Addiction Treatment Therapies: Substance Abuse Therapies Overview

Last Updated: July 6, 2020

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Addiction treatment encompasses a broad range of activities, including detoxification and other modalities of a rehabilitation program. Various substance abuse therapies are also employed as part of treatment during addiction recovery. Read along further to find about the use of addiction therapy, different types of substance abuse therapy, and how they help patients.

Addiction Therapy Definition

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.

difficult youth talking to addiction therapist

Addiction Therapy VS. Treatment

The difference between addiction treatment and addiction therapy is that the last one mainly focuses on the psychological aspects, whereas treatment is primarily directed towards treating the physical symptoms of the patients. Together, treatment and substance abuse therapy help in curing the person as a whole and help him in preventing relapse.
Drug addiction therapy can also be considered as one part of addiction treatment. Addiction treatment includes various options that are offered to substance abusers and addicts to help them get rid of the addiction and continue to lead a sober life. These include detoxification, medication-assisted treatment, and various activities. Over the years, a number of substance abuse therapies have been proven to be effective in fighting addiction.
Depending on each patient’s individualized treatment plan, various forms of addiction therapy are employed. Existing addiction therapy approaches can be classified into the following paradigms:

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 in identifying the underlying psychological causes of addiction. A comfortable and informal environment is created for the patients where they can take part in fun-filled activities and able to identify the triggers of their addictions. This also helps patients in learning new skills and activities which help them deal with the stressors in life as well as overcome past traumas.


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.

Equine-Assisted Therapy

Therapist invites to enroll in Equine-Assisted Therapy
Equine-assisted therapy is a type of addiction therapy that involves patients’ interaction with horses in an effort to boost their confidence, build trust, and develop empathy towards others. When patients interact with and take care of a horse, they learn to develop connections and can healthily channelize their emotions.

Music Therapy

Music therapeutic benefits are widely known and used as a substance abuse therapy for many years now. According to the study about the use of art and music in substance abuse treatment programs, music helps patients in tapping their inner emotions and feelings. They can express themselves by writing lyrics, using musical instruments, singing, dancing, and other music-related activities. This helps them stay motivated in their journey towards recovery.

Adventure Therapy

In adventure-based therapy, patients are provided with hands-on and practical opportunities to take part 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. This helps not only in maintaining good physical health but psychological health as well. The group setting allows patients to develop empathy and build trust.
Other therapies, that fall under Experiential approach are:

  • Art therapy
  • Drama Therapy (Psychodrama)
  • Play Therapy
  • Poetry Therapy
  • Wilderness Therapy
  • Recreation Therapy

Cognitive Therapies Overview

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

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for substance use disorders works by exploring 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. This, in turn, helps patients to develop coping strategies and to deal with stressors in their lives.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

patient during dialectical behavior therapy

DBT is a type of cognitive approach that is especially focused 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

Motivational interviewing in addiction therapy is used to increase the patient’s motivation so they can enter into treatment and continue in it to ensure long-term recovery. Therapists create a healthy therapeutic relationship with the clients where they feel respected and trusted. They enhance the clients’ motivation and establish a trusted partnership with them.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

MET is a time-limit, rapid-action counseling for addiction approach in which patients are motivated in a way that they can rapidly evoke change in their behaviors. As opposed to other motivational therapies which span a long duration and involve step-by-step processes, MET aims to enable clients to take action. They make the change through its five stages:

  • pre-contemplation
  • contemplation
  • determination
  • action
  • maintenance.

Other therapies which are part of the Cognitive approach are:

  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
  • Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (BCBT)
  • Cognitive Emotional Behavioral Therapy (CEBT)
  • Structured Cognitive Behavioral Training (SCBT)
  • Moral Reconation Therapy
  • Stress Inoculation Training
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Hypnotherapy

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 treatment for addiction. 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 different medications or procedures which help in regulating the quantities of various neurotransmitters in the brain, consequently resulting in treating addiction.

Biofeedback Therapy

Patient during Biofeedback Theraphy
What is biofeedback? It is a type of therapy treatment in which patients are enabled to understand their involuntary functions that are triggered in response to stress, nervousness, and trauma. Using this information, therapists and specialists devise individualized treatment plans for each client.

Neurofeedback Therapy

Neurofeedback belongs to those different forms of therapy, which are based on the brain disease model of addiction. It is grounded on the belief that the trigger for addicts to start and continue on addiction stems due to 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. According to this study about neurofeedback training for opiate addiction, the results show that there was an improvement in mental health and cravings of individuals who participated in neurofeedback.

