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Synthetic Drug Addiction Treatment

Synthetic Drug Addiction Treatment

Synthetic drugs are becoming increasingly popular among young people in the United States, despite their life-threatening side effects. Many are unaware of the health risks associated with taking these drugs, likely because they’re widely accessible and can be found in gas stations, head shops or online.

Many of the chemicals used in synthetic drugs are poisonous to the mind and body and those who take them are at risk of experiencing overdose or death. Some may also become addicted to these substances. Learn the symptoms of synthetic substance use, potential causes and treatment options if you or someone you know is struggling.

What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Synthetic drugs, or designer drugs, are artificial substances manufactured in laboratories. Often made to mimic other addictive or illicit drugs and misleadingly marketed as safe, these substances produce unpredictable and adverse health reactions. Despite being sold as a safe or legal “high,” the strength of these substances is often unknown and can be more dangerous than some of the illicit drugs they’re designed to mimic.

Synthetic drugs are often broken into two categories — cannabinoids and stimulants:

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are often referred to as synthetic cannabis, though they’re much more potent than plant-based cannabis and can cause a much different, more dangerous reaction. To create synthetic cannabis, designers will typically mix chemicals with plant matter and then package it in small packets labeled as incense or potpourri. They’re often packaged and sold at gas stations, novelty stores or online, making them widely accessible to young people.

Common synthetic cannabinoids are Spice, K2, Bliss or Black Mamba. Due to their widespread availability, many young adults may mistakenly believe these substances are safe. The symptoms will vary since each chemical used in these substances is unique, though they’ll typically produce a dangerous reaction when inhaled or ingested.

Their effects may include:

  • Elevated mood
  • Relaxation
  • Altered perception
  • Symptoms of psychosis or delusions
  • Quiet and reflective mood

Synthetic Stimulants

Synthetic Stimulants

Synthetic cathinones, or stimulants, are often labeled as bath salts and produce similar effects as cocaine and hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and methamphetamine. They are often labeled “not for human consumption” to hide the fact that they were manufactured for dangerous, recreational use. They might also be marketed as jewelry cleaners or plant food to avoid detection by the authorities. Synthetic stimulants typically take the form of white or brown powder, though they can be found in various colors.

Common symptoms of synthetic stimulants include:

  • Paranoia
  • Increased sex drive
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased friendliness
  • Panic attacks
  • Delirium

Like many drugs, synthetic drug use can lead to addiction, which affects all aspects of one’s life, from mental and physical well-being to finances and relationships.

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Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Drug Addiction

Anyone who uses bath salts or Spice is at risk of developing an addiction. Substance use disorder (SUD) is characterized by an obsessive, compulsive urge to take substances regardless of the consequences. Many people suffering from synthetic drug use disorder will spend most of their time seeking, using or recovering from substances. Since the effects of synthetic drugs are unpredictable, addiction can lead to several dangerous or life-threatening health effects.

It can be challenging to recognize the symptoms of substance use in the early stages. However, if you’re concerned that someone you know is struggling, a few crucial behavioral and psychological changes may indicate SUD. While it’s never too late to seek treatment, getting help as early as possible can increase their chances of a successful recovery.

You might examine your loved one for signs or symptoms of synthetic drug addiction, such as:

Cravings and Withdrawal

Cravings and Withdrawal

A person may develop a tolerance to synthetic drugs associated with urges to use more of the substance to achieve the same effect. They may not realize they’ve developed a physical or mental tolerance before it’s too late and experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit them abruptly. Quitting these substances “cold turkey” without the help of professionals can cause serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.

The symptoms can be related to how much and how long the person has used synthetic drugs. If you’re concerned about someone you know, examine their behaviors. If they can’t control their substance use habits, they may have developed substance use disorder. They may eventually desire to quit but can’t due to withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

If your loved one displays the following withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop, they may have substance use disorder:

  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing issues
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures


Those who find themselves addicted to substances will often be highly deceptive or secretive about their activities or whereabouts. They may spend most of their time and energy seeking substances and using them or recovering from their effects. They may also lie about how they’ve been spending their money and attempt to shield their activities from their friends and loved ones.

