Updated on April 3, 2024
7 min read

What Is the Matrix Model?

The Matrix Model is a highly structured and evidence-based treatment framework that is often part of intensive substance abuse outpatient programs. Originating in Los Angeles in the 1980s, it specifically supports the needs of people who suffer from substance use disorders involving stimulants.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) endorses the Matrix Model as an evidence-based practice. It’s particularly helpful for people with an addiction to:

  • Cocaine
  • Crystal meth
  • Methamphetamine-based prescription drugs

What is the Matrix Model?

The Matrix Model combines many addiction treatment modalities into a comprehensive program. 

Some common treatments include:

  • Family therapy
  • Relapse prevention
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapies, such as CBT
  • Addiction education
  • Peer support groups
  • 12-step facilitation
  • Other therapies and groups

The Matrix Model takes place over 16 weeks and includes a less intensive aftercare program. This addiction treatment approach uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a motivational interviewing style. It also offers contingency management via group therapy sessions and individual sessions. 

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Matrix Model Therapeutic Approaches

Therapists incorporating the Matrix Model use eight central therapeutic constructs to: 

  1. Create a positive and collaborative connection with the person in recovery
  2. Establish an explicit treatment structure and clear expectations
  3. Educate the person on brain chemistry and other clinically-relevant knowledge (psychoeducation)
  4. Introduce and apply cognitive-behavioral theories
  5. Use positive reinforcement for behavioral change
  6. Include and educate family members in the course of recovery
  7. Teach and encourage self-help participation
  8. Monitor substance use through urine testing
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Effectiveness of the Matrix Model

Currently, the SAMHSA endorses the Matrix Model as an evidence-based practice for treating stimulant addiction. This means that a significant amount of high-quality research is backing it up as a leading treatment option.

The Matrix Model emerged in the 1980s to respond to the cocaine epidemic, which hit California particularly hard. The Matrix Institute in Los Angeles sought to identify models effective for treating stimulant abuse.

Previous methods, which showed effectiveness for treating alcoholism and heroin addiction, were not well-suited for treating the root causes behind stimulant addiction.

Studies on the Matrix Model

The original study was conducted in 1985. It compared the effectiveness of the Matrix Model to 28-day inpatient programs. 

The study showed that the Matrix Model was more effective in treating people with addiction to cocaine. There was a significant reduction in usage eight months after treatment. 

Another study, the Methamphetamine Treatment Project (MTP), was held between 1999 and 2001. It aimed to compare the effectiveness of different treatment programs for meth addiction

The MTP study measured the effectiveness of the Matrix Model against “treatment as usual” (TAU). The Matrix Model participants were 38% more likely to stay in the program and 27% more likely to complete treatment.

Two to five years later, the group undergoing treatment with the Matrix Model showed a comparatively lower amount of drug use, higher levels of employment, and lower levels of arrest.

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Matrix Model Admissions And Insurance Coverage

Depending on the program and the location, the total cost of admission averages between $3,000 and $10,000. This is a significantly cheaper option in comparison to most inpatient programs.

Insurance Coverage

Private insurance companies usually offer partial coverage for the cost of intensive outpatient treatment programs that integrate the Matrix Model. They’ll sometimes require a referral from the primary care physician of the person in recovery. However, the program usually takes care of the petitioning process on behalf of the attendee.

Alternative Ways to Pay

Even if you don’t have insurance or coverage that includes rehab, there are alternative ways to pay. You can get affordable treatment through:

  • Clinics that operate on a sliding scale
  • Scholarships
  • State funding

Most intensive outpatient programs do their best to ensure that affording care isn’t an obstacle to recovery.

Matrix Model Treatment Plan and Structure

For the Matrix Model to be successful, therapists combine the following components in a highly-structured setting:

  • Individual counseling
  • Early recovery skills groups
  • Relapse prevention groups
  • Family education groups
  • 12-step meetings
  • Urine and breath tests
  • Relapse analysis
  • Social support groups

Individual Counseling

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the foundation of the entire recovery process. These individual counseling sessions establish the pivotal relationship between the therapist and the person in recovery. Typically, between three and 10 individual sessions will occur during the course of the program.

The primary concern of psychotherapy is to set and monitor the progress of the person’s goals. Therapists may use CBT, contingency management, and motivational interviewing strategies throughout the sessions.

There may also be conjoint sessions (with a loved one in the room) to help set the treatment plan. This type of session may occur if the person relapses or their treatment plan needs changing for any other reason.

Early Recovery Skills Groups

In the first month of treatment, people will attend eight early recovery skill groups to learn the necessary skills to abstain from drug use. These are small-sized group sessions.

People who destabilize or relapse will often return to these groups before continuing their treatment sessions. 

In the sessions, they are taught these five skills:

  • How to reduce cravings using cognitive tools
  • The nature of classically-conditioned cravings 
  • Time management
  • Why and how to stop using secondary substances
  • How to connect with community support services

Relapse Prevention Groups

Relapse prevention groups occur throughout treatment at the beginning and end of every week. A therapist runs them, and, if possible, a co-leader with at least six months of sobriety serves as a peer support person.

The purpose of these groups is to teach people how to stay sober.

These groups focus on:

  • Behavioral change 
  • Changing cognitive/affective orientation
  • Connecting patients to 12-step support systems

Family Education Groups

These sessions take place over 12 weeks. They aim to educate family members using slideshows, videos, panels, and group discussions.

The educational component is aimed at teaching family members about:

  • The biology of addiction
  • Conditioning and addiction
  • Physical and mental health effects of drugs
  • How addiction impacts relationships

12-Step Meetings

People undergoing treatment and graduated members will get together for a 12-step meeting each week. 

These meetings may be official, or they may be “Introduction to 12-Step Program Meetings.” Either way, they’ll use the same 12-step format. This familiarizes the attendees with the structure and prepares them to attend outside meetings.

Urine and Breath Tests

Urine and/or breath testing is done each week at random. If the test returns a positive result, this becomes a point of discussion. 

The idea is to understand the reason for the relapse. To do so, the therapist creates a receptive, non-judgmental atmosphere. The person in recovery can then feel comfortable opening up about the reasons behind the reoccurrence.

Under no circumstance does a positive result serve as grounds for dismissal from the program.

Relapse Analysis

If a person relapses, they’ll undergo a relapse analysis with their therapist. This will be a one-on-one session or a session with a loved one in attendance.

The session aims to identify the issues and events that led to the relapse. Doing so helps to understand the person’s triggers to prevent future relapse.

Social Support Groups

These groups take place during the last month of treatment. They aim to help people in recovery integrate into sober life, preparing them to step back into society without needing to use substances.

People often relapse because they fall back into their old life and patterns. Relapse is much more likely if their environment doesn’t change and they go back to socializing routinely with friends who misuse substances.

Social support groups help recovering addicts identify new hobbies, activities, and interests to bring into their sobriety. They also serve as an opportunity to make new non-drug-related friends to support life outside treatment.

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Other Addiction Treatment Options 

If you know someone suffering from an addiction to stimulant drugs, consider an intensive outpatient program that uses the Matrix Model. Contact a treatment center to find the closest one to you.

There are also other addiction treatment options to consider:

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Updated on April 3, 2024

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