Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that is estimated to affect 21.5 million Americans, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Of these millions of people, many do not have access to or receive the substance abuse care from qualified addiction professionals that they need.

In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that in 2011, of the 21.6 million people in need of treatment age 12 and older, just 2.3 million of them got treatment at a specialty substance abuse facility.

While there is no cure available to people who battle addiction, many effective treatment methods can bring the condition to a manageable level.

Addiction therapy is the primary way that medical and mental health professionals treat chronic substance abuse disorders and help addicted persons to stop using drugs and alcohol. Addiction therapy is a great tool for treating the underlying core issues that lead people to abuse substances.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, then getting proper addiction treatment is the key to finding success in recovery. Understanding addiction therapy, how it works, and available addiction treatment techniques, are important when searching for the right drug treatment program that meets your needs.

Read on to learn more about addiction therapy and how it can help you or your loved one meet your goal of sobriety and freedom from active addiction.

What is Addiction?

Addiction, also known as a substance use disorder/alcohol use disorder, is a disease as recognized by the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Medical and mental health professionals diagnose substance use disorders (SUDs) every day. This type of mental health disorder is characterized by the manifestation of physical and psychological symptoms.

To determine if a patient has a substance use disorder, physicians and mental health professionals turn to the DSM-5 for help in making a diagnosis. The DSM-5 has set forth certain criteria that can distinguish whether an individual is indeed struggling with SUD.

The criteria refer to different behaviors and emotional symptoms that are present in people who are battling the disorder.

While addiction is a variable condition, the criteria can help health care professionals narrow them down so that they can make an accurate diagnosis.

The Criteria That Must Be Met For a Substance Use Disorder Diagnosis is as Follows:

  • Taking the drug in greater amounts and for longer than intended
  • Wanting to cut down or quit but being unable to do so
  • Spending copious amounts of time attempting to obtain the substance
  • Experiencing cravings for the drug
  • Being incapable of performing obligations at work, school, or home due to drug use
  • Continuing to use the substance despite consistent social or interpersonal issues caused by or exacerbated by drug use
  • Cessation of important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to drug use
  • The habitual use of the substance in physically dangerous situations
  • Still using the drug after recognizing continual physical and psychological difficulties stemming from drug use
  • Building a physical tolerance to the drug
  • Undergoing withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped

If you have a mild substance use disorder, you must meet two or three of the above criteria.

A moderate SUD diagnosis requires that four or five of the criteria are met. For severe SUD cases, patients display six or seven (or more) of those symptoms. These varying levels of severity help medical and mental health professionals determine what addiction treatment techniques may best suit you and your needs.

These symptoms can be applied to any substance of the illicit or prescription variety, and alcohol. In the case of alcohol dependence or addiction, the clinical term is alcohol use disorder (AUD).

There are multiple kinds of addiction therapy that health care professionals may implement in your treatment plan to help you overcome substance abuse.

These various therapies are unique in their own way and can be very effective depending on the individual. Read on to learn how addiction therapy can work to get you through your substance use disorder and the different kinds of approaches you might consider to pursue your recovery.

How Addiction Therapy Works

Addiction therapy can be effective in treating SUDs and helping people find lasting recovery.

This type of therapy is performed in addiction treatment, which is also referred to as drug or alcohol rehab.

Rehab is a process in which medical and clinical staff address substance addiction by utilizing different addiction therapy techniques. Each of these therapies takes a unique approach to addiction treatment, with the focus of each modality placed on a specific area of the disorder.

There are seemingly endless options when it comes to addiction therapy techniques. Keeping all of these different types in mind may make it challenging for you or your loved one to discern which addiction therapy is right for you.

Everyone with an addiction has a unique story. One therapeutic approach might work for one person but may be inadequate for another and vice-versa.

NIDA Lists Some of the Most Commonly Employed Yet Effective Addiction Drug Treatment Approaches, Which Include: 

  • Behavioral counseling (such as cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Medication (such as Suboxone or methadone for opioid use disorders)
  • Medical devices and applications used to treat withdrawal symptoms or deliver skills training
  • Evaluation and treatment for patients with co-occurring mental health issues like depression and anxiety, along with substance abuse disorders
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse

Substance Abuse Therapies

Below is a list of commonly utilized substance abuse therapy techniques employed by drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. Learn more about each one to see if it’s the right fit for you and your personal needs.

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy addresses substance abuse in a unique way. Therapists attempt to help patients access and comprehend their innermost feelings.

By unlocking these thoughts and feelings, therapists can help their clients find a sense of purpose and achieve self-actualization. This refers to realizing one’s full potential.

Humanistic therapy puts the primary focus of the sessions on the intense healing powers of free will, creativity, and human potential. This approach allows patients to undergo a deep level of self-exploration where they view themselves as a whole human being. Through creating a stronger sense of self, clients can begin to overcome their drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) has become very popular in drug rehabs nationwide. This technique was created to help patients suffering from trauma issues overcome any distress associated with memories and experiences.

EMDR works by employing the same basic concept that Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep uses. The therapist who conducts the EMDR session will have a patient recall the negative memory or situation. While the client focuses on the situation, the therapist will then perform a gesture like moving their hands back and forth across the client’s field of vision. The patient is supposed to focus on the hand movement.

