What Are the Different Types of Therapy for Addiction?

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One of the most important aspects of addiction treatment is therapy.
Although detox gives the body time to end dependence on an intoxicating substance, learning to stay away from drugs or alcohol and understanding the specific triggers in one’s life that can lead to compulsive substance abuse are crucial parts of addiction treatment.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a list of Principles of Effective Treatment, and the organization states that offering a variety of treatment options is the best way to ensure that everyone who needs help can find the kind of addiction and mental health treatment they need. This includes offering options for different types of therapy in addiction treatment. Here are some of the most effective forms of therapy offered by many rehabilitation programs.

Types of Therapy for Addiction Treatment

  • Peer support or 12-Step-based therapy: Used by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and related groups, this form of group therapy is one of the original approaches to addiction treatment. As suggested by the name, each member of the group must participate in meetings and go through the 12 Steps of recovery. These steps include surrendering to a higher power, and understanding that individual willpower alone is not enough. Additionally, 12-Step models require compete abstinence from drugs and alcohol to participate.
  • Individual therapy: This denotes a form of therapy involving just the counselor, therapist, or psychologist, and the patient. While there are many specific methods for this form of therapy, working one on one has been a very effective treatment for many kinds of mental health conditions, including addiction.
  • Group therapy: Any form of therapy involving a therapist, counselor, or psychologist, and two or more patients at the same time is group therapy. This version of treatment is more often applied to addiction treatment and family counseling, and less often applied to specific mental health conditions.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT was originally developed to treat alcohol use disorder and prevent relapse in this condition, and later adapted successfully to treat cocaine addiction. CBT focuses on how learned behaviors, processes, and patterns play a role in how an individual interacts with the world around them, and substance abuse is one of those learned behaviors. By understanding the emotional or environmental triggers leading to cravings and compulsions, CBT helps the individual unlearn negative behaviors and learn positive behaviors.
  • The Matrix Model: This form of therapy is especially effective for people overcoming stimulant addiction, including methamphetamine and cocaine abuse. People participating in the Matrix Model receive direction from a trained therapist, acting as teacher and coach to build a positive relationship with their client. Using both positive reinforcement and CBT styles, the Matrix Model addresses the client’s self-esteem, dignity, and self-worth while helping them change their behaviors toward substances.
  • Family therapy: Also referred to as Family Behavioral Therapy (FBT), this treatment addresses structural and interpersonal issues in the whole family, which may be both caused by and exacerbated by substance abuse. Other issues in families include mental health problems, conduct disorders, employment struggles, and mistreatment of children or partners.
  • Interpersonal therapy: This form of therapy focuses on the individual’s relationships with others, with the goal of improving interpersonal skills. Treatment addresses negative patterns, including substance abuse, social isolation, and aggression, and helps to change behaviors so individuals can interact more positively with other people.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR): Primarily applied to the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), EMDR replaces negative emotional responses with less-charged, positive beliefs or reactions by applying rapid eye movements back and forth for 20-30 seconds. By applying this dual stimulation, the client incites the brain while also recalling specific, traumatic memories. The soothing, repetitive eye motion has helped some people reduce the stress associated with specific memories or emotional experiences.
  • Art therapy: This involves using any form of art – painting, drama, dance, creative writing, etc. – to ease tension, refocus the brain, and express experiences associated with substance abuse, mental health, and more.

Evidence-Based Treatment

  • Going through detox, then entering a rehabilitation program, is the foundation of overcoming addiction and substance abuse, but it’s important to find the right types of therapy offered by a rehabilitation program. Treatment programs are likely to offer group and individual therapy, but the specific approaches can be different. A person who benefits from the 12 Steps, for example, may not benefit from other forms of interpersonal therapy.
  • A diagnosis from a doctor, and the creation of a treatment plan by a therapist or case manager, will inform which types of therapy are used during addiction treatment. Co-occurring mental health conditions must be addressed alongside addiction, as these conditions interact with each other. Additionally, the individual may benefit from medications to ease withdrawal, placement in a sober living home, or other, specific forms of support to treat substance abuse.
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