Substance Use Therapy Types
Substance abuse disorders (SUDs) are long-term chronic diseases that affect the brain and body. There is no quick fix to resolving addiction or dependency on drugs or alcohol. Like other chronic conditions, it’s important for people who use drugs and alcohol to get the proper health assessment as early as possible so that effective treatment can help turn this potential devastating disease into a manageable condition.
Finding the right long-term SUD recovery program includes addressing the underlying causes of the disease. Many types of behavioral therapy can help address and manage these causes. This article will give you an overview of some common evidence-based treatment methods for substance abuse therapy.
Do All Treatment Centers Offer the Same Therapy Types?
Not all treatment centers offer the same types of therapy for addiction treatment. Many community substance use treatment centers strictly offer outpatient services in an outpatient setting. Other programs may offer 24/7 medical support. There are also comprehensive treatment centers that offer a full range of therapies, from inpatient detox and residential care to intensive outpatient rehab, outpatient therapy, and an array of specialized group therapies.
Understanding what to look for in addiction therapy models will help you choose the right program for you. It’s a good idea to include your primary doctor or healthcare team in your decision-making process; ask them questions about what treatment method they think might work best for your situation. They can refer you to a treatment center that has the most fitting level of care and therapy you need.
Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
Many people with SUDs also have other chronic mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression.1 This is called dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders. Since overlapping symptoms are common in co-occurring disorders, those with co-occurring disorders may benefit from integrated treatment therapies. 1 This means treating all existing disorders at the same time.
Therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and prescription medicines may all be used as an integrated treatment plan. This type of integrated treatment often offers the best long-term outcomes.1
Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) combines prescription medicines with counseling and behavioral therapies to help reduce cravings, relapse, and overdose.3 MAT aims to address the whole person and meet people where they are in their recovery journey.3 The use of MAT is not replacing one drug for another; it is an evidence-based substance use disorder therapy that offers prescription medicines in hopes of helping you have a successful recovery journey.3
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps people learn to identify and correct harmful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors connected to drug use.4 Through CBT, patients learn new ways to cope with problem behaviors, cravings, and urges to use drugs.4
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) helps people navigate through the healing process to accept and change their response to often painful life situations.5 People learn to let go of their history of out-of-control behavior with substance use and focus instead on living a meaningful, fulfilling life.5
Understanding what motivates people to make life changes is the basis of motivational interviewing therapy (MI).6 A person’s motivation is fluid; it can change according to what they feel they need in the given moment. In tough situations, such as the urge to use drugs, motivation is key to change.6
MI focuses on the 2 types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.6 Intrinsic motivating factors identify desires, needs, values, and goals. Extrinsic factors relate to social influences, external rewards, and consequences.6 These motivational characteristics help determine if a person is ready, willing, and able to change.6
Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) can be very effective for people who may not agree that they need treatment.7 Therapy consists of an initial assessment session followed by 2 to 4 individual treatment sessions.7 Therapists offer feedback to encourage a discussion about the person’s substance use to support progress toward motivational change.7
Contingency Management (CM) involves giving patients rewards for completing treatment-related goals.8 Rewards may include vouchers that patients can use for things like food, theater tickets, or other goods or services.8
Substance use affects the whole family. Families are a unit; what affects one person affects the entire unit in some way.9 Family therapy addresses what is and is not working in the unit to regain a healthy, functional family system.9
Family counseling helps each family member understand how:9
- Addiction affects them.
- Addiction affects the whole family.
- Each person adjusts or changes their behavior in response to the person with the SUD.
- To make changes as an individual and as a family to address the impact of the SUD on the family unit.
In group therapy, licensed counselors or trained facilitators lead sessions with a group of people who are also in recovery. Many people benefit from the extra support of their peers in group settings because their peers know exactly what they’re going through.
The 5 most common groups are:10
- Psychoeducational groups that offer structured SUD education.
- Skills development groups that focus on strengthening and building healthy behaviors and supportive resources.
- Cognitive-behavioral groups that focus on learning the conditions, behaviors, and triggers underlying an SUD, and how to manage the patient’s response to these.
- Support groups, which focus on self-help, acceptance, and commitment to change.
- Interpersonal process group psychotherapy that focuses on processing how people function mentally to promote change and healing.
What’s the Best Therapy for Substance Use Treatment?
The best therapy for SUD treatment is one that fits your unique treatment needs. It’s important to talk to your doctor or other healthcare professionals who can help you choose the most fitting level of treatment for your needs. Remember that you always have a choice in your care.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) offers a variety of therapy models in their substance use treatment centers. All AAC staff are highly trained in substance use care and will make it a priority to personalize your treatment plan to fit your personal recovery needs.
Call our detox helpline today at to learn more. We are available 24/7 to listen to your story and get you the help you need.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n/a). Substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010, September). Comorbidities: Addiction and other mental illnesses.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020, August 19). MAT Medications, counseling, and related conditions.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 19). Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
- Addiction Science and Clinical Practice. (2008, June). Dialectical behavioral therapy.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). TIP 35: Enhancing motivation for change in substance use disorder treatment.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Motivational enhancement therapy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (January 2018). Contingency management interventions/motivational incentives.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). TIP 39: Substance abuse treatment and family therapy.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 41: Substance abuse treatment: Group therapy.