By following these movements, the client can begin to process the negative memory and the feelings it generates by making new internal associations. This approach is successful when the way a patient views the situation is changed. The event is then no longer viewed negatively. The patient may then feel empowered to make a positive association with that precipitating event.

Trauma Therapy

Trauma therapy is an important type of addiction therapy. Rather than one specific approach to addiction therapy, this is a category that encompasses multiple methods. However, all of these methods specifically focus on traumatic experiences patients have endured, and it addresses any signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

By working with patients to process these traumatic experiences and their PTSD, therapists can begin to get to the root issues that cause the patient psychological pain. Trauma therapy provides therapeutic support and psychoeducation for patients, which allows them to heal from their past traumatic experiences and move forward with a new perspective.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is similar to trauma therapy in that, rather than being one specific type of therapy, it is a category of substance abuse therapy techniques. Behavioral therapy attempts to change the negative and self-destructive behaviors of the addicted person and replace those actions with positive and healthy behaviors.

Examples of behavioral therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and aversion therapy, according to Healthline.

Behavioral therapy is even more effective when used with cognitive psychology. Utilizing both of these therapy methods together addresses thought and action, which can help people in active addiction stop engaging in negative using behaviors and instead replace these old habits with healthy behaviors such as maintaining sobriety.

Motivational Therapy

Motivational therapy is a highly effective type of addiction therapy since it acts as a combination of humanistic treatment and CBT. The therapist works closely with the patient to help them develop a negative outlook on using drugs and/or alcohol. By creating this negative connotation, patients will then have the desire to change these behaviors.

This substance abuse therapy technique focuses on each individual client’s needs and personal issues. These motivational therapy sessions are solution-oriented, meaning rather than continuing to talk about the problem, solutions are discussed. This helps clients clearly see effective ways to fix their self-destructive behavioral patterns.

Family Therapy

Many people state that addiction is a “family disease. “This notion means that many addicted persons cite the reasons for their use stems from issues within their families. Another major factor is that including family members of an addicted patient in treatment can be beneficial.

This is what makes family therapy so important. Therapists may hold sessions that include family members where the goal is to engage in a safe, healthy, and non-confrontational way. This allows everyone to discuss and resolve conflicts.

Family therapy is also effective in teaching family members and people in active addiction how to set healthy boundaries, learn about addiction, improve healthy communication skills, and provide everyone an opportunity to learn and be heard. By addressing family dynamics, a recovering person has a greater chance of long-term success.

Expressive Therapy

Expressive therapy may be the most fun and interesting way to treat addiction. The idea behind this therapy is to use the creative process in addiction treatment. By having patients engage in the process of creating, whether through writing, drawing, or composing music, they can find healing.

Rather than the actual finished product, expressive therapy focuses on the act of creating. Typically, when individuals are creative, they are accessing a deeply emotional aspect of their brain. They can then explore this emotional space and begin to properly address their thoughts and feelings in a far easier manner.

Holistic Therapy

This category of treatment operates on the belief that there must be a proper balance between mind, body, and spirit to achieve sobriety. Holistic therapists encourage patients to find this balance to attain healthier self-esteem, increase self-awareness, and receive the self-acceptance needed for a successful recovery.

Holistic therapy is different from the more traditional forms of therapy, such as talk therapy. A holistic therapy session may include different techniques such as yoga, art therapy, or meditation. The goal is to find the balance between the individual and all aspects of their being so that they may flourish in recovery.

Commonly Abused Substances

Many substances are capable of being abused, including prescription and illicit varieties.

The following are the most commonly abused kinds of substances that are treated:


This legal, commonly abused substance is capable of producing an array of health and addiction issues, particularly for people who engage in heavy, long-term use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that treatment options for alcohol use disorders include behavioral treatments that aim to change drinking behavior through counseling, alcohol treatment medications like disulfiram and acamprosate, and mutual support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).


This class of drugs, which encompass illicit substances like heroin and fentanyl and prescription medications like OxyContin and Vicodin, are highly addictive and profoundly rewire the brain. Like alcohol, opioids require a comprehensive treatment approach that incorporates medication-assisted treatment drugs like Suboxone and methadone, counseling and behavioral approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy, and residential and hospital-based treatment.


There are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications for marijuana treatment. However, NIDA recommends behavioral therapies like CBT, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy for marijuana use disorders. It’s worth noting that marijuana is often abused with other substances like alcohol. In such instances, an intensive addiction therapy protocol may be required.


Drugs in this category include cocaine, methamphetamine, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications like Ritalin and Adderall. As with marijuana, there are no FDA-approved medications for stimulant addiction. However, psychotherapy remains at the core of stimulant addiction treatment, states this Harvard Medical School report. CBT, contingency management, individual counseling, and 12-step counseling are therapeutic approaches utilized to treat stimulant addiction.


Benzodiazepine medications like Valium, Klonopin, and Xanax, non-benzodiazepines like Ambien and Lunesta, and barbiturate drugs comprise this category. Addiction therapy approaches for depressant drug addictions include CBT and individual counseling through an inpatient or outpatient program, according to NIDA.

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