Additionally, they may steal money or participate in risky behaviors to obtain more substances and sustain their addiction. When confronted, the person battling addiction may downplay their drug use or deny it altogether. To avoid explaining themselves to others, they may take substances in secret.

If you suspect your friend or loved one is lying about where they’ve been going or disappearing for hours without contact, this may be a red flag. You might also note unexplained purchases on their bank account or notice they’ve been selling prized possessions to obtain substances.

Neglecting Responsibilities

Since most people with SUD will spend a significant amount of time taking their chosen drug and coming down from its effects, you may notice them avoiding their responsibilities at home, work or school. They may appear withdrawn or avoid their obligations altogether. For instance, a person with SUD may neglect homework or skip classes in favor of taking drugs.

At the same time, you may notice a declined work performance or career and financial problems caused by chronic drug misuse. When an individual becomes addicted to these substances, the drugs may also disrupt their eating habits and sleep patterns. They may experience weight changes or a disregard for personal hygiene. If their clothes appear baggier, they’re unshaven or they have body odor, these can all be signs of addiction.

Social Isolation

Social Isolation

Substance use disorder can have a tremendous impact on a person’s relationships. Those battling addiction may withdraw from loved ones and social activities to use drugs instead. Since synthetic substances can cause erratic behavior and intense mood swings, it can be difficult for those with substance issues to maintain relationships with friends and family members.

People with substance use disorder might not realize how detrimental their substance use is to those around them. Before long, a rift can grow between themselves and those closest to them, resulting in complete isolation. Because depression is often associated with addiction, those struggling with both disorders may avoid the ones who care about them the most. Without a support system, they may sink further into depression and addiction.

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What Causes Synthetic Drug Addiction?

While substance use disorder can affect anyone, research has shown that certain people might be at more risk than others. The designer drug scene tends to consist of a younger demographic, which may be particularly prone to using these substances due to their widespread availability. The length of time these substances are misused can also contribute to substance use disorder.

The risk of addiction also seems to increase when paired with specific psychological, genetic and external factors:

1. Widespread Availability 

The internet has changed how drugs are bought and misused. Specifically, it seems young adults are more prone to synthetic drug addiction since these substances can be sent to a person’s doorstep with the click of a button.

Many might believe that since it’s easier to find and take these drugs, they’re safe to consume. With widespread availability and accessibility, young people can also easily browse online forums to try out new types of synthetic drugs. Since artificial stimulants alter perceptions, these drugs may also be found at clubs and raves.

One study found that those of lower socioeconomic status may also be particularly vulnerable, and people between the ages of 20 and 30 are more likely to develop an addiction to synthetic cannabinoids. These drugs are also popular on college campuses and high schools.

2. External Stressors

External Stressors

Research has shown that a combination of environmental and genetic factors may be at play when it comes to addiction. External factors that influence addiction include:

  • Academic or work stress
  • Living in poverty
  • Experiencing community violence
  • Discrimination and racism
  • Losing a job

Researchers have also discovered a link between childhood trauma and substance use disorder. Victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse may attempt to self-treat their trauma and numb their emotional pain with substance use. A lack of parental guidance can also lead to addiction issues later in life. Since teens’ brains are still forming and their ability to make logical decisions is affected, they are at a high risk of using substances to cope with life stressors.

3. Personal History

An individual’s personality and history might also contribute to addiction. For instance, experts have noticed a link between substance use disorder and low self-esteem and social anxiety at a young age. They also find it highly likely that those who use synthetic drugs may use other substances like alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.

Since most designer drug tests cannot detect the chemicals found in these substances, many people may also use them to avoid positive drug screens when undergoing them for employment or as part of a drug treatment program.

4. Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance use disorder is associated with several other mental health conditions, also known as co-occurring disorders. Some who use designer drugs like K2 or bath salts might do so to cope with distressing symptoms of a mental health condition. It’s important to note that self-treating mental illnesses with these drugs can exacerbate symptoms and lead to life-threatening effects.

Common co-occurring mental health disorders associated with synthetic drug addiction include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Polysubstance use disorder
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Short- and Long-Term Effects of Synthetic Drug Addiction

Short- and Long-Term Effects of Synthetic Drug Addiction

Since synthetic drugs are not quality controlled or regulated, there are concerns over what is actually in them. All 50 states have reported health risks associated with synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants. These symptoms might range from temporary behavioral changes to overdose to death.

Synthetic cannabinoid products have been found to contain chemicals like rat poison, accounting for several hospitalizations and deaths. These substances are not approved for human consumption. As a result, people consuming them have no idea what they are putting into their bodies.

They may suffer from unpredictable and life-threatening effects. Even in small amounts, designer drugs can be toxic, addictive and even deadly. With the number of synthetic drugs increasing, symptoms of addiction may vary.

Synthetic cannabinoids can induce serious health problems such as hypertension, respiratory difficulties, muscle twitches, tachycardia, acute renal failure and psychosis. Learn more of the common short- and long-term effects of synthetic drug addiction if you or someone you know is struggling:

Health Complications

When people first ingest synthetic drugs, they may experience fleeting feelings of euphoria. However, it’s impossible to accurately predict how each individual will respond to these risky drugs — some may even experience life-threatening symptoms when first taking them.

Short-term and long-term health problems associated with designer drug misuse may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Muscular pain
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore jaw
  • Profuse sweating
  • Restlessness

The more severe long-term symptoms associated with synthetic drug use include:

  • Violent tendencies
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Chest pain, heart palpitations and heart attack
  • Extreme risk-taking behavior

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological Symptoms

Chronic use of synthetic drugs is associated with severe psychiatric conditions and cognitive impairment. The following are examples of typical symptoms related to synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants:

  • Diminished cognitive ability
  • Emotional fragility
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Dissociation or disconnecting from one’s self-identity
  • Severe anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Delusions
  • Panic attacks
  • Aggression and irritability
  • Inability to form complete sentences

Bath salts and other synthetic drugs can also cause psychotic and self-harming behavior. It’s essential to seek emergency health services immediately if you or someone you know exhibits these symptoms.


Fentanyl Addiction Treatment  

An overdose occurs when a person has a dangerous reaction from using too much of a drug. The response to unpredictable substances like synthetic drugs can result in severe, harmful symptoms or death. Taking these drugs can result in toxic reactions, elevated blood pressure and reduced blood supply to the heart.

Synthetic drugs can also cause heart complications such as a heart attack. They might even lead to kidney damage and seizures. The risk of death increases when synthetic opioids like fentanyl are added to the mixture without the user’s knowledge.

Many of these synthetic opioids are more potent than heroin and morphine and thus have the potential to cause a fatal overdose. In 2020, more than 56,000 people died from synthetic opioid-related overdoses.

Signs of a synthetic opioid overdose include:

  • Stupor
  • Changes in pupillary size
  • Coma
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Respiratory failure

Symptoms such as pinpoint pupils, coma and respiratory depression are highly suggestive of opioid poisoning. It’s essential that you alert medical services right away if you suspect someone you know is overdosing from synthetic drugs.

Social Effects

Social Effects

The long-term effects of addiction go even further than the physical symptoms. Individuals might deal with legal, economic and relationship difficulties that often arise as a result of substance use:

  • Emotional pain: Family members of those battling addiction may feel frustration, anger, anxiety, fear, depression, shame, worry or guilt surrounding their loved one’s substance use.
  • Economic burden: Addiction can often result in financial problems due to spending money on substances or job loss.
  • Relationship distress or dissatisfaction: Families may experience high rates of conflict and tension due to the problems substance use disorder can cause. Spouses may feel helpless or not know how to address their loved one’s addiction, which can cause relationship strain.
  • Family instability: Families may encounter instability due to separation, divorce or removal of children due to substance use disorder.
  • Legal trouble: Individuals addicted to synthetic drugs may display risky behaviors, such as driving while under the influence of drugs, unprotected sex or violence.

