Matrix Model

The matrix model was developed in Los Angeles during the 1980s. It is a 16-week structured treatment framework for use in intensive outpatient programs. It is used to treat stimulant (mainly cocaine and methamphetamine) addiction.
Evidence Based
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What Is The Matrix Model?

The matrix model is a highly structured treatment framework used in intensive outpatient treatment programs developed in the 1980s in Los Angeles. It is an effective substance abuse treatment model for patients with substance use disorders involving stimulant substances such as cocaine, crystal meth, and methamphetamine-based prescription drugs. 

The matrix treatment model takes place over 16 weeks and includes a less intensive aftercare program. This addiction treatment approach uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), combined with a motivational interviewing style, and supplemented with contingency management carried out in a mixture of group therapy sessions and individual sessions. 

Matrix Model Therapeutic Approaches

Therapists using the matrix model use eight central therapeutic constructs: 

  1. Create a positive and collaborative connection with the patient
  2. Establish an explicit treatment structure and clear expectations
  3. Educating the patient on brain chemistry and other clinically relevant knowledge (psychoeducation)
  4. Introducing and applying cognitive-behavioral theories
  5. Using positive reinforcement for behavioral change
  6. Including and educating family members in the course of recovery
  7. Teaching and encouraging self-help participation
  8. Monitoring substance use through urine testing

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Matrix Model Program Components

In order for the matrix model to be successful, therapists combine the following components in a highly structured setting:

Individual Counseling

These psychotherapy (talk therapy) sessions are the foundation for the entire recovery process. They establish the pivotal relationship between therapist and client. The primary concern of these sessions is to set and monitor the progress of the patient’s goals. Therapists may use cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational interviewing throughout the treatment process.

They may also be conjoint sessions (with a loved one in the room) to set the treatment plan. If the patient relapses or their treatment plan needs changing for any other reason, it will be addressed in these sessions.

Early Recovery Skills Groups

In the first month of treatment, patients will attend eight early recovery skill groups to teach them the skills they need to abstain from drug use. These are small-sized group sessions. Patients that destabilize or relapse will often return to these groups before proceeding with their treatment sessions.

Patients 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 take place at the beginning and end of every week throughout treatment. A therapist runs them and, if possible, a co-leader who has at least six months of sobriety serves as a peer support person. The purpose of these groups is to teach patients how to stay sober.

These groups focus on:

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

Family Education Groups

These sessions take place over twelve weeks and utilize 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

Each week, patients currently undergoing treatment and graduated members will get together for a 12-Step meeting. These may be official, or if that is not possible, they can be considered “Introduction to 12-Step Program Meetings.” They will use the same format to make sure that patients are familiar with the process of these groups and are prepared for outside meetings.

Urine/Breath Tests

Urine testing is done each week randomly. Positive results become points of discussion, rather than reasons for condemnation.

Relapse Analysis

If a patient relapses, they will undergo a relapse analysis with their therapist. This will either be a one on one session or with a loved one in attendance. The purpose of these is to try to identify the issues and events that preceded the relapse to understand the patient’s triggers and prevent future relapse.

Social Support Groups

These groups take place during the last month of treatment. They are designed to help patients make new non-drug-related friends and discover new activities and interests. This will help them acclimate to a sober life outside of treatment. 

An intensive outpatient program may be best for you or a loved one who is suffering from an addiction to stimulant drugs. Contact a treatment center to find out if their intensive outpatient approach utilizes the matrix model. 

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Rawson, Richard A., et al. The Matrix Model. Intensive Outpatient Alcohol & Drug Treatment Program. Hazelden, 2014.

Herbeck, Diane M et al. “Empirically supported substance abuse treatment approaches: a survey of treatment providers' perspectives and practices.” Addictive behaviors vol. 33,5 (2008): 699-712. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2007.12.003

NIDA. "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 17 Jan. 2018,

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Michael Bayba
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Medically Reviewed: June 3, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
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