Addiction therapy refers to a wide range of treatment options that address substance abuse disorders and underlying issues.

The nature of substance addiction is such that it is often a chronic disease of the brain where occasional relapses are common. Thus, short-term, single occasion treatment is typically insufficient, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

For many people, drug or alcohol treatment is a long-term process that involves multiple interventions and regular monitoring, states NIDA.

Also, no one therapy option works for every individual. Learn more about addiction therapy and the ways it can help you achieve long-term recovery.

What Is Addiction Therapy?

Addiction therapy should fit a person’s specific needs and adapt as those requirements evolve. Gold standard options typically available in treatment, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, may not be all you need to address your addiction.

There are dozens of addiction therapy options available, and some are more effective than others. Each patient, however, should have a unique treatment plan designed to speak directly to their individual needs.

There are two major categories of addiction therapy options: evidence-based treatment and alternative therapies.

Evidence-Based therapy is backed up by scientific study and shown to be significantly effective.

According to NIDA, evidence-based therapies can be implemented in a variety of settings for different kinds of addiction treatments and behavioral therapies. Behavioral therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy and 12-step programs are some of the most common examples of evidence-based modalities.

Alternative therapies are treatment options that have not been studied, thoroughly evidenced, or have been widely shown to be effective in treating addiction.

Psychology Today states that treatment facilities use these methods in an attempt to address the whole person while individualizing care.

However, there are experts who see value in alternative treatment methods, which means they see them as beneficial to individuals in recovery.

A study published in the Addiction Science & Clinical Practice journal concluded that mindfulness-based interventions may provide clients a “skillful means” of liberating themselves from the grips of addiction.

The use of alternative therapies should come secondary to the evidence-based approaches offered through a reputable treatment program.

Why Is Addiction Therapy Necessary?

Addiction is a complex disease that goes beyond the chemical effects of drug dependence.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines addiction as a complex, brain disease exhibited by compulsive substance use despite the harmful consequences.

People with addictions will also display an intense focus on using alcohol or drugs to such a degree that it takes over their life, using those substances even though it can cause problems like health issues and/or legal trouble.

Addiction blooms when your brain mistakes the effects of a drug with those generated by primal, life-sustaining activities like eating or having sex.

Your limbic system, which is the reward center of the brain, learns to treat drugs as vital to the subject’s survival, incentivizing repeated use.

Though addiction is closely tied to dependence, they are not synonymous.

When a chemical dependence is established, the brain and body get used to its presence. Eventually, the brain may stop producing its own naturally occurring chemicals like dopamine to counteract the effects of the substance.

This is a natural response by the body as it seeks to establish homeostasis or a state of biological and chemical stability. Once the use of a chemical stops, the subject will experience discomfort in the form of physical disturbances, which are often referred to as withdrawal symptoms.

To treat drug dependence safely, you can go through a process called medical detoxification, which involves the removal of the addictive substance and alleviation of withdrawal symptoms, allowing your brain chemistry to return to normal.

Dependence can be treated with a week of detoxification, but it takes more than that to address the deep-seated disease of addiction.

Addiction therapy is designed to help you cope with this chronic disease. The treatments that comprise addiction therapy can help you identify triggers and high-risk situations, develop healthy coping responses to stress, and create strategies to prevent relapse.

Addiction therapy also can help you address other issues that might be contributing to your substance use disorder, including mental health issues, past traumas, and medical conditions.

How Does Addiction Therapy Work?

There are a variety of addiction therapy options available, and a treatment plan is typically comprised of a combination of therapies depending on your specific needs.

When you first enter a treatment program, you will go through a process called intake and assessment. During this process, you may go through a biopsychosocial assessment, which is a questionnaire that informs an appointed therapist about your medical, psychological, and social needs.

You and your therapist will work together to form a treatment plan. It’s important that you are an integral part of the plan creation process. This allows for a program that is tailored to your particular needs. What’s more, your inclusion means you will likely become more invested in your treatment success.

Your treatment plan includes an overall goal and several objectives to help you achieve it. While a goal might be abstract like, “become more confident in group settings,” an objective will be a specific, observable task like, “share your story in group therapy.”  Interventions are the therapies and programs that will help you complete objectives and move toward your goal. Interventions can include:

  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Mental health education
  • 12-step programs
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy

As you progress, clinicians should reevaluate your treatment each week and adapt it as your needs change. You may stop participating in ineffective therapies or start new ones.

The Cognitive-Behavioral Model

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly recommended therapy option in addiction treatment.

CBT is a form of short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy that teaches subjects to change their patterns of thinking or behavior to a wide range of issues, including substance abuse disorders, according to PsychCentral.

It can be used to address a wide variety of cognitive, psychological, and behavioral needs, making it ideal for individualized treatment.

In CBT, you will learn to identify thoughts and behaviors that can lead to relapse, which occurs when a person returns to using addictive substances after a period of abstinence.

According to the cognitive-behavioral model, relapse does not start when you first use a drug again. It begins with the thoughts that come long before that drink or hit.

High-risk situations like stress, cravings, and triggers, can either be met with effective or ineffective coping responses.

Ineffective coping responses can eventually lead to relapse while effective responses decrease the probability of it happening.

In CBT, you will learn to develop positive coping mechanisms and increase self-efficacy, which is your expectancy in positive outcomes and mastery over your behavior.

Other Types Of Behavioral Therapy

There are other evidence-based therapy approaches that have been applied to addiction treatment scenarios, modalities that can help you in your recovery journey.

Behavioral therapy is a broad term that describes therapies that examine how learned behaviors influence actions and how different methods can facilitate lasting behavioral change.

It may sound like a simple process, but habits and behaviors are notoriously difficult to change permanently. But with certain therapy options, it’s possible.

Other Types Of Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that was first developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, it has been incorporated into the treatment of people with substance use disorders (SUD).

DBT also entails four modules: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation.

The primary goals of DBT, according to Verywell Mind, is to teach subjects how to live in the moment, cope with stress in a healthy manner, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others.

Family Therapy

Addiction treatment is always focused on the individual. However, as the name suggests, family therapy includes the relatives of the subject in need of addiction treatment and is group-oriented.

In essence, the aim of family therapy is to offer psychotherapy that helps family members improve communication and resolve conflicts, according to the Mayo Clinic. Though this type of therapy should be approached with caution, it can be beneficial and vital, helping you bolster your support system when you return to life after treatment.

Addiction is sometimes referred to as a family disease because of how it affects all the loved ones that surround a person struggling with addiction. In many cases, family members are dealing with their own issues that stem from a loved one’s addiction, such as codependency.

Family therapy can show people how their actions, while in active addiction, impact others. It can also help family members learn how to avoid enabling behaviors and strengthen the family as a unit, which is valuable in long-term recovery.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing (MI) involves one-on-one therapy sessions designed to increase a person’s readiness to change.

MI helps clients resolve ambivalent feelings and insecurities to help them find the motivation to change their behavior, says Psychology Today.

This therapy follows the trans-theoretical model, which is the idea that there are five stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.

Not everyone comes to treatment ready to make a change, and motivational interviewing helps people see the benefit in pursuing lasting recovery.

Contingency Management

Contingency management (CM) gives people in treatment tangible rewards to reinforce positive behaviors like abstinence, according to NIDA. CM is also the withholding of reinforcement and punishment for undesirable behaviors toward substance addiction.

According to this National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) report, CM can be applied in this manner: “…positive consequences for abstinence may include receipt of vouchers that are exchangeable for retail goods, whereas negative consequences for drinking may include withholding of vouchers or an unfavorable report to a parole officer.”

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