Types of Therapy for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Jessica White

Written by Jessica White

Community Mental Health Worker & Case Manager

Updated & Fact Checked: 1/12/2023

Deciding to look or attend drug and alcohol treatment might be a difficult decision, but ultimately a beneficial and rewarding one. If you are considering this treatment for yourself or exploring it for someone else, you should become familiar with the different treatment options, including therapy for drug addiction. This article will review the kinds of therapies available for those who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, such as different types of behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, EMDR, family therapy, and more. However, before we explore the kinds of therapy, it’s important to be aware of the reasons and factors that can contribute to addiction.

What Is Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” The NIDA goes on to explain that addiction involves changes to brain circuits that involve rewards, self-control, and stress. Because these changes can go on for a while after a person ceases taking the drugs, finding support for the transition and recovery might be the best decision you can make.

Risk Factors of Addiction

There are complicated social and individual aspects that may cause someone to experience addiction. While risk factors are still being studied, it’s generally understood that genetics, age, medical history, childhood, and other intersections may be part of what can contribute to someone becoming reliant on substances, and some may be more prone to addiction than others. This may also be because some people have more risk factors than others. Addiction has been clinically classified as a complex brain disease by the American Medical Association, which means that addiction is more complicated than just a matter of willpower.

Some of these risk factors may be:

  • Traumatic childhood experiences, abuse, and neglect
  • Environment, genetics, and biology, like having parents who use drugs and alcohol
  • Experiencing violence
  • Poverty and lack of economic opportunity, both individually and in the community
  • Experiencing racism
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Underlying mental illness
  • Difficulty saying no to peers
  • Availability of substances
  • Age of first use – the earlier someone tries a substance, the more likely it is that they are addicted

Protective Factors

The best thing to combat risk factors is protective factors in someone’s life. Part of recovery is identifying protective factors and knowing how to use them. Protective factors may include:

  • Resilience – being able to adapt to stressful events and change as necessary
  • Strong bonds with family and community
  • High self-esteem and problem-solving skills
  • Becoming involved in positive social activities
  • Recognition for positive efforts and achievements
  • Surrounding oneself with stable relationships

Individuals usually have a combination of risk factors and protective factors that affect each other throughout a person’s life. Awareness of both can help someone recover, as they can work to increase their protective factors as much as possible.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Therapy and Treatment Programs

The best kind of alcohol use and addiction therapy for you will depend on your individual needs. The type of therapy you will encounter will depend on what kind of addiction treatment program you are in. A good way to find help is by calling SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website, where you can use their treatment services locator to find services in your area. SAMHSA also has a national helpline that is free and confidential 24/7 , 365 days a year and provides treatment, referral, and information services in both English and Spanish. The SAMHSA national helpline number is1-800-662-HELP (4357), or you can text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U).

Types of Addiction Treatment Programs

Because of the complexities surrounding addiction and the many factors that can play a part in the disease, there are many different types of programs available for recovery. Some of the most common types of treatment are included below.

  • Medical detox: This kind of treatment may be the first step towards recovery for an individual who is actively facing addiction, as it rids the body of addictive substances. This process is supervised by doctors and other medical staff. Those who go through this initial process are more likely to be successful in the long run of sobriety.
  • Inpatient rehab: This kind of rehab is highly structured. Clients receiving this type of treatment adhere to a structured daily schedule and attend a combination of individual and group therapies, group meetings, recreational activities, personal time, physical activities, and meals. Clients live at the rehab center while receiving this type of treatment.
  • Outpatient rehab: Unlike inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab involves living in one’s own home and going to therapy sessions according to a schedule that has been provided. This kind of rehab is typically for those who have a milder addiction problem or those who have completed inpatient rehab and would like more support as they continue their recovery journey.
  • Online rehab: This type of rehab offers a flexible format where one can obtain their therapeutic recovery services for drug and alcohol addiction. Some programs offer 24/7 support, one-on-one counseling, group settings, and interactive video sessions. The difference between this kind of rehab and the ones already discussed is that this is not meant to replace face-to-face treatment, but rather to supplement it.
  • Court-ordered rehab: This type of rehab is for people who are suffering from addiction and have not sought treatment on their own or have not been successful, to the point where their addiction has led them to finding themselves in legal trouble. Sometimes this kind of rehabi is offered by the court instead of prison time. This can be a great opportunity for someone struggling with addiction to get the help they need under the care of professionals to address their addiction and improve their quality of life.
  • Sober living programs: Sober living programs, also known as sober living houses, provide a safe, substance-free environment for people in addiction recovery to work on maintaining sobriety. This type of program helps to reinforce what someone may have learned in rehab while being similar to the environment in “the real world”. Sober living houses allow residents to come and go as they please, but they also offer 12-step programs as well as some structure, curfews, group meetings, and some other rules.
  • Aftercare: This treatment service isn’t as defined as the others, but it’s proven to work, as those who participate in it experience lower relapse rates than those who don’t utilize aftercare. Some examples of addiction treatment aftercare might be 12-step programs or other outpatient treatment programs or the various types of therapies one might take part in, which will be discussed more in depth later in this article.
  • Holistic Drug Rehab: This kind of treatment is meant to focus on a person’s overall well-being while using non-medicinal recovery methods and instead focusing on traditional treatment practices. This can involve using exercise, meditation, and nutrition as part of the strategy to encourage recovery.