How to Know When It’s Time for Treatment

People struggling with substance use disorder might not always recognize when they have a problem. It can be challenging to accept that you need help or quit substances when you’re using them to cope with life stressors. Some might also feel like they’ll wait to hit rock bottom before asking for help. In reality, while it’s never too late to ask for help, doing so as soon as possible increases your chances of overcoming this complex and dangerous disease.

If you’re looking for warning signs that you or a loved one may need help, consider the following symptoms:

  • Experiencing a compulsive, excessive urge to use synthetic drugs
  • Taking drugs frequently throughout the day
  • Desiring but unsuccessfully attempting to quit substances
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using and recovering from synthetic drugs
  • Taking substances no matter the financial, social and health consequences they pose

Just taking synthetic drugs once can cause serious health risks and adversely affect one’s entire livelihood. That’s why health specialists must address your substance use. If you or someone you know displays the above signs of addiction, getting professional and medical help immediately can help prevent these consequences.

Types of Synthetic Drug Addiction Treatment

Types of Synthetic Drug Addiction Treatment

While addiction can be debilitating and isolating, treatment centers can help you beat this disease and improve your quality of life. Since many synthetic drugs contain unknown chemicals, a residential treatment program is advised to monitor patients and ensure their safety and security. These programs can provide 24-hour medical monitoring and mental health services to prevent complications associated with synthetic drug withdrawal.

Through a combination of medicines and behavioral therapy, patients can reach sobriety, treat any underlying health problems and prevent relapse. The following are types of synthetic drug addiction treatment programs available:

  • Medicines: Synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants can cause severe and often painful symptoms when you attempt to quit on your own. As a result, medical detox is often necessary to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, monitor your health progress and safely remove these substances from your body. Health providers can also treat symptoms of underlying health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
  • Hospital-based care: Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) can help those struggling with medical conditions due to addiction and underlying health issues. You can attend addiction treatment at a clinic or hospital and receive medicines for any co-occurring mental illnesses. You might also participate in counseling or behavioral therapy sessions in hospital-based care.
  • Residential inpatient treatment: An inpatient or residential treatment program allows patients struggling with substance issues to live and recover alongside peers. patients can receive 24/7 medical assistance, attend therapy and enjoy numerous activities to improve their health and wellness. Most treatment facilities also provide gourmet meals, exercise facilities and support groups.
  • Therapy and support groups: In group or individual counseling, you can learn to face and combat potential triggers of your substance use. You’ll work with highly-trained therapists and counselors to learn relapse prevention techniques and other sobriety tools. In support groups, a leader or counselor will facilitate discussions about each person’s recovery process. These sessions can provide the guidance and encouragement needed to get through recovery.
  • Outpatient programs: An outpatient program is generally more flexible and less intensive than inpatient care. These programs allow patients to attend treatment during the day and return home at night. You can customize your schedule to meet obligations such as school, work or child care while meeting treatment goals.


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The Process of Treating Synthetic Drug Addiction

Treatment for synthetic drug addiction should be highly individualized because it can be impossible to tell what substance the patient has been ingesting regularly. A few factors will determine the type of care you or a loved one should seek.

The first step in treating substance use disorder is a professional medical evaluation. When you enter a rehabilitation clinic, substance use specialists will first ask questions about your synthetic drug use, such as:

  • Whether you’ve combined synthetic substances with other drugs like opioids or alcohol
  • Whether you’ve been prescribed medication for an underlying mental health condition
  • How long the addiction has occurred
  • How much you typically ingest in one full day

Health professionals will also assess your motivation for seeking treatment and your prior treatment and relapse history. This will help them determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs, which may include the following services:

Medical Detox

Medical Detox

The neurotransmitters within the brain that regulate moods can be disrupted due to chronic synthetic drug use. This can lead to physical and psychological dependence. The brain may stop working normally when a person quits these substances, causing flu-like symptoms, irritability, depression and anxiety. That’s why synthetic drug detox should be addressed by medical professionals.

