What Is Addiction Therapy and How Does It Work?

Addiction therapy

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Drug addiction is a significant problem that continues to grow in the U.S at exponential rates. To help combat the problem, doctors, researchers, scientists, and clinicians are constantly working on new ways to address substance abuse disorder. Today, a wide range of medications and therapeutic options are available to individuals who need help with drug addiction.

Addiction therapy is one of the most effective tools on the front line of fighting drug addiction. It comes in many different forms and can be administered in different settings depending on the severity of the addiction.

For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, family counselling, and contingency management therapy are quite effective in helping drug addiction victims to stay clean.

So, what is addiction therapy, and how does it work? Read on to learn everything you need to know.

What Is Addiction Therapy?

Addiction therapy is a broad term encompassing the various interventions employed in substance abuse disorder treatment. The primary purpose of addiction therapy is to help patients reclaim control over their lives.

Some therapies are designed to address addiction head-on while providing patients with coping mechanisms to deal with their triggers and cravings. Others are designed to address the underlying causes of addiction or factors that make it worse.

For instance, depression and opioid abuse are often linked. So, to treat opioid use disorder in someone with depression symptoms, therapy will be employed to address both the mental health issue (depression) and the opioid use disorder.

Addiction therapy session in progress

Evidence-based therapies are supported by solid scientific research, while alternative therapies have had some track record of success, but their outcomes haven’t been verified scientifically.

Although there are different approaches to addiction therapy, the objectives remain the same. Some of the primary objectives of this treatment option include:

  • Maintaining abstinence from the substance.
  • Stopping the use of drugs, alcohol, or both.
  • Developing coping mechanisms for triggers, cravings, and stress.
  • Building self-esteem.
  • Addressing other mental health issues that may be present.
  • Helping the patient rebuild their professional lives and personal relationships.
  • Improving the patient’s understanding of their behavior and what motivates them.

Keep in mind that drugs and alcohol interfere with the way you think. Misuse of these substances can make you impulsive, interfering with your ability to pay attention, learn, and remember things. Therefore, addiction therapy is designed to help you manage such symptoms.

Why Is Addiction Therapy Important?

Drug addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain in relatively complex ways that contribute to uncontrollable and compulsive use of drug substances. However, the media narrative being spread all over is that one only needs medical detoxification to overcome addiction which isn’t true.

In fact, medical detox is only the first step in a long recovery journey where you have to deal with withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and triggers for months or years. It is not just a matter of quitting the substance, detoxifying and moving on with life.

Generally, the reward center in your brain, also known as the limbic system, is usually the epicenter of substance abuse disorder. The system is designed to link and regulate different parts of the brain involved in triggering feelings of pleasure to motivate you to repeat certain activities.

Typically, activities such as a comfortable bed, nice food, or good social interactions can trigger a response. The reward center teaches your brain to repeat certain activities that are deemed necessary for your survival.

Unfortunately, alcohol and psychoactive drugs can also trigger your limbic system to release intense feelings of pleasure, producing a strong desire to continue using the substances.

Addiction therapy in session

During active addiction, your brain learns to seek drugs to relieve anxiety, pain, stress and just to feel good. In this case, you find it difficult to resist the substance even when you fully understand that it is harmful to your body.

Addiction therapy is designed to help you rewrite the effects of drug abuse in your brain and learn how to cope with the negative feelings and cravings without turning to drugs.

It can also help you address the root cause of your addiction and other co-occurring disorders. For instance, substance use disorders are known to have a significant rate of comorbidity with other mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression.

In some cases, drug abuse starts as a way of self-medicating to relieve the symptoms of a particular medical condition. Addiction therapy is designed to address these issues to eliminate the need to self-medicate and prevent mental health issues from triggering a relapse.

How Does It Work?

Generally, there are multiple approaches to drug addiction therapy, and each option works differently. The therapy can be administered on an individual basis or in groups. It can also be offered on a residential or outpatient basis.

Below is a quick overview of the different addiction therapy options and how they work:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is designed to help you identify your triggers to drug and alcohol abuse and how to develop coping strategies to handle or avoid these triggers. It can also teach you new behaviors to replace your old drug-seeking habits.

CBT works by identifying high-risk behavior situations, developing strategies to avoid the known high-risk situations or dealing with the situations. It also increases self-efficacy.

2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is designed to help you handle emotions that might be triggering drug use. It teaches you how to develop skills for tolerating distress, regulating emotions and improving interpersonal effectiveness. DBT also reduces self-destructive behavior like untreated depression and suicidal thoughts.

3. Contingency Management

Contingency management is a type of drug addiction therapy that is based on the idea of getting tangible rewards for staying sober. The therapist works closely with the patient to identify negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that trigger substance use.

Contingency management

The therapist then helps them develop coping strategies for avoiding or escaping these triggers. In addition, contingency management provides positive reinforcement through small prizes to motivate you to continue with the therapy.

4. Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is one of the most popular and successful types of addiction therapy. It is designed to help patients find their own motivation to get sober and cope with triggers without turning to drugs.

The therapist uses motivational skills such as open-ended questions, a reflection of feelings and active listening to encourage positive changes in your attitude towards sobriety and replace unhealthy thoughts and behaviors with positive ones.

It is one of the latest additions to addiction therapy and has shown great results in helping patients recover from substance use disorder.

5. 12-Step Programs

This is a type of addiction therapy that is based on the teachings and principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. It helps recovering addicts develop an abstinence-based lifestyle and avoid triggers to substance abuse.

The 12-steps approach requires participating addicts to go through four phases:

  • Inventory: Taking stock of one’s life without drugs or alcohol.
  • Admitting: Admitting to God, themselves and their friends that addiction has been weighing them down and they are ready to quit.
  • Willingness: Being willing to have a spiritual awakening and take a moral inventory.
  • Commitment: Committing to change their thinking and behavior and follow spiritual guidance.

There are specific 12-step programs for different types of addictions like drug addiction, sex addiction and even gambling.

6. Supportive Therapy

This type of addiction therapy is designed to help addicts recover from substance use disorder through positive reinforcement and empowerment.

Rather than focusing on negative behaviors like most types of therapy, supportive therapy encourages patients to develop new social connections and healthy habits which can help them stay sober in the long run.

Supportive therapy

It works by teaching addicts how to develop healthy habits like avoiding triggers, thinking rationally and developing healthy relationships with people.

The therapist might also include family members in the therapy sessions, especially if the addiction affects the addict’s family life.

7. Family Therapy

This is another type of addiction therapy that helps patients recover from substance use disorder by adjusting family dynamics. The therapist helps them identify and resolve personal issues that may be leading to substance abuse.

It first focuses on the addict’s lifestyle before they developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The primary objective is to try and identify lifestyle changes that might have contributed to the addiction.

The therapist then focuses on identifying current triggers and how the patient can  cope with these them without turning to substances like drugs or alcohol.


The different types of addiction therapy explained above can help addicts recover from substance use disorder and lead a healthy life. While individual therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing work for some patients, others may be more successful with group or family sessions.

The key to recovering from addiction is finding the right type of support that suits one’s needs. It is also essential to seek help as early as possible because the longer you wait, the harder it becomes to recover.

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction and looking for professional help? Contact us today to find out how we can help you get sober again.

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We provide an easy and effective way to receive education and treatment services for drug use problems.

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