade cravings.

The Lifeline of Telehealth Opioid Treatment

According to the AMA’s 2021 Overdose Epidemic Report, at least 21 million people in the U.S. have an SUD. However, only about 10% get treatment. Obstacles to getting treatment include:

  • Stigma
  • Complicated underlying symptoms of addiction
  • Limited accessibility to treatment due to living in remote areas or lack of reliable transportation

Increasing the availability of opioid use disorder-related telehealth services because of the pandemic has been linked with a lower probability of fatal drug overdose. The results of the March 2023 study added to the growing research detailing the benefits of expanding the use of telehealth for people with opioid use disorder (OUD) as well as the need to increase retention and access to medication for OUD. Doctor Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has indicated that research continues to show that expanding access to telehealth is a safe, effective, and possibly lifesaving tool for people with OUD, at a time when more than 100,000 Americans a year are dying from a drug overdose.

What is the Future of Substance Use Disorder?

Based on several factors, the outlook for recovery from SUD varies. The factors include:

  • The severity and type of SUD
  • The degree of dependence and withdrawal
  • The level of commitment to abstinence the person has
  • The time frame of the treatment program
  • Genetics
  • How the person copes during stressful times

Although SUD is a lifelong disease, people can recover and lead fulfilling lives. Getting help is a necessity for recovery. And, because addiction is a relapsing disease, people who are in recovery have a greater chance of using it again–even years after last using the substance. This is why some type of ongoing treatment is preferred.

How Can Casco Bay Recovery Help?

It can be stressful to realize that you or someone you love may have a substance use disorder. But there is help. And if you live in the Portland, Maine area, there are many treatment options available at Casco Bay Recovery. And if you don’t live in the area, our telehealth program may be appropriate for your needs.

Our Portland treatment program options include:

  • Partial Hospitalization Program–the highest level of outpatient care, as intensive as residential but the individual goes home each night.
  • Intensive Outpatient Program–intense treatment for fewer days per week.
  • Standard Outpatient Program–continuing therapy after completing a higher level of care.
  • Aftercare Program–ongoing treatment that helps people:
    • get back to work/career counseling
    • obtain help for legal problems
    • find stable housing
    • continue outpatient counseling
    • join a 12-step group
    • financial budgeting assistance

Telehealth for Addiction Treatment at Casco Bay Recovery

If you don’t live in the Portland area, don’t have reliable transportation, or live in a remote area, you can still receive treatment. Our experienced therapists and addiction specialists are trained and skilled in telemedicine for opioid treatment or any other substance use disorder.

You don’t have to be concerned about disclosing your condition to anyone but your telehealth team. The stigma of addiction is often a barrier to getting treatment. If that is holding you or your loved one back from getting help, we have the solution. Contact us today. Find out what Casco Bay Recovery can do for you and your family.


The Casco Bay Recovery Admissions Process

We believe that getting the help you need should be as simple as possible. There’s no need to wait until you reach a low point to begin the journey to recovery. Instead, you can take the first steps to lasting sobriety by connecting with our team today.

If you’re reaching out for a friend, family member, or employee, we can assist with a referral.