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Substance Abuse Treatment: An Overview Of Addiction Treatment Programs

Last Updated: January 18, 2022

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Addiction is a chronic disease, and there is no one-size-fits-all cure for it. Perhaps the most critical phase of drug and alcohol treatment is accepting a problem and becoming motivated to do something about it. Each addiction experience is unique, and the treatment and care suitable for one person may not suit another. Luckily, with the advance in research regarding addiction treatment, there are many types of addiction therapy and rehabs so that everyone has a chance for successful recovery.

Drug abuse in United States statistics.

Read further to find out more about substance abuse treatment options available, whether one needs to stay in rehab, and what therapies can be used to deal with the psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction.

Substance Abuse Treatment Options

The journey to sobriety is neither easy nor short. Each recovering addict goes through a highly personal journey to freedom from alcohol or drug abuse. Yet, there are 5 stages of change in addiction recovery in the Transtheoretical Model of Change that are necessary to understand for every individual with a substance use disorder.
It is important to remember that substance abuse treatment programs are not one-size-fits-all. Instead, drug addiction treatment and alcohol recovery programs must be individually tailored to address an individual’s physical, emotional, social, and financial needs.

A psychiatrist listening to girl's problems and writing something.

One recovering addict may benefit from a specific program, while another individual may need a completely different process to become drug-free. Everyone’s situation is unique. The reasons for beginning to use, the choice of the illicit substance, the amount used, and the motivation for quitting are different for every person. Due to these varying circumstances, the substance abuse treatment for each addict must be customized.

Let’s Review the Basic Steps Addicts Need to Take Before Achieving Sobriety:

Drug Detox

This is the initial step of substance abuse treatment most addicts have to go through. It involves withdrawing from drugs safely and managing the withdrawal symptoms. No matter what further treatment or care the patient will choose, detox is the first step for all people with addictions.

Sometimes, medications may be prescribed during detoxification. They are then tapered off until the patient is no longer dependent on any substance.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab can be the next step after detoxification. It offers structured treatment with medication and psychotherapy and addresses all facets of an individual’s addiction.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehabs offer most of the services provided in inpatient rehabs. The difference is that patients can live at home during the treatment. This way, they don’t have to miss work or put their lives on pause and continue their everyday activities.

Addiction Therapy

The difference between addiction treatment and addiction therapy is that the last one mainly focuses on the psychological and behavioral aspects. In contrast, treatment is primarily directed towards treating the physical symptoms of the patients. Together, treatment and addiction therapy help cure the person as a whole and help him with relapse prevention.

Apart from the basic things like detox, there are many behavioral therapies that help deal with the underlying causes of substance abuse. Moreover, it will be very challenging to cope with cravings, triggers and avoid relapse without therapy.


An aftercare program is routinely recommended to provide continuing care and support to a recovering individual. Other than this, addiction aftercare programs also provide further education to patients and their families that can help prevent relapse and enhance the period and quality of recovery.

What Are The Different Types of Addiction Therapy?

Addiction treatment therapy can be defined as the use of various methods to treat the psychological causes of addiction in a person. Substance abuse therapies are carried out by a trained professional. They try to understand the psychological factors which lead a person to start abusing substances in the first place and then treat those causes. Various addiction therapy approaches are employed by the addiction therapist or counselor based on each patient’s case.

Patient listening to the therapist offering addiction therapy.

During drug and alcohol treatment, a patient receives intensive therapy and counseling sessions. The purpose of rehabilitation is to find the root cause of addiction. Effectively addressing the underlying mental health conditions that drove a person to addiction is critical to staying sober after rehab.

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Several substance abuse therapies are used during this phase of the recovery program, including:

Experiential Approach

Experiential therapy is the kind of treatment that takes place outside a therapist’s office, usually at some outdoor location. It involves the use of physical activities, sports, role-playing, and guided imagery to help patients identify the underlying psychological causes of addiction. A comfortable and informal environment is created for the patients where they can participate in fun-filled activities and identify the triggers of their addictions. It also helps patients learn new skills and activities that help them deal with life stressors and overcome past traumas.

