The American Addiction Centers’ Scientific Approach to Addiction Treatment

American Addiction Centers - Scientific approach

Addiction to drugs and/or alcohol is an illness that plagued nearly 20 million Americans age 12 and older as of 2017. It is a health issue that costs the U.S. over $740 billion a year in health care costs, costs related to crime, and lost productivity in the workplace. Yet, this is a complex illness that can be challenging to treat, which is why organizations like American Addiction Centers (AAC) exist.

The disease risk factors for addiction include a combination of genetics, environmental factors, brain chemistry, and psychological influences. With such a range of risk factors, addiction can be a difficult disease to treat and medical treatment for this illness has not received the same attention as other areas of medicine. However, there is a lot of potential for addiction treatment and it is something that AAC is focusing on, with an aim to make great strides in this area in conjunction with the company’s 2030 vision.

With this in mind, let’s first have a look at the work of AAC and then take a look at what addiction treatment looks like today, so we can get a view of what is required to improve it.

American Addiction Centers

American Addiction Centers

AAC is an organization that has become a leader in addiction treatment. They provide treatment for patients across the U.S. who are struggling with alcohol and drug addiction and mental health issues. They are also the only publicly traded addiction treatment company in the U.S., and they have a high success rate that is twice the national average. When it comes to AAC success in helping patients, examples include:

  • An 88% decrease in heroin use
  • A 95% decrease in opiate use
  • An 80% decrease in alcohol use
  • 63% of those treated by AAC remain sober and in recovery

The reason for AAC’s success rate is simple – they take a holistic and individualized approach to treatment that takes into account every aspect of a patient’s life. This includes a patient’s health, environment, lifestyle, and co-occurring mental health disorders.

When patients come into a facility’s inpatient program, the AAC staff ensures they detoxify with a safe and fully monitored withdrawal process and have access to the medications and therapies they need to recover. Outpatient programs are also available, allowing these patients the potential to recover without significant interruption to their work, school, and other daily commitments.

In addition to their own treatment centers, AAC also provides those seeking resources with access to a wide range of options through their other websites, including and These treatment resources include not only AAC programs, but hundreds of other facilities and programs across the country and they are accessible 24/7 by anyone who needs them.

However, despite the range of resources available and the success rate of AAC programs, the organization wants to do more. There are still too many individuals who fall through the cracks, simply because the current addiction treatment options are not up to the task. Let’s take a look at these options and why they are falling short of helping the people who need them.

Current Addiction Treatment Options

American Addiction Centers - TreatmentThe first thing to understand about addiction is that it is a chronic and progressive disease. Whether that addiction is to drugs, alcohol, or another substance, the addiction will never be gone. The only “cure” for addiction is complete and permanent abstinence from the addictive substances, which is incredibly difficult for those combating substance abuse, particularly in the early stages of treatment.

It is important to understand that there is no one correct treatment that will work for everyone. Each individual responds to treatment differently. It’s also important to understand that to effectively treat a patient, all of their needs must be addressed, not just the drug or alcohol use. This includes detoxification and the treatment of physical health and mental health. It also means helping these individuals integrate back into society to become functional and contributing members of that society.

There are a number of treatment options for addiction. They include:

  • Behavioral counseling
  • Treatment for mental health issues
  • Medication – there are various medications available for the treatment of mental health issues, alcoholism, opioid addiction, and nicotine addiction
  • Medical devices to ease withdrawal
  • A long-term plan that includes follow-up to help prevent relapse

Treatment can also include applications and other tools and programs designed to provide skills training so the patient can find employment and establish a strong life path. However, despite what seems like a substantial amount of treatment support, the success rate is not high. A full 40%-60% of those with substance use disorder relapse. This is where further research into addiction treatment can pay off and this is the goal of Michael Cartwright, CEO of AAC, and Dr. Mark Calarco, CEO of Addiction Labs and national medical director for clinical diagnostics at AAC.

AAC 2030 Addiction Treatment Plan

Cartwright and Dr. Calarco have devised a 2030 vision for AAC that includes significant scientific developments in addiction treatment. In fact, AAC went public with the sole purpose to raise the capital required to fund research into finding revolutionary addiction treatment options. The planned research will be in the following areas:

Pharmacogenetics – Pharmacogenetics is a branch of pharmacology that is focused on tailoring medication to the individual’s unique DNA. This is done by running pharmacogenetic tests to determine how a patient metabolizes medication and whether the patient has genetic traits that increase their risk of addiction and/or mental health issues.

The importance of pharmacogenetics cannot be understated. Individuals struggling with addiction generally have a short window of time for treatment when they begin the recovery process. Long-term programs typically last 90 days and during that time, they must detox (if necessary) and start on a treatment regimen that will be well established by the time the program is finished. Ensuring medication is tailored to a patient’s DNA so it will be effective quickly and eliminate the period of trial and error is critical in these early stages of recovery.

Brain Scans – This is a technology that is readily available and FDA-approved for use in the diagnosis of mental health issues, yet it is significantly underused in the addiction recovery community. PET and SPECT scans can be used to monitor the functional activity of the brain and recognize patterns that are consistent with mental health issues and addiction.

Nutraceuticals – In many cases, treatment can be wholly or partially managed with the use of nutraceuticals, which is the use of foods that are fortified with and/or supplements of vitamins and minerals to correct nutritional imbalances in a patient. By correcting these imbalances, it is possible to treat diseases that could be caused or affected by these imbalances.

Examples of vitamins that are targeted include Omega-3, B6, B9, B12, C, and D. One study shows the effectiveness of nutraceuticals, which were used in patients with a low response to antidepressant medication. When nutraceuticals were used alongside the antidepressants, they successfully reduced depressive symptoms.

Medical Technology – Even with research into pharmacogenetics as a focus, the current reality is that the treatment for people with addiction and behavioral disorders using medications has a failure rate of 30%-40%. Some people just don’t respond to these medications. For this reason, the AAC plan also includes the use of non-invasive FDA-approved medical technology to help patients in recovery.

These technologies include Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Bridge-like devices. TMS makes use of magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain, thus reducing depressive symptoms. Bridge-like devices can help minimize the withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction, as well as chronic pain.

In addition to these medical devices, AAC plans to create an app that will make it easier for individuals seeking treatment to find the resources they need. A mobile app will make these resources, and much-needed recovery support, more accessible to anyone, anywhere, at anytime through their phone.

Change Is Needed

It’s true that the recognition and treatment of addiction and mental illness has come a long way in the last century. However, ultimately, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth in the addiction treatment industry. Bringing tailored treatments to individuals recovering from addiction of any kind is the goal of AAC. Outlined above are the aspects of their program they plan to expand so they can improve their already successful treatment program and ensure their patients receive the best possible chance of recovery. After all, when people can successfully recover from addiction, they can go on to be happy, healthy members of society and that makes communities stronger and more resilient.

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