According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), as of 2016, an estimated 21 million people aged 12 or older in the United States met the requirements of needing substance abuse and addiction treatment.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) recognizes addiction as a chronic, progressive disease that currently has no cure and requires lifelong management. Fortunately, there are many different methods of effective treatment and therapies that can help someone achieve sobriety and make the condition of addiction easier to manage.
While certain medications are frequently utilized in the treatment of different substance use disorders, the main way medical and mental health professionals treat someone’s addiction is through addiction therapy.
Medical detox is meant to flush the drugs from a person’s system and make them sober, but only through addiction therapy can they begin to understand the issues at the core of their substance abuse and addictive behaviors and from there learn how to change them.
What is Addiction Therapy?
Addiction therapy is a broad term used to describe the different therapeutic models and methods that address the issues that are at the root of substance users’ addictions. Addiction therapy is meant to provide them with the understanding and tools they need to develop positive coping skills that help them manage their addictive behaviors.
Each therapy type has a unique approach to how it accomplishes these goals, focusing on different aspects of someone’s substance use disorder. The amount and variety of these therapy options can feel a little overwhelming when trying to find the one that is going to work best for you or a loved one.
It is important to remember that no treatment type is going to be equally effective for everyone, and that what is helpful to one person may be ineffective or even actively harmful to another. Addiction therapy isn’t one-size-fits-all and may require some trial and error to find out what’s useful and what’s not.
One thing that can help take out some of the guesswork and speed this process along is coming in with an understanding of the basic premise and techniques of the most commonly used addiction therapies. Learning more about them better enables you to play an informed and active role in your recovery.
What Are the Common Addiction Therapies?
Behavioral therapy is an umbrella term of a broad class of therapy that is focused specifically on unlearning self-destructive, unhealthy behaviors. Much of addiction is behavioral, so behavioral therapy is usually a reliably effective form of addiction therapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is considered the gold standard of behavioral therapy.
Through behavioral therapy, someone can learn to replace the negative habits and coping skills that have become hardwired over the course of their addiction with positive outlets and behaviors that will help them maintain sobriety in the face of potential triggers.
Holistic therapy is a bit different than some of the more traditional forms of addiction therapies on this list. The core focus of holistic therapy is addressing how addiction throws a person’s body, mind, and spirit out of balance and trying to treat each of these aspects naturally, creating stronger connections between the three.
Holistic therapy is often controversial because its supposed effectiveness is not backed by evidence or research. However, some of the more common forms of holistic therapy, such as yoga, meditation, and art therapy, have been found to be useful when paired with traditional addiction therapy.
Trauma frequently plays a significant role in substance abuse, as people will often use drugs or alcohol as a means to cope with trauma. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is a form of therapy aimed at helping people overcome feelings of anxiety and distress associated with traumatic experiences and memories through the use of the biological methods involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM).
The way this works is that during a typical EMDR session, a therapist will have someone try to recall and talk about a negative or traumatic memory. While this is happening, the therapist will get them to focus on an external stimulus that can be visual, auditory or tactile in a rhythmic, side-to-side pattern.
This stimulus is meant to make it less stressful for someone to process these traumatic experiences because they are being engaged by the stimulus. This also can help remove the negative connotations associated with these memories, making them easier to manage without the use of drugs or alcohol.
Humanistic therapy is another relatively unique approach to treating addiction and substance abuse. The therapist will work with individuals to help them learn to access and comprehend some of their deepest thoughts and feelings, embarking on an intense level of self-exploration.
Humanistic therapy aims to help people realize their full potential and find the sense of purpose they lack that may have contributed to their substance abuse as a means of coping. Instead, with this more positive, stronger sense of self, they can overcome their addiction.
Expressive therapy can be extremely useful when used in tandem with behavioral therapies as well as in the case of helping to treat people who are uncomfortable with or not yet ready for talk therapy. Instead, they can express themselves through a creative outlet such as writing, drawing, or playing an instrument.
In expressive therapy, the point is about the actual process of creating rather than the end product. It can help people to better process the emotions tied up in their experiences. In many cases, if someone picks up one of these creative processes as a hobby, it can replace drugs and alcohol as an outlet for dealing with negative emotions, helping them stay sober long after completing treatment.
Motivational therapy is a combination of humanistic therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is meant to be practical and solution-oriented, utilizing motivation and reward to help establish a positive association with healthy behaviors and setting reward goals for recovery progress.
By focusing on the individual’s needs and problems, it becomes easier for the person to see the correlation between using drugs and alcohol and making those problems worse, giving them the desire to make real change and begin to form a more positive self-image.
Addiction is often referred to as a “family disease,” and with good reason. Addiction affects not just the user but also the person’s loved ones, damaging relationships and destroying trust. On the other side of the coin, familial difficulties are often an underlying issue for many people who struggle with addiction.
For these reasons, family therapy can be essential to recovery that lasts. It provides a safe space for families to address and resolve conflict, rebuild trust, and learn better, healthier ways to communicate with each other. It also gives family members an opportunity to gain a better understanding of addiction and how it affects their loved one.
Trauma therapy is perhaps one of the most important addiction therapies, as it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to effectively treat someone’s addiction without addressing the trauma that may be at the root of their addictive behaviors.
Trauma therapy is not limited to any one specific form of trauma, but most commonly deals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), due to how often it plays a significant role in the development of a person’s addiction.
PTSD can manifest in a variety of debilitating ways, causing extreme changes in how a person thinks or behaves. Trauma therapy focuses on helping people process their trauma so they can begin to heal and move forward with their lives. Proper trauma therapy involves a high level of support, and ideally, it should be administered by someone who has been specially trained as a trauma therapist.