In treatment facilities, you’ll have 24/7 access to a licensed medical staff at all times of the day. They aim to provide ongoing care and support by administering medicines to make your physical withdrawal symptoms tolerable and ease you through recovery.

Physicians can also determine the correct inpatient treatment option to meet your needs and establish an aftercare plan when your time in residential treatment ends.

Therapeutic Services

Most synthetic drug addiction treatment programs provide behavioral therapies to help you overcome addiction. patients will typically attend regular, one-on-one therapy sessions with licensed therapists.

Types of behavioral therapies include:

  • Motivational Interviewing (MI): Motivational interviewing is a type of behavioral therapy that can help individuals struggling with the internal motivation needed to enter recovery. MI can help these patients realize that change is necessary through nonjudgmental methods. Therapists can also help patients improve their self-esteem while learning healthy stress coping mechanisms.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): In cognitive-behavioral therapy, you can learn to identify and combat your addiction triggers to prevent relapse. You can also work with therapists to establish new, healthy coping mechanisms while treating underlying health conditions that may contribute to your substance use disorder.
  • Support groups: You’ll enter a safe space to discuss your substance use with like-minded people when you attend support groups and group counseling sessions. You’ll also have the opportunity to help your peers reach their own recovery goals and learn tips for navigating the changes of your newfound healthier lifestyle.



After the synthetic drug addiction treatment program ends, you’ll be encouraged to keep up with aftercare methods to prevent relapse and maintain your healthier lifestyle. You might opt for an outpatient program to transition smoothly back into your life, which can be a highly affordable and beneficial form of aftercare.

You might also choose to attend 12-step groups to support your ongoing care. In these programs, you’ll have the support and encouragement of others following the same recovery journey. Group members can discuss tips and goals for overcoming triggers and maintaining their healthy lifestyles.

Benefits of Seeking Treatment for Synthetic Drug Addiction

Ending your relationship with substances is a courageous step toward recovery, though you don’t have to go at it alone. When you enter a synthetic drug addiction treatment center, you’ll find a highly-trained medical staff eager to support you through the process.

Stability, encouragement and accountability are all staples of rehabilitation programs, where you can work toward overcoming addiction and restoring your overall health. You’ll appreciate several benefits of synthetic drug addiction treatment programs:

A Sense of Belonging

One of the most beneficial aspects of addiction treatment centers is the sense of belonging they provide. In treatment, you’ll have endless opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals. This way, you can overcome obstacles along the way and support others on their paths to sobriety. Individual and group treatments address the social recovery issues associated with substance use and help you heal with the support of others.

Interventions might address how to avoid or reduce contact with high-risk people or places, resolve relationship issues and develop new friendships. The friendships you make in recovery can become a supportive network to prevent relapse and help you post-treatment. Support groups can also help you improve your communication and teach you how to ask for help from others. Additionally, you’ll learn to engage in substance-free social activities and hobbies to successfully recover and improve your quality of life.



Individuals battling substance use disorder tend to have chaotic lifestyles. The lack of structure can make it difficult for them to stay sober. They may have unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the stressors in their lives and have difficulties keeping organized. As a result, addiction treatment programs focus on structure and stability to help people overcome this complex disease.

You can appreciate around-the-clock care and supervision while following a treatment plan that emphasizes daily routines and productive activities. These customized programs can help shield you from substances, keep you engaged and help prevent relapse as you learn to replace unhealthy behaviors with positive ones.


When you enter an addiction treatment facility, you’ll work with a team professional team of doctors, therapists and counselors to support you on your recovery journey. Specialists can help you avoid substances by working on healthy coping mechanisms and holding you accountable to meet your sobriety goals.

