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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

12-04-19 | By

Can Addiction Be Treated Remotely?

Remote addiction treatment, whether that refers to a patient being treated remotely or providing treatment in remote areas has recently been a controversial topic in the recovery world and a public health concern. Either way, people who don’t live in densely populated cities still require specialized addiction treatment and ongoing support during recovery to maintain a sober lifestyle over the long-term.

The Closure of a Remote Treatment Center

Is remote treatment for addiction viable? Alberta recently closed a remote addiction treatment facility amid concerns for patient safety, reducing available treatment options for recovering people living in remote locations.

The treatment center in question was ordered to stop operating within the region. Among the numerous complaints cited were poor safety standards and quality of care, as well as allegations of inappropriate financial practices.

In a press release, Canada’s Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Jason Luan, said, “our government will not stand by while any company seeks to take advantage of individuals dealing with addiction or mental health issues.”

Patients residing within the inpatient treatment facility have been moved to an addiction treatment center elsewhere to access alternative services at no additional cost.

Are Remote Addiction Treatment Centers Necessary?

Current practices for treating those in recovery from addiction are designed to address the underlying issues that cause addictive behaviors in the first place. In many cases, treatment involves the patient being admitted into a rehabilitation clinic for some time so they can learn healthy new habits focused around a sober lifestyle. 

In 2011, the Government of Alberta released a statement outlining a Health Action Plan focused on improving access to treatment facilities for those struggling with addiction. The release highlighted new plans to enhance community-based services and expand the capacity of rural areas to provide Albertans with quality care.

However, people living in remote locations still have significantly less access to addiction treatment facilities. The recent closure of the remote addiction treatment center in Alberta reduces accessibility even further.

The Government of Alberta claims to maintain “very good addiction and mental health services,” but the delivery of government-funded services available isn’t always integrated. For example, there’s a long waiting list of people hoping to take advantage of government-funded treatment options — a waiting list that means significant delays before individuals receive treatment.

The alternative to such options is to consider seeking help at private drug and alcohol rehab clinics. However, the cost associated with private rehab facilities is prohibitive for many, leaving people in rural and remote areas with few options.

Can Addiction Be Treated Remotely?

Even after graduating from an intensive inpatient rehab treatment program and returning to independent living, people recovering from addiction are strongly encouraged to continue treatment in the form of “aftercare” services. Receiving the right aftercare reduces the risk of relapsing back into self-destructive behaviors. For many, quality aftercare includes regularly attending 12-step programs and other group therapy sessions, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

For people living in remote or rural areas, however, access to such physical group support programs is limited. And research shows that the risk of relapse increases if a recovering person doesn’t have access to supportive social networks or programs. There’s also a gap in the level of support available when physical sessions are not possible, such as late at night or on weekends (when relapse risks jump).

One encouraging possibility is alternative group support programs, such as SMART Recovery, which allow access to several 24/7 online programs. These kinds of programs are designed to provide access to a range of treatment options and recovery tools, including online meetings and support forums. 

While access to traditional addiction treatment programs is limited for people living in remote areas, advances in technology could mean improvements in remote treatment options offer a level of support that is missing in the current treatment system.

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