Therapies Used in Addiction Treatment Programs

Those who have made the leap and begun the process of recovery will need a lot of support along the way. Professionals know this, and so there are many different kinds of therapies offered each step of the way throughout the rehab journey and treatment options. Many of the therapy options that one may encounter will be discussed here.

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of psychological treatment that has been proven to help with a number of issues in a person’s life. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to change unhelpful thinking patterns and behavior by learning to recognize distortions in one’s thought processes and by using coping skills and gaining confidence. This can assist someone in the recovery process by helping them deal with difficult situations and assist them in moving forward in life, as well as changing their negative thinking patterns.
  2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is intended for individuals who experience very strong emotions, which those who experience addiction certainly fall under. This kind of therapy stems from cognitive behavioral therapy, but is a little different as it’s more intensive. Those who engage in it will learn how to tolerate stress, how to use mindfulness, how to say no, how to communicate, how to let go of anger, and how to provide oneself with self-care. This can assist someone in the recovery process because it is proven to help individuals reduce self-harming behaviors and develop functional behaviors that can be used in their daily lives.
  3. Contingency Management is a behavior therapy that involves an incentive system for achieving desirable behavior. In treatment, incentives usually look like vouchers to movies for negative drug tests or similar rewards. This type of therapy also has natural reinforcements such as improved relationships with loved ones. This can assist someone in the recovery process by creating a tangible reward for good behavior as well as teaching the person in recovery what positive consequences can feel like (such as their relationships improving).
  4. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy This type of therapy helps one identify beliefs and thought patterns that may cause issues in one’s emotions or behaviors. Similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, this kind of therapy involves working with a professional to replace those negative beliefs and thought patterns with more rational ones. This (and CBT) are great therapies for people with all kinds of mental health struggles, not just addiction. This can assist someone in the recovery process because it can help them learn how to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviors, as well as how to control and acknowledge those feelings in the future without necessarily needing to suppress those feelings in the future through the use of alcohol or drugs.
  5. Motivational Interviewing is used to hopefully strengthen an individual’s motivation towards sobriety and other goals, as a lack of motivation is sometimes one of the biggest challenges an individual may come across when going through recovery. By meeting with a professional who knows how to enhance one’s motivation to continue towards their goals, an individual can overcome fears and learn how to make it through difficult times to meet their goal. This can assist someone in the recovery process because it helps them find their own reason to get sober, so that instead of doing it for someone else, they are doing it for themselves. This promotes lasting recovery.
  6. Family Therapy can help the entire family recover, as they can explore problems within their dynamic, give each other feedback in a safe environment, receive education about addiction, and receive support from each other and a professional. Each family member will also receive validation for how they are feeling and learn how to validate each other through difficulties that may have occurred in the past. This can assist someone and their family in the recovery process because family has a huge impact on someone’s life and environment as well as their stress levels. A family might even be responsible for enabling addictive behaviors. This type of therapy is very beneficial to navigate healthier behaviors for all.
  7. 12-Step Facilitation Therapy is a set of therapies that helps people abstain from substances like alcohol and drugs by encouraging the participation of individuals in community-based 12-step programs. The programs may differ depending on what they are offering, but one example is Alcoholics Anonymous. These programs focus on the idea that addiction is influenced by a number of factors including medical, social, emotional, and spiritual. They believe that consistent participation will lead to long-term sobriety and recovery, and that having a provider engage with the participant will ensure effectiveness. This can assist someone in the recovery process by providing them with encouragement from people who have been through the recovery process before. They can see they are not alone and can develop relationships with other sober people who understand what they are going through.
  8. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy helps treat individuals with a variety of mental health conditions, particularly those with trauma and addiction. This therapy can help someone process and resolve traumatic events by replacing the memory, emotions, and negative images with positive beliefs by using eye movements and prompts given by the therapist to envision the event in the mind and replace it. This can assist someone in the recovery process by helping someone replace negative feelings they may have that might have caused them to want to use in the first place and replacing them with a more positive mindset surrounding the incident.

Taking the first step towards sobriety may be difficult, but there is a lot of support available out there for you or your loved one.There are many choices for how you can receive the type of treatment you may need, and they all offer different types of therapy that has been proven to help people through the hard, but rewarding, journey towards recovery.

Other Resources for Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator (SAMHSA)

Al-Anon Family Groups

Dana Foundation

Phoenix House