The Therapies Involving Experiential Approach Are:

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR therapy is used to help patients with PTSD and addiction issues. EMDR theory is based on the principle that the rhythm of one’s eye movements is closely related to traumatic memories from the past. In this theory, the patient’s vision is stimulated while they recall a particular negative memory. This stimulation helps in reducing the effects of the traumatic memory or other triggers, which might have led to addictive behavior.
  • Music therapy benefits have been widely known and used as a substance abuse therapy for many years now. According to the study about art and music in substance abuse treatment programs, music helps patients tap their inner emotions and feelings.
  • Adventure Therapy. In adventure-based therapy, patients are provided with hands-on and practical opportunities to participate in outdoor adventure activities and courses. It is one of those group therapy activities for adults with substance abuse where patients go on wilderness expeditions and outdoor pursuits. It helps not only in maintaining good physical health but psychological health as well. The group setting allows patients to develop empathy and build trust.

Cognitive Therapies Overview

Cognitive therapies in addiction treatment programs are grounded on the theory that human thinking affects how people act and feel things. It includes some of the best therapies which help patients change the way they think and perceive things. As a result, they can leave their past behind and focus on the present. Patients are encouraged to communicate and speak out on the way they think and try to solve their underlying mental health issues. These therapies can be carried out in a group setting or on an individual basis.

They Include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for substance use disorders explores the patients’ thinking patterns and attitudes and how these affect their behaviors. CBT attempts to produce change by helping patients identify negative thought patterns and seek alternate thinking, which is present-oriented, problem-focused, and goal-directed.

  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a cognitive approach that focuses on patients who are quite aggressive with extreme psychological disorders. This theory helps those patients by providing them with a supportive environment where they can identify their strengths and change their assumptions to promote a positive behavioral change.

  • Motivational interviewing in addiction therapy is used to increase the patient’s motivation to enter into treatment and continue in it to ensure long-term recovery.

  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a time-limit, rapid-action counseling for addiction approach in which patients are motivated to rapidly evoke change in their behaviors. Unlike other motivational therapies that span a long duration and involve step-by-step processes, MET aims to enable clients to take action.

Therapies Based On The Brain Disease Model of Addiction

This model encompasses the type of therapy that uses biological treatments to induce chemical changes in the brain during drug addiction treatment. These substance abuse therapies are based on the theory that some physical brain changes serve as triggers for addiction. The neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain also plays a significant role in addiction. The therapies in this model aim to use procedures that help regulate the quantities of neurotransmitters in the brain, consequently resulting in treating addiction.

These Therapies Are:

  • Biofeedback Therapy. What is biofeedback? It is a type of therapy treatment in which patients learn to understand their involuntary functions triggered in response to stress, nervousness, and trauma. Using this information, therapists and specialists devise individualized treatment plans for each client.
  • Neurofeedback, also called Neurotherapy, is grounded on the belief that the trigger for addicts to start and continue addiction stems from some structural damage in the brain. In this activity, a monitoring device is attached to the clients, and their brain signals are transferred through sensors to a computer device. These signals are then interpreted to find the structural damage in the brain and try to repair it through sound or visual signals.
  • NAD Therapy is one of the approaches to drug abuse therapy, which involves the administration of NAD+ supplement into the client’s body, which helps in brain function, DNA repair, and repair of signals between neurotransmitters.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS therapy) is a procedure in which the parts of the brain responsible for mood changes are stimulated. Electromagnets are placed on the patient’s head, and magnetic bursts are administered. These bursts stimulate the brain and help in curbing the cravings for alcohol and drugs.

Milieu Therapy

The milieu is one of the types of behavioral therapy in which emphasis is laid on changing a patient’s environment to bring about a positive change in his behavior. Individuals are empowered to identify their inner strengths and use them to change the way they act. Patients learn to take personal responsibility while interacting in a social milieu environment.

Psychodynamic therapy

The psychodynamic therapy techniques used in addiction treatment are primarily based on the psychodynamic theory of Sigmund Freud. It is based on the notion that unconscious and subconscious factors in the mind are responsible for the behaviors and actions of individuals, including drug use.

Therapist helping man with substance abuse treatment.

Psychodynamic is used as a therapy for drug addiction, which works by helping clients understand their inner feelings and thoughts, which are usually projected in their behavior as denial and projection. The therapists help the patients recognize their unconscious feelings and bring them to the conscious mind so that they can be addressed.

Therapies Based On Holistic Approach

Holistic addiction treatment includes those forms of therapy which are not medicinal or biological-based. They aim to establish a connection between the mind, body, and soul of an individual. Improving the well-being of a patient is of utmost importance in this approach. These services are usually employed as an aftercare service to help patients prevent relapse and continue on the road to sobriety.