You’ll also attend group therapy and support groups to help others reach their goals. Together, you can work to overcome substance use problems and prevent relapses post-treatment. The accountability provided by peers and professionals in treatment centers can help you stay healthy and safe.

You’ll appreciate support and accountability when you have peers and professionals waiting to hear from you in residential or outpatient treatment.

Overall Improved Health 

Overall Improved Health

Treatment programs emphasize improving the mind and body. Through productive activities and healthy meals, you’ll work on restoring your physical and mental health and learn the healthy habits you can take with you post-treatment.

Chronic substance use can negatively affect your brain and body, making it difficult to overcome addiction. That’s why most treatment centers provide nutritionally-dense meals and supplements to restore your body and give you the strength needed to overcome addiction. They also promote regular exercise and art therapies to rejuvenate your spirit. These activities can provide the optimism and energy required for recovery.

Examples of recreational activities provided at synthetic drug addiction treatment centers include:

  • Meditation
  • Hiking and nature walks
  • Group games
  • Yoga
  • Music and art therapy 
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FAQs About Synthetic Drug Addiction Treatment

The following are our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about synthetic drug addiction treatment: 

What Are the Types of Synthetic Drugs?

There are several types of synthetic drugs. The most common ones include:

  • Spice or K2: Also known as Blaze, Yucatan Fire or Bliss, synthetic cannabinoids are 100 times more potent than natural cannabis and bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce even stronger effects.
  • Bath salts: Synthetic stimulants like bath salts are designed to mimic stimulants like cocaine, though their effects are much stronger. They can increase heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and energy levels.
  • Flakka or gravel: Even just a small amount of this cathinone drug can produce extreme stimulant and hallucinogenic effects.
  • Molly: Claimed to be a pure version of ecstasy or 3, 4-methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA), this drug distorts the senses and is often mixed with other designer drugs like methylone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).
  • DMT: This psychoactive substance can produce hallucinations similar to those caused by LSD. For these reasons, they’re commonly misused in the club and rave scene.

How Can Acute Intoxication Be Treated?

How Can Acute Intoxication Be Treated?

When a person displays signs of acute synthetic drug intoxication, you should seek immediate emergency medical services. You can also call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 if necessary.

How Are Bath Salts Marketed?

Bath salts are often marketed as bath salts, plant food, incense, potpourri or research chemicals. They’re often sold in gas stations, head shops or novelty stores in small shiny packets. They may come in liquids, powders or crystals and have various names, such as:

  • Bliss
  • Raving Dragon
  • Blue Light
  • Cloud 9
  • Blue Silk
  • Purple Tranquility
  • Charge
  • Zoom 2
  • Cosmic Blast
  • Aura

Is Synthetic Drug Detox Necessary?

Due to their ever-changing chemicals and risks, medically monitored detox is necessary for synthetic drug addiction. Many may experience severe and dangerous effects when attempting to quit these substances on their own, which is why professional treatment is crucial. Health providers can treat a patient’s withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings to prevent relapse.

What Types of Drugs Are Used in Treatment?

Synthetic drug addiction treatment centers might use Suboxone or Vivitrol to treat withdrawal symptoms and help patients experience a smoother recovery process. These medicines are not a substitute for ongoing treatment, though they can help patients taper drugs from their systems and comfortably attend individual and group therapy sessions.

Get Help at a Synthetic Drug Addiction Treatment Center in Chicago, Illinois

While addiction can seem like an uphill battle, treatment centers can help you improve your health and overcome this chronic disease.

Gateway Foundation is a synthetic drug addiction treatment center in Chicago, Illinois, that’s focused on providing high-quality, accessible care for those in need. Our programs emphasize safe and effective medical support and therapeutic care to help you stay sober and achieve a happier, healthier life.

At our synthetic drug addiction treatment center, you’ll find an expert team of medical staff eager to work with you to beat this complex disease. To learn more about our addiction treatment programs, contact us today. 

Get Help at a Synthetic Drug Addiction Treatment Center in Chicago, Illinois