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Updated on September 28, 2022

Addiction Therapy Options

Role of Therapy in Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

There are many different types of therapies available for drug and alcohol addiction. These include behavioral therapies, family therapy, art therapy, and medication-assisted therapy, among others.

Behavioral therapy focuses on identifying any behavioral patterns that may be worsening an individual’s problems. For example, someone with a substance use disorder (SUD) may neglect work, relationships, and hobbies due to excessive drug-seeking. 

If you have a substance use disorder (SUD), behavior therapy teaches you ways to manage drug cravings. You’ll also learn skills that are helpful in preventing relapse during the recovery process. 

Family therapy helps provide a better understanding of healthy boundaries and family patterns. It also enhances communication and improves problem-solving.

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) is useful when someone needs more intensive assistance in tapering off drugs or alcohol.

Depending on your needs, your addiction counselor may recommend one of these therapies or a combination.

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Benefits of Therapy for Addiction

Some of the primary benefits of therapy for addiction treatment include:

  • Therapy provides incentives, which motivates people to stay clean
  • Therapy changes attitudes, behaviors, and thought processes around particular issues
  • Therapy teaches people new life skills and coping mechanisms
  • Therapy keeps people engaged and accountable for their actions
  • Therapy allows people to connect with others and know they are not alone

Types of Therapies Used in Addiction Treatment

Some common addiction therapies used to treat substance and alcohol use disorders include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented and problem-focused psychotherapy (talk therapy).

This type of therapy teaches those struggling with substance abuse how to identify connections between how they feel, think, and act. The goal is to positively impact a person's recovery by increasing awareness of these factors.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) combines the behavior change techniques of CBT with therapies designed to help patients focus on two main components: change and acceptance. DBT is based on CBT, but with a greater emphasis placed on emotions, mindfulness, and social aspects.

It was initially developed in the 1970s for patients diagnosed with suicidal thoughts or borderline personality disorder, and it is still used to treat a variety of mood and personality disorders today. It is an excellent tool for any addiction treatment program that treats patients with a dual diagnosis.

Contingency Management (CM)

Contingency Management Therapy is based on giving patients tangible rewards to reinforce positive behaviors, such as sobriety or drug abstinence. Voucher-based reinforcement (VBR) provides positive reinforcement to adults who stop drug use.

Prize Incentives CM (PICM) uses a rewards-based system, but there are more possibilities for types of prizes. CM therapy has been shown to be consistently effective for many types of substance use disorders.

It is also effective in treating people with co-occurring disorders, which is when someone is diagnosed with SUD and mental health disorder simultaneously.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a therapeutic approach used to treat substance use disorders (SUD) The goal is to help people make behavioral changes that are better for their health.

MI is effective because it works fast, is more affordable than other therapeutic approaches, and results in a longer commitment to treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment uses FDA approved medications in conjunction with evidence-based therapies to treat substance use disorders (SUDs). This treatment approach is used for opioid and alcohol addictions.

The prescribed medication works to block the euphoric effects of drugs, reduce cravings, and normalize brain chemistry and body functions as the body goes through withdrawal and stabilizes.

MAT is a comprehensive and individualized treatment option that increases the chances of successful recovery. Treatment programs are clinically driven and personalized to meet each individual's needs.

Biofeedback Therapy

The effectiveness of treatment like Biofeedback Therapy is determined by how comfortable someone is using it. Most people undergoing biofeedback training sessions see improvement in fewer than a dozen sessions.

BT tracks how the body reacts, tracking alcohol or drug withdrawal symptoms that cause stress and heightened involuntary responses.

BT helps people change unhealthy habits by interpreting brain activity and helping people familiarize themselves with their body's responses.

Experiential Therapy (ET)

Experiential Therapy (ET) is a non-traditional psychotherapy used for coping with a variety of issues, including addiction.

ET includes activities such as arts and crafts, acting or role-playing, props, animal care, guided imagery, and more. The goal is to recreate, re-enact, and re-experience emotions and learn to deal with them productively.

Family Systems Theory

Family Systems Theory is a therapeutic approach to several child psychology and general family issues. It's typically applied to treat psychological conditions in children and adolescents.

It also works to better the overall mental health and emotional problems of all members of the family. The goal of family systems theory is to improve clear communication of a family unit.

Harm Reduction Model

Harm reduction is a public health approach to managing high-risk behaviors, including drug and alcohol addiction. Harm reduction focuses on providing judgment-free healthcare solutions that mitigate the health risks associated with these behaviors.

The harm reduction model values abstinence, but abstinence is not exclusively the goal. The model is gaining momentum worldwide, with over 200 syringe exchange programs operating in the U.S. Harm reduction advocates for regulation, drug use de-stigmatization, and reduced legal penalties for drug use in certain circumstances.

