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How do I know if I need treatment?

How can I get help?

What kinds of treatment are available?

How much will it cost?


How do I know if I need treatment?

If your alcohol or other drug (AOD) use is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situation, you should seek help.

Support services are available for you, and also for your family and friends if they feel it would help them.

How can I get help?

  • A good place to start is with your local doctor who is likely to know your medical history. Your doctor can give you information, a referral to a treatment service and ongoing treatment after specialist AOD treatment is completed.


  • Another option is self-referral. Many treatment services allow this, and you can contact them directly. To find and discuss treatment services call DirectLine on 1800 888 236. Note that privately funded treatment services often require a referral from a doctor or psychologist, so it is a good idea to check first.


After you have made contact with a treatment service, an assessment will be arranged. This may be done over the phone, or face-to-face at first, and then your options for treatment can be discussed.

There may be a waiting list for some services, but if the appropriate treatment is not available at a particular agency, referral will be made to access those services elsewhere.

If you have any special needs you may be referred to a specialist service, such as those helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, women, men, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer, parents with young children, young people, or people with particular mental health issues.

What kinds of treatment are available? 

A range of treatment options is available to both private and public patients.

In line with Australia's National Drug Strategy, many treatment services follow the harm minimisation approach. This means that they work to reduce the harms caused by AOD, which doesn't always require stopping use because that isn't always possible.

There are a number of different types of help available, which may be combined, and include:

Withdrawal or detoxification

Withdrawal or detoxification (also called detox) is a process of stopping the use of AOD while minimising unpleasant symptoms and the risks of harm.

Read more about withdrawal.


Substitution pharmacotherapy is the use of medication to replace a harmful drug. This is given as a legal, measured, prescribed dose of a drug, and helps take away cravings so that you can work on other issues that will help you to recover.

Pharmacotherapy is only available for withdrawal from some drugs. For example, buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone are used in the treatment of opioid dependence.

Your doctor or treatment service can give you more information about what is available to help you.


This is the most common kind of treatment, and there are a number of different approaches that might be taken. These might involve talking through your problems, learning to change the way you think, or thinking about how you might deal with difficult situations.

Counselling can be provided individually or in a group situation, and is available both to people who use AOD, and to their family members or support people. A support service can offer counselling or direct you to a service appropriate for you. Speak to your doctor, AOD treatment service or local community health service.

Find help and support services.


Rehabilitation programs take a long term approach to treatment to help you achieve an AOD-free lifestyle.

Residential programs can last from a few weeks to a number of years. No withdrawal medication is provided in the centres, so it is very important that you have already successfully completed your withdrawal treatment.

Residential withdrawal is also available from some treatment services.

Find out more about withdrawal.

Complementary therapies

These include treatments such as massage and relaxation therapies, which can be useful to help you manage withdrawal symptoms. Some herbal or natural remedies can also help, but you should first seek advice from your doctor or treatment service because withdrawing from alcohol and some drugs can be life-threatening.

Peer support 

These programs are provided both for people who use AOD, and their family members or support person. They are usually established by people who have had personal experience with AOD, and are often based on the Twelve-step Program model. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are two examples of these.

Social support

A range of social support services can help you to access housing, financial, legal, general health, dental and other assistance. Speak with your local community health service or AOD treatment service for details.

Family support 

Services are available to support those who have been affected by a family member's AOD use. As well as providing understanding, these services can also provide information about how best to help during treatment.

Read a fact sheet about drug use in the family.

How much will it cost?

There may be minimal costs for some services in the public sector, but a number of different treatment options (such as counselling and withdrawal) are generally free.

Before you start treatment, contact Medicare and/or your private health insurer, if you have one, to confirm exactly what you’re covered for. Private health insurance is recommended if you wish to access the private treatment sector.

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    Last updated: 5 August 2014

    Information you heard is intended as a general guide only. This audio is copyrighted by the Australian Drug Foundation. Visit for more