NAD Therapy

Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide is one of the approaches to substance 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.

TMS Therapy

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a procedure in which those parts of the brain are stimulated, which are responsible for mood changes. 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. However, more studies are required to establish TMS treatment efficacy for addictions.
Other therapies in the brain disease model of addiction are:

  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (TDCS)
  • Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)
  • High-Frequency Stimulation (HFS)

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies are types of psychosocial treatment aimed towards recovery from addiction. According to this study about various behavioral therapies for drug abuse, the different types of behavioral therapies aim to reward the positive behavior of patients resulting in positive consequences for them. Patients can learn skills where they can transform their behavior and abstain from triggers that can lead to addiction.
changing the environment of a patient

Milieu Therapy

The milieu is one of the types of behavioral therapy in which emphasis is laid on changing the environment of a patient 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.

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy definition is the elimination of bad habits or destructive behavior by associating them with an unpleasant and negative stimulus such as an electric shock or medication-induced nausea. Through this negative association, clients can unlearn the unpleasant habit and avoid it in the future.
Other therapies in the behavioral approach are:

  • System Desensitization
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
  • Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy
  • Virtual Reality Therapy
  • Relaxation Training
  • Social Skills Training
  • Habit Reversal Training

Therapies Based On Psychodynamic Paradigm

The psychodynamic therapy techniques used in addiction treatment is 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. According to this paradigm, troubling events or interactions of one’s past, especially in one’s childhood, are responsible for any destructive or addictive behavior later in life. Substance abuse psychologists work to address those unconscious triggers to enable patients to lead a drug-free life.

Psychodynamic therapy

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.


Hypnotherapy is an evidence-based drug abuse therapy in which patients are put in a state of trance. During that time, the patient is relaxed, passive, and more open to suggestions from the psychologist. The hypnotist can help patients access their inner memories, sensations, and imagination and use them to project positive ideas in the subconscious mind.
Hypnotherapist holding pendulum during the session
Other substance abuse therapies that fall under the Psychodynamic Paradigm are:

  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Group Psychotherapy
  • Family Psychotherapy

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 kinds of therapies are usually employed as an aftercare service to help patients in preventing relapse and continuing on the road to sobriety. They bring about lifestyle changes in patients’ lives with which they are enabled to boost their self-confidence and improve their physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Tibetan singing bowl in sound therapy


Acupuncture for drug addiction is an alternative approach in which various parts of the body are stimulated through needles. This technique helps in relieving physical and mental stress for clients. This, in turn, helps with managing stressors and trauma, which might have led to addictive behavior.

Massage Therapy

Massage is another type of holistic therapy style which is mostly used to manage withdrawal symptoms and during detox in addiction treatment. This substance abuse therapy helps patients feel relaxed physically and mentally leading towards the healing of the mind, spirit and body as a whole.


Aromatherapy has also been proven to be a successful type of treatment for addiction. Using essential oils, aromatic smells can help the clients balance and harmonize their mind, body, and spirit to promote a healthier being. Aromatherapy helps in achieving mental clarity and practicing mindfulness, which helps during the recovery journey.
Other types of substance abuse therapies which are included in the Holistic approach are:

  • Yoga
  • Reiki
  • Naturopathy
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Homeopathy
  • Exercise
  • Spiritual Counseling
  • Meditation
  • Reflexology
  • 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 come up with a treatment plan which they think will be the best for each patient.

Use Addiction Therapy With The Assistance Of Professional

Each person responds to different kinds of therapies in different ways. Depending on their individual case, circumstances, motivation level, and other factors, the way they respond to each approach varies. For this reason, it is necessary to take the help of a trained professional in this regard.

Page Sources

  1. Kathleen M. Carroll, Lisa S. Onken, Behavioral Therapies for Drug Abuse, 2013,
  2. Lydia Aletraris, Maria Paino, Mary Bond Edmond, Paul M. Roman, Brian E. Bride, The Use of Art and Music Therapy In Substance Abuse Treatment Programs, 2014,
  3. Fateme Dehghani-Arani, Reza Rostami, Hosein Nadali, Neurofeedback Training for Opiate Addiction: Improvement of Mental Health and Craving, 2013,

Published on: November 5th, 2019

Updated on: July 6th, 2020

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care 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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