Holistic Therapies Include:

  • Acupuncture for addiction
  • Massage Therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Yoga
  • Reiki
  • Homeopathy
  • Spiritual Counseling
  • Meditation
  • Mind-Body Therapies

Not all kinds of therapy are ideal for each individual. Since all patients and their circumstances are different, psychologists and therapies evaluate each case individually and develop a treatment plan that they think will be the best for each patient.

Goals Of Addiction Treatment Therapy

The purpose of these various therapies is to determine why a person started using drugs or alcohol in the first place and to enhance motivation to seek substance abuse treatment. Addiction treatment therapies also help recovering addicts handle potential triggers that they will undoubtedly face once they return to routine life. Patients are taught coping skills for stressful situations and strategies to avoid drug relapses.

Many people start using drugs or alcohol in response to trauma or personal issues, such as self-esteem or mood disorders. In such cases, the recovering addict needs to learn to cope with these mental health issues without turning to drugs or alcohol. The ultimate goal is to discover methods to stay sober in the long term. It is not unusual for recovering addicts to experience the pink cloud syndrome. This high-on-life feeling can sometimes lead to unrealistic expectations in the early stages of recovery. In patients with a dual diagnosis, both disorders must be treated concurrently for the best results.

For example, a mood disorder will often require additional therapy, usually in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, to change the way a person perceives or responds to events. An addiction psychiatrist can prescribe medications to keep symptoms at bay, at least until the person is stable enough to handle the emotions on their own.

Aftercare Programs

Rehab aftercare is a necessary next step that must follow detox and any form of medical treatment to help an individual get started on recovery. It can be thought of as continuing drug addiction treatment. The overarching goal of rehab aftercare is to help the patient continue living life in complete sobriety and help prevent relapse.

Sober Living Homes

Also called halfway houses, these homes help transition recovering individuals after rehab. It is an outpatient, residential program where an individual must abide by strict halfway house rules, including taking on responsibilities and doing household chores. In these facilities, addicts will have to return to their routine life, go to work, and adjust to living without drugs or alcohol.

Facility-Based Programs

Substance abuse recovery facilities typically provide aftercare facilities as well. Such programs usually include a combination of follow-up medical treatment, behavioral therapy, and alumni support groups.

Aftercare Therapy And Counseling

These are vital components of addiction treatment programs and continue to be crucial during the recovery phase. Therapy and counseling have many benefits that include improving one’s self-awareness and discovery. These sessions also help bring to light the underlying causes of addiction.

People hugging at a support group meeting.

Unlike during rehab, however, therapy and counseling sessions are less frequent in aftercare. The frequency is further decreased over time.

Establishing Sober Connections

Many people struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse feel a sense of isolation. Support groups or sober coaching are an integral part of the recovery process for people with substance use disorders.

These options allow recovering addicts to develop connections with others battling similar problems and encourage one another, offer advice, and work on beating addiction together. This sense of purpose and belonging is critical in easing the loneliness many addicts face during the addiction recovery process.

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Recovering does not only mean quitting the addiction but also creating such a lifestyle where the yearning for addiction does not exist. This is crucial because this is what prevents the chances of relapse in the future.

Preventing relapse is the most important step after the treatment process is complete. It could be done by avoiding the company of friends who encourage substance abuse, going to pubs, or staying in a stressful environment. Attending 12-step program meetings can help establish connections with people in the same situation and provide support. Furthermore, aftercare plans and stress relief strategies are taught to manage behavior and environment, which are the most common relapse triggers in recovery. The strategies include changing the environment to a more relaxing one, getting rid of toxic people, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet, and focusing on one’s goals.

If your or your loved one’s addiction is ruining your life, contact a treatment center today. With so many approaches and addiction treatment programs, it may be hard to choose the most suitable one, but leave it to the professionals. Get help today and change your life.

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Page Sources

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  2. SAMHSA, Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment, 2015. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma15-4131.pdf
  3. FindTreatment, Treatment options. https://findtreatment.gov/content/treatment-options/types-of-treatment/
  4. Aletraris, L., Paino, M., Edmond, M. B., Roman, P. M., & Bride, B. E. (2014). The use of art and music therapy in substance abuse treatment programs. Journal of addictions nursing, 25(4), 190. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268880/
  5. Melemis, S. M. (2015). Focus: addiction: relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 325. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/

Published on: September 28th, 2015

Updated on: January 18th, 2022

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed has degrees in Medicine and Surgery and is a graduate of The University of Alexandria. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and healthcare articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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