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Mental Health And Addiction Treatment Theories and Approaches

Phases of Treatment

In general, the medical term acute describes phenomena that begin quickly and require rapid response. Acute problems are contrasted with chronic problems. Most commonly, acute stabilization of patients with dual disorders refers to the management of physical, psychiatric, or drug toxicity crises. These include injury, illness, AOD-induced toxic or withdrawal states, and behavior that is suicidal, violent, impulsive, or psychotic.

The acute stabilization of AOD use disorders typically begins with detoxification, such as inpatient detoxification for patients with significant withdrawal or outpatient detoxification for mild to moderate withdrawal, as well as nonmedical withdrawal, such as occurs in social-model detoxification programs. Also, initiation of methadone maintenance can provide outpatient acute stabilization for patients addicted to opioids.

Acute stabilization of psychiatric symptoms more frequently occurs within a mental health or emergency medical setting, but involves a range of treatment intensity. Patients with severe symptoms, especially psychotic, violent, or impulsive behaviors, usually require acute psychiatric inpatient treatment and psychiatric medications, while patients with less severe symptoms can be treated in outpatient or day treatment settings.

Dual disorder programs that provide stabilization to patients with acute needs should have the capability to:

  • Identify medical, psychiatric, and AOD use disorders
  • Treat a range of illness severity
  • Provide drug detoxification, psychiatric medications, and other biopsychosocial levels of treatment
  • Provide a range of intensities of service.

These programs should be capable of promoting the patient’s engagement with the treatment system. They should be able to aggressively provide linkages to other programs that will provide ongoing treatment and engagement.

Subacute Stabilization

The medical term subacute describes the status of a medical disorder at points between the acute condition and either resolution or chronic state. The subacute phase of a medical problem occurs as the acute course of the problem begins to diminish, or when symptoms emerge or reemerge but are not yet severe enough to be described as acute.

For example, patients recently detoxified from AODs frequently experience subacute symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety that may linger for a few days or weeks. On the other hand, recently detoxified patients with dual disorders may experience subacute symptoms of insomnia and anxiety either as subacute withdrawal symptoms or as a prelude to relapse with depression. Although the subacute phase is not generally regarded as a period of crisis, ignoring these symptoms and failing to assess and treat them may lead to symptom escalation, decompensation, and relapse.

As AOD-induced toxic or withdrawal symptoms resolve, constant reassessment and rediagnosis is required. During this phase, a psychoeducational and behavioral approach should be used to educate patients about their disorders and symptomatology. During this phase, treatment providers should provide assessment and planning for dealing with long-term issues such as housing, long-term treatment, and financial stability.

Biopsychosocial Assessment Issues From the AOD and Psychiatric Perspectives 
                            AOD                   Psychiatric
*   Biological:         Alcohol on breath         Abnormal laboratory tests
                        Positive drug tests       Neurological exams
                        Abnormal laboratory       Using psychiatric
                           tests                     medications
                        Injuries and trauma       Other medications,
                        Toxicity and withdrawal      conditions
                        Impaired cognition
*   Psychological:      Intoxicated  behavior     Mental status exam:  Affect
                        Withdrawal symptoms          mood, psychosis, etc.
                        Denial and manipulation   Stress, situational
                        Responses to AOD             factors
                           assessments            Self-image, defenses, etc.
                        AOD use history
*   Social:             Collateral information    Support systems:
                           from others               Family, friends, others
                        Social interactions       Current psychiatric
                           and lifestyle             therapy
                        Involvement with other    Hospitalization
                           AOD groups
                        Family history of AOD
                           use disorders
                        Family history
                        Housing and employment

ABC Model for Psychiatric Screening

  • Appearance, alertness, affect, and anxiety:

    General appearance, hygiene, and dress.
    What is the level of consciousness?
    Elation or depression: gestures, facial expression, and speech.
    Is the individual nervous, phobic, or panicky?

  • Behavior:

    Rate (Hyperactive, hypoactive, abrupt, or constant?).
    Coherent and goal-oriented?
    Bizarre, stereotypical, dangerous, or impulsive?
    Rate, organization, coherence, and content.

  • Cognition:

    Person, place, time, and condition.
    Memory and simple tasks.
    Insight, judgment, problem solving.
    Incoherent ideas, delusions, and hallucinations?

Mental Health And Addiction Treatment Theories and Approaches

Richard K. Ries, M.D.

APA Reference
Ries, R. (2018). Mental Health And Addiction Treatment Theories and Approaches. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.