Substance Use Disorder Treatment - Handel Behavioral Health
HBH Treatment & Therapies

Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Overcoming substance use disorder on one’s own can be extremely challenging, if not impossible. When someone develops a substance use disorder, their physical dependence on the substance, and the complex psychological and social conditions that coincide with their substance use make it extremely difficult to quit. 

While there is no cure for addiction, people can overcome their substance use disorder with involved treatment and life-long recovery. 

Our trained therapists and counselors at our offices in Amherst, Springfield, Wilbraham, Natickand Franklin have the professional tools and constructive mindset to guide you through your recovery journey, improve your mental health, and help you become the authentic, substance-free version of yourself. 

To understand more about substance use disorder, including causes, symptoms, and treatment methods, please read on. To schedule an appointment with one of our trained therapists, please contact us today at at (413) 343-4357.

What is Substance Use Disorder?

SUD (substance use disorder) is a complex disorder that affects virtually every aspect of an individual’s functioning: in their relationships, at school and work, and in the community. An individual with underlying substance use disorder might use substances to self-medicate for depression, anxiety, acute stress, and other mental health conditions. 

Over time, as an individual’s substance use becomes less of a choice and more of a habit, they start to change their normal brain functioning. Long-term exposure to substance use disrupts the normal communication between brain cells. This interruption of communication disrupts their nerve cells’ normal sending, receiving, and processing of information, which then causes distorted thinking and abnormal patterns of behavior, such as intense cravings, withdrawal symptoms, learning and memory problems, abnormal movements, and personality changes.

At this point, an individual is no longer in control of their substance use and needs to seek professional treatment. 

At Handel Behavioral Health, our trained therapists focus on understanding the patient’s unique motivations behind their substance misuse, and helping the patient rewire their brain to reduce or eliminate their harmful behaviors.

The Primary Types of Substance Use Disorders:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Marijuana use disorder
  • Sedative use disorder

What Causes Substance Use Disorders?

There is no single factor that determines the development of SUD: individual biology, genetic vulnerability, environmental stressors, social pressures, and individual personality can all influence the disorder.

Individuals with mental health disorders, including major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, attention-hyper-deficit disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at a higher rate of developing SUD. 

An overwhelming number of patients struggling with substance use disorder have a co-occuring mental health condition, whether it’s depression, anxiety, trauma, obsessive compulsive disorder, or bipolar disorder disorder that set the stage for their addiction, so treatment looks very different for every patient.

-Caryn Alberini, LADC, LCSW

Fortunately, with the right combination of addiction treatment medication, behavioral therapy, and self-help programs, such as AA or NA, SUD can be treated.

How Are Substance Use Disorders Diagnosed?

Diagnosis for SUD can be given by one of our trained mental health professionals, or a family doctor. Clinical findings depend on the substance abused, the frequency of use, and the length of time since last used.

What are the Symptoms of SUD?

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse disorder vary depending on the substance, length and severity of use, and individual personality. Some of the general symptoms to watch for include:

Physical signs:

  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Pupils are smaller or larger than usual 
  • Bloodshot eyes 
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Runny nose
  • Deterioration of physical appearance or changes in grooming patterns
  • Unusual odors or breath, body, or clothes

Behavioral signs: 

  • Suspicious or secretive behavior
  • Consuming or using more of the substance than intended 
  • Getting into legal trouble
  • Neglecting friends, family, work, home, school obligations
  • Sudden changes in hobbies, friends, or activities 
  • Using substances under the influence: driving under the influence, sex without a condom or other barrier method, etc. 
  • Frequently trying to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Increased tolerance for the substance 
  • Life starts to revolve around substance use and recovering from use
  • Continuing to use the substance despite health risks

Physiological signs:

  • Feeling anxious, paranoid, fearful
  • Unexplained change in personality
  • Feeling “spaced out”
  • Feeling excessively tired
  • Periods of extreme energy, restlessness, mental instability
  • Increased agitation or anger

The Basic Principles of SUD Treatment:

Treatment for SUD varies depending on the substance and length of use, the symptoms and underlying causes of the disorder, the consequences and any co-occurring mental health disorders experienced by the individual with SUD. 

The core principles of effective SUD treatment include: 

  • Detoxification (if necessary and based on the substance) 
  • Medication administered by a psychiatrist
  • Medical support
  • Long-term psychosocial support 
  • Self-help and spiritual recovery groups/activities
  • Individual and family psychotherapy 

When assessing the level of treatment an individual needs, and whether it’s administered in inpatient or outpatient settings, the right choice will depend on: 

  • Whether the SUD has been diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe
  • How motivated the individual is to change 
  • What are the sociocultural factors at play 
  • What is the individual’s cognitive functioning and impulse control 
  • Whether the individual has had/currently has other mental health conditions

The main goal of treatment is sobriety, and that’s different for every person. Some people need medical detoxification. You can’t make any progress in an outpatient setting if you’re actively using a substance. 

-Caryn Alberini, LADC, LCSW

What Does Outpatient Treatment for SUD Involve?

The patient needs to be sober. But being completely sober-free is only the beginning of treatment. We’ll develop a full relapse prevention plan which typically involves AA or NA, and working with a sponsor. We’ll deal with their substance use through behavioral management and medication if necessary, and apply cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy techniques to treat co-occurring mental health conditions. 

-Caryn Alberini, LADC, LCSW

Many people with SUD experience severe problems in other areas of their life, from physical and mental health issues, relationship problems, poor social or work skills, to legal difficulties. One of our trained therapists will help resolve these situations through individual, and group counseling. 

The most effective therapeutic modalities include: 

A form of talk-therapy based on the idea that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected in a way that one influences, and is influenced by the others. The goal of CBT is to increase awareness of thoughts, actions, and the consequences of each. 

CBT sessions depend on the patient and the consequences of their substance use, but a typical session involves discussing irrational thoughts, negative thoughts, and previous stressful thoughts, followed by challenging the patient’s negative thoughts and false beliefs, and offering positive coping skills to use when faced with challenges. 

A multidimensional approach which relies on learning and behavioral skills to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. 

Mindfulness is at the center of DBT treatment, helping individuals learn about and practice bringing awareness to the present moment. Through observing their feelings, thoughts, sensations, and impulses, and tuning into their senses and the environment around them, patients can slow down and practice healthy coping skills. 

  • Motivational interviewing (MI)

A patient centered form of counseling that helps the patient develop an internal motivation to quit. Despite the adverse health, financial, social, and legal consequences of SUD, it can be difficult for those with SUD to find reason to quit on their own. 

During MI counseling, the therapist will ask open ended questions to get the patient to explore their experiences, thoughts, and perspective around their substance use. The goal is for the patient to recognize their own fear of change, resolve any roadblocks getting in their way of sobriety, and find courage to pursue a healthier lifestyle.


People who have used substances for a long time can experience painful withdrawal symptoms, when tapering off their substance use. They will need to be monitored closely in a treatment center. 

If necessary, the patient’s primary care physician will prescribe medications to alleviate the painful withdrawal process. Medications can also help re-normalize brain functioning and reduce cravings. 

How Can I Schedule An Appointment?

If you notice any of the following symptoms in yourself or your loved one, please contact us at 555-555-555. Our mental health professionals in Amherst, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Franklin, Natick, and across Massachusetts will answer all of your questions and guide you along the path of recovery. 

Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 or request an appointment online.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Caryn Alberini, LADC, LCSW Headshot

Caryn obtained her MSW from Boston College and has worked in mental health and substance abuse counseling for over 15 years. She provides psychoeducation for understanding and assists in developing the skills and techniques to navigate current stressors and achieve client goals.