Substance addiction is a disease of the brain that compels someone to compulsively seek out drugs or alcohol despite the adverse consequences that come with that pursuit.

They will be driven to take their substance of choice repeatedly, which profoundly impacts areas of the brain that govern reward, stress, and self-control. Over time, the brain’s circuitry is rewired, and normal function is disrupted. Their minds and bodies are tricked into believing that they need this substance to feel normal. They may suffer health or legal problems from a substance and keep on using.

Addiction is prevalent in America, and there are many accounts — evidentiary and anecdotal — that substantiate this truth.

For instance, the former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy once estimated that 1 in 7 Americans will develop a substance abuse disorder in their lifetime. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2017, almost a 10 percent increase from the previous year. What’s more, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths (21.7 per 100,000) was more than three times the rate in 1999 (6.1)

The opioid epidemic, the primary driver of these overdose deaths, has thrown the perplexing and relentless nature of addiction into sharp relief. From 2002 to 2017, for example, there was a 22-fold increase in the total number of deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids (not including methadone), according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Such a deadly problem requires an effective response. That’s where addiction therapy comes in.

What Is Addiction Therapy?

Addiction therapy is an umbrella term that encompasses the various interventions that are employed in substance abuse treatment. Some of these therapies address the addiction head-on while providing clients coping mechanisms to deal with their cravings and triggers. Other treatment approaches address the underlying causes behind addiction or factors that make substance abuse worse.

For example, depression and opioid drug use are often linked. To treat opioid use disorder in someone with depression, therapy will be employed to address the mental health issue along with the addiction.

Essentially, addiction comprises two categories: evidence-based treatment and alternative therapies.

Evidence-based treatments are interventions supported by research. While alternative therapies have had some record of success in treatment, outcomes have not been verified through research. Evidence-based treatments are the foundation of any reputable professional recovery program. Alternative therapies also have a place and are employed in certain situations.

Principles of Effective Treatment

Addiction therapy is a critical component of a reputable professional treatment program. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) highlights a set of key principles that make up professional substance abuse treatment.

The following are considered principles of an effective treatment program:

  • Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.
  • No single treatment is right for everyone.
  • People need to have quick access to treatment.
  • Effective treatment addresses all of the patient’s needs, not just his or her drug use.
  • Staying in treatment long enough is critical.
  • Counseling and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used forms of treatment.
  • Medications are often an important part of treatment, especially when combined with behavioral therapies.
  • Treatment plans must be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.
  • Treatment should address other possible mental disorders.
  • Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of treatment.
  • Treatment doesn’t need to be voluntary to be effective.
  • Drug use during treatment must be monitored continuously.
  • Treatment programs should test patients for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases as well as teach them about steps they can take to reduce their risk of these illnesses.

How Does Addiction Therapy Work?

Detoxification from the drug does not go far enough in treating a substance abuse addiction. In fact, patients who do not receive any more treatment after a detox usually resume their drug use, according to NIDA.

The reason for this is because, while a medical detox program addresses the immediate physical ramifications of addiction, the psychological cravings remain, tempting people to relapse. In essence, the brain will still desire the rewarding response that drugs and alcohol provide.

The treatment approaches that are a part of addiction therapy provide clients with tools, strategies, and education to cope with the cravings and stressors that lead to use. One popular addiction therapy modality is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.

What Is CBT?

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a version of talk therapy that gives people the tools to address addictions and disorders in a healthy manner. As an evidence-based treatment, CBT helps clients become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so they can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more effectively, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Additionally, CBT allows people to explore “the positive and negative consequences of continued drug use, self-monitoring to recognize cravings early and identify situations that might put one at risk for use, and developing strategies for coping with cravings and avoiding those high-risk situations,” according to NIDA.

CBT and other Addiction Therapies

CBT can be administered in individual or group settings. The most common addiction therapy models employed in treatment include:

  • Motivational Interviewing (MI): MI is a form of behavioral therapy that includes one-on-one sessions with a therapist where the goal is to help a client find the internal motivation to change.
  • Relapse Prevention and Other Treatments: These methods teach clients to respond differently to cues that would otherwise trigger them to abuse substances.
  • Couples and Family Treatments: This approach relies on the partner, family, and/or members of the community to influence a loved one to become sober.

Therapy in Professional Treatment

Addiction therapy is an essential component of professional treatment. An array of approaches are employed to address substance addiction, including addiction with a co-occurring mental health disorder and polysubstance abuse (when more than one substance is abused simultaneously).

Medical detoxification is the first step in addiction treatment, which is when drugs or alcohol is removed from the body.

During this process, any withdrawal symptoms that arise are medically alleviated.

Depending on the severity and type of addiction, clients can enter residential treatment, outpatient treatment or both.

At either stage, they will receive addiction therapy to address the underlying causes of their substance abuse, along with treatment intended to address abuse disorders directly.

Addiction therapy modalities that are included at the residential and outpatient level include:

  • CBT
  • DBT
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Group and Individual Therapy

Other addiction therapy services such as the following may also be employed:

  • Addiction education classes
  • Relapse prevention
  • Co-occurring disorders treatment
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Couples therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Life skills training
  • Aftercare
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