Updated on February 6, 2024
8 min read

What is Addiction Therapy?

The Role of Therapy in Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment

Substance use disorder (SUD) can negatively affect a person’s health and relationships. Fortunately, various therapies provide different treatment modalities for addiction.

Addiction therapy techniques can help you manage cravings, maintain sobriety, and develop relapse prevention skills. However, these therapies serve different purposes and are catered to specific needs.

Available addiction therapy options include:

  • Behavioral therapy: Focuses on identifying behavioral patterns that may be worsening a person’s SUD
  • Family therapy: Sessions help provide a better understanding of healthy boundaries and family patterns; also enhance communication and improve problem-solving
  • Medication-assisted therapy (MAT): Uses medication to assist with tapering off drugs or alcohol

Depending on your addiction treatment program, your counselor may recommend one or a combination of these therapies. These are typically available in inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities.

Benefits of Therapy for Addiction

Some of the primary benefits of individual and group therapy for addiction treatment include:

  • Providing incentives that motivate people to stay clean
  • Changing attitudes, behaviors, and thought processes around particular issues
  • Teaching patients new life skills and coping mechanisms
  • Keeping people engaged and accountable for their actions
  • Allowing people to connect with others and know they are not alone

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Therapies Used in Addiction Treatment

Some common addiction therapies used for treating substance and alcohol use disorders include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a goal-oriented and problem-focused psychotherapy (talk therapy). CBT teaches those struggling with substance abuse how to identify connections between substance use disorder and their:

  • Thought patterns
  • Feelings
  • Actions

The goal is to positively impact a person's recovery journey by increasing awareness of these factors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy combines the behavior change techniques of CBT with therapies designed to help patients focus on change and acceptance. DBT is based on CBT, but with a greater emphasis placed on: 

  • Emotions
  • Mindfulness
  • Social aspects

It was initially developed for patients with suicidal thoughts or borderline personality disorder. Today, DBT is a valuable tool for treating mood disorders, personality disorders, and dual diagnoses (when someone is simultaneously diagnosed with substance use disorder and a mental health disorder).

Contingency Management (CM)

Contingency Management therapy gives 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 Contingency Management (PICM) uses a rewards-based system, but there are more possibilities for prizes. CM therapy is consistently effective for many types of substance use disorders. It’s also effective in treating people with co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Motivational Interviewing is a therapeutic approach to treating substance use disorders. The goal is to help people make behavioral changes that are better for their health.

MI is effective because it works fast and is more affordable than other therapeutic approaches. It also 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. This treatment approach is used for opioid and alcohol addictions.

The prescribed medication is used to:

  • Block the euphoric effects of drugs
  • Reduce alcohol and drug cravings
  • Normalize brain chemistry
  • Stabilize your body as it goes through withdrawal

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

Biofeedback Therapy (BT)

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

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

It 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 but isn’t limited to activities such as: 

  • Arts and crafts
  • Acting or role-playing
  • Props
  • Animal care
  • Guided imagery 

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 improves all family members' overall emotional and mental health problems. Family systems theory aims 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 risks associated with these self-destructive 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 US. 

Harm reduction advocates for: 

  • Regulation
  • Drug use de-stigmatization
  • Reduced legal penalties for drug use in certain circumstances

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

This psychotherapy approach aims to help individuals who have experienced traumatic events (like those with PTSD) or other upsetting life experiences.

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. Therapists use bilateral stimulation to help with the 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.


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

It’s most effective 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.

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy incorporates horses into the therapeutic process. It’s used in different types of populations and various settings.

People in equine-assisted therapy engage in horse-related activities, including: 

  • Grooming
  • Feeding
  • Riding

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. Horses can also mirror the feelings of the handler or rider around them.

Clonidine for Opiate Withdrawal

Clonidine, also known as Catapres, is used independently or with other medications that treat patients with high blood pressure. While it cannot cure addiction, it can help the recovery process.

It’s also used to help treat: 

  • Dysmenorrhea (severe menstrual cramps)
  • Tourette's syndrome
  • Menopausal hot flashes
  • Alcohol and opioid withdrawal

Multisystemic Therapy (MST)

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) addresses all aspects and natural environments of a high-risk youth's life, including: 

  • Home lifestyle
  • Family functioning
  • School
  • Community and peers

Treatment is not measured by the length of time a patient or family is in the program. A case study done on MST shows that the program improves recidivism rates (relapsing into previous offensive behavior) by about 20%.

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. 

NAD therapy is not an FDA-approved treatment. However, many health clinics offer it to increase NAD levels in the body. It can help people with chronic fatigue syndrome and various neurodegenerative disorders. 

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 mild flu-like feeling that passes quickly.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS therapy causes gradual changes in the brain over time. As such, those undergoing TMS therapy need ongoing treatment. 

The magnetic pulses have been shown to calm the areas of the brain that cause cravings. It‘s usually applied for 30 minutes at a time, 5 days a week, for 6 to 8 weeks. 

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (DTMS)

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

DTMS treatment received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating depression and OCD in 2013 and 2018. 

It is also CE-marked in Europe for the aforementioned conditions and other mental health illnesses. This authorization means that DTMS meets the EU’s requirements for:

  • Health
  • Safety
  • Environmental protection

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a treatment approach that involves identifying and altering negative, irrational thoughts and feelings. 

This type of therapy involves a therapist and a patient working together to identify beliefs and thought patterns that lead to unhealthy and harmful behaviors.

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. Afterward, the therapist and patient can work on replacing irrational thoughts with healthy and meaningful ones. 

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Support Groups and Aftercare

Although addiction treatment programs and therapies provide the necessary skills for maintaining sobriety, you might still benefit from a support group. 

Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provide continued support during and after treatment.

Support groups are also available for people with addicted loved ones and family members, including Al-Anon and Nar-Anon.


Alcohol and drug abuse often require therapy during addiction recovery. Addiction therapy addresses mental health issues, illnesses, thought patterns, and behavior. These therapies are commonly provided at a treatment center, either as inpatient or outpatient programs.

There are various addiction treatment options available. Because of this, addiction therapies typically cater to each person's specific needs. Depending on your needs, your addiction counselor may recommend one or more therapy options.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
10 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Ackerman, C.E. “CBT Techniques: 25 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Worksheets.” PositivePsychology.com, 2017.
  2. Nordqvist, J. “What is biofeedback therapy and who can benefit?” MedicalNewsToday, 2018.
  3. Linehan, M.M., and Wilks, C.R. “The Course and Evolution of Dialectical Behavior Therapy.” The American Journal of Psychotherapy, 2015.
  4. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).” RC PSYCH Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2022.
  5. Goodman et al. “Dialectical Behavior Therapy Alters Emotion Regulation And Amygdala Activity In Patients With Borderline Personality Disorder.” Journal of Psychiatric Research, 2014.
  6. Carroll, K.M., and Kiluk, B.D. “Cognitive Behavioral Interventions for Alcohol and Drug Use Disorders: Through the Stage Model and Back Again.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2017.
  7. Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions: Medications for Substance Use Disorders.“ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023.
  8. May et al. “Dialectical behavior therapy as treatment for borderline personality disorder.” The Mental Health Clinician, 2016.
  9. Deyo-Svendsen et al. “Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in a Rural Family Medicine Practice.” Journal of Primary Care & Community Health, 2020.
  10. Watkins et al. “An Effectiveness Trial of Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Patients With Persistent Depressive Symptoms in Substance Abuse Treatment.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 2011.

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