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (DTMS)

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (DTMS) therapy is a non-invasive approach of brain stimulation that occurs through electromagnetic currents being sent through a helmet containing a patented H-coil.

Deep TMS treatment has received approval for the treatment of depression and OCD from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013 and 2018. It is also CE-marked in Europe for those and other mental health conditions, meaning that this line of therapy meets EU safety, health, and environmental protection requirements.

EMDR Therapy

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This line of psychotherapy approach aims to help individuals who have experienced traumatic events (like treatment of PTSD) or other upsetting life experiences.

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. Therapists use a technique called bilateral stimulation to help with information processing of traumatic flashbacks.

It also aims to guide patients as they engage with body sensations, thoughts, and feelings in a way similar to mindfulness and meditation. Patients can receive sessions twice per week on a consecutive basis.

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy incorporates horses into the therapeutic process. People engage in horse-related activities, including grooming, feeding, and riding a horse. A mental health professional supervises these activities.

Horse therapy is popular because of its experiential approach. Horses can help people develop a sense of trust through their interactions with horses. They can also mirror the feelings of the handler or rider around them.

Equine-assisted therapy is used in different types of populations and various settings.

Clonidine for Opiate Withdrawal

Clonidine, also known as Catapres, is used on its own or with other medications that treat patients with high blood pressure.

It is also used to help treat dysmenorrhea (severe menstrual cramps), Tourette's syndrome, menopausal hot flashes, and alcohol and opioid withdrawal. While it cannot cure addiction, it can help the recovery process.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST)

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) addresses all aspects and natural environments of a high-risk youth's life, including home, family functioning, school, community, and peers.

Treatment is not measured by the length of time a patient or family is in the program. Case studies done on MST show that the program improves recidivism rates by about 20 percent.

NAD Addiction Therapy

NAD is a coenzyme naturally found in the body. NAD+ is given in the oxidized form, while NADH is in the reduced form. The usual course of NAD treatment involves one infusion per day for at least 10 days.

The most common side effect experienced by those using intravenous NAD Therapy is a flu-like feeling that is mild and passes quickly.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

TMS therapy causes gradual changes in the brain over time and must be given on an on-going basis. It is usually applied for thirty minutes at a time, five days a week, for six to eight weeks. The magnetic pulses have been shown to calm the areas of the brain that cause cravings.


A TheraTapper is a device used in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The device is a form of psychotherapy that treats people with trauma. It is also commonly used in DNMS (Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy) therapy.

It is most effective when used along with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in a rehab setting. EMDR tools treat drug and alcohol addiction by addressing the root causes of these conditions, such as traumatic memories.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a treatment approach that involves identifying and altering negative, irrational thoughts and feelings. The therapy involves a therapist and a patient working together to identify beliefs and thought patterns that lead to unhealthy behavior.

The therapist's role is to help a person see that some thoughts are irrational and those thoughts shouldn't be used to drive actions.

Then, the patient and therapist can work on replacing irrational thoughts with healthier ones. REBT is intended to improve mental health by replacing harmful perspectives with healthy ones.

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  5. “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).” RC PSYCH ROYAL COLLEGE OF PSYCHIATRISTS,
  6. Dimeff, Linda A, and Marsha M Linehan. “Dialectical Behavior Therapy For Substance Abusers.” Addiction Science & Clinical Practice vol. 4,2 : 39-47. doi:10.1151/ascp084239,
  7. Goodman, Marianne et al. “Dialectical Behavior Therapy Alters Emotion Regulation And Amygdala Activity In Patients With Borderline Personality Disorder.” Journal of Psychiatric Research vol. 57 : 108-16. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2014.06.020,
  8. Lipchik, Gay L., et al. “Basic Principles and Techniques of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies for Comorbid Psychiatric Symptoms Among Headache Patients.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, vol. 46, no. s3, 2006, doi:10.1111/j.1526-4610.2006.00563.x.,
  9. Lynne, Walsh. “Medication and Counseling Treatment | SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” Samhsa.Gov, 15 June 2015,
  10. May, Jennifer M et al. “Dialectical behavior therapy as treatment for borderline personality disorder.” The mental health clinician vol. 6,2 62-67. 8 Mar. 2016, doi:10.9740/mhc.2016.03.62,
  11. Rinaldo, David. The Cost Effectiveness of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opiate Addiction. 2008,
  12. Watkins, Katherine E., et al. “An Effectiveness Trial of Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Patients With Persistent Depressive Symptoms in Substance Abuse Treatment.” Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 68, no. 6, June 2011, p. 577., doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.53.,
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