Addiction Therapy: Types, What Happens & Where To Seek It


How we respond to addiction has dramatically evolved over the years. Historically, it was the fault of the addicted person and the discussion surrounding it carried a significant stigma.

Over time, our attitude has shifted. Today, you are more likely to hear addiction discussed as an illness that needs treating the same way you would treat depression or kidney disease.

Despite this, many people still feel addiction comes with an inbuilt stigma. Addiction therapy tries to combat that while also treating the addiction.

But how does it work and where can people find the help they need?

What Is Addiction Therapy?

Before we can talk about addiction therapy in detail, we need to understand addiction.

The medical definition of addiction describes it as a chronic disorder where the patient persistently uses or relies on a substance like drugs despite their adverse consequences.

There can also be a genetic association with addiction. For instance, people with a family history of alcohol addiction have a higher chance of developing disordered drinking than other people.

Depending on the substance, the addicted person may experience behavioral changes. Sometimes these persist long after the substance use stops because certain drugs can alter brain chemistry.

And that’s where addiction therapy comes in. When done well, addiction therapy does several important things. It:

  • Destigmatizes addiction
  • Helps people seek appropriate medical treatment
  • Provides reasons for people to avoid drug or substance abuse
  • Offers tips, strategies, and techniques to manage situations that could lead to relapse/future drug use

Is Addiction Therapy the Same as Addiction Treatment?

Given what addiction therapy does, it’s understandable that many people conflate it with addiction treatment.

But these are two different things. Addiction treatment actively combats addiction.

Conversely, addiction therapy doesn’t seek to cure the addicted person. Instead, it opens up a discussion about addiction. The intention is to help people become receptive to treatment and seek it on their terms.

Since admitting a need for addiction treatment can be difficult, addiction therapy also works with individuals to help them manage the symptoms of their condition until they feel prepared to address it more fully.

What Happens in Addiction Therapy?

So, if addiction therapy isn’t about offering a cure, what does it do?

A significant part of addiction therapy involves reframing attitudes towards addiction and treatment. The therapist may not directly prescribe treatments, but they work with individuals to give them the tools to manage symptoms of addiction like:

  • Stress/anxiety
  • On overwhelming urge to take/use a substance
  • Out-of-character behavior to acquire drugs, like stealing
  • Spending money you don’t have on substance

Addiction therapy can also help people manage withdrawal symptoms when they eventually seek treatment. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and may include:

  • Tremors
  • Muscle spasm
  • Change in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

Sometimes withdrawal symptoms are less physical and include things like confusion and insomnia. They can feel overwhelmed, making it tempting to resume destructive behavior.

Why Is Therapy Important When Treating Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

Addiction therapy is important for many reasons. In the early stages of addiction treatment, it serves two significant roles. It opens up a safe place to discuss addiction and it helps people with addiction consider treatment.

But the other function addiction therapy serves is to help recovering addicts stay away from their substance of choice.

It’s not enough to curtail the destructive habit. Patients need to understand how they developed it in the first place. Perhaps they couldn’t find an outlet for stress. They might have suffered a bereavement. Or perhaps they have been prescribed a medication they struggled to wean themselves off.

However the addiction started, understanding where it originated is as ending the addiction. Addiction therapy enables patients to recognize their triggers and signs of potential relapse.

In turn, that enables them to stay away from whatever caused the addiction.

Types of Addiction Therapy

There are many kinds of addiction therapy. These are combined with addiction medicine to help manage recovery and withdrawal.

What type if therapy is appropriate depends on the addiction but also the person. What they have in common is a way to measure and manage the stages of change in addiction.

Depending on the stage, addiction therapy may be more or less rigorous. However, it never stops being important. Here are some of the most common types of addiction therapy.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of addiction therapy that targets the trigger mechanisms of addiction.

The goal is to identify harmful behaviors that helped contribute to the addiction in the first place.

It operates on several presumptions:

  • Sometimes people’s thinking can be harmful to themselves
  • We can learn detrimental behavior from people/scenarios
  •  Harmful behavior can be overridden by corrective habits once identified

In the case of addiction, considerable time and effort go into diagnosing what caused the addiction. That could be a family history or a trigger scenario.

The therapist can then work with their patient to foster new, more helpful habits so that when the compulsion to resume the addiction surfaces, they won’t relapse.

Strategies vary depending on the therapist and what they feel will most benefit their patient. But common aspects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy include:

  • Role-playing interaction
  • Meditation

Some therapists also encourage patients to confront their fears head-on. They offer them healthier outlets than substance abuse to manage these situations. That way, when an anxiety-inducing scenario arises, their first response won’t be to relapse.

Skills Development Therapy

At first glance, skills development therapy sounds like it’s setting participants up to learn to knit or grow orchids.

But there’s more to it than that. Many people find that time in clinics or rehabilitation centers gives them the necessary structure to overcome addiction. But maintaining that structure outside a group setting can be challenging.

Skills development therapy does several things. It offers a group therapy environment first and foremost. Crucially, this enables recovering addicts to find a support network. That way, when the temptation to relapse emerges, they have people they can turn to for unjudgmental support.

But it also works with the group to:

  • Overcome cravings
  • Recognize relapse triggers

Admittedly, they aren’t the kind of skills that lead to cheery Christmas jumpers but they provide the building blocks of a substance-free life.

It’s also important to recognize that addiction can be alienating. After recovery, that can make it difficult to ask for support. An effective skills development therapy group will work with the participants to foster the support they need to ensure their recovery persists.

Support Based Therapy

Support-based therapy is what layperson thinks of when they think of addiction therapy. It’s the kind of therapy that grounds groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

It combines a variety of techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy and intrapersonal therapy.

Like all addiction therapy, its goal is to help manage addiction and recovery. But that’s not all supportive therapy does. Because it often gets practiced in a group context, it offers the same support network as skills development therapy.

One of the goals of support-based therapy is to teach reliance on other people. Not only that, it works to build self-esteem. The theory is that by rebuilding the self-confidence of participants, the threshold for relapse becomes increasingly negligible.

There is no time limit on support-based therapy. Many participants stay with it for life because they find the ability to help other, newer members an effective way to continue building self-esteem.

It’s important to remember that because support-based therapy revolves around fostering networks and friendships, the process of recovery can be a long one. Trust is difficult to build, and how readily a participant establishes that can impact how long the therapy takes to have an effect.

Intrapersonal Therapy

Conversely, intrapersonal therapy works to a deadline.

Its foremost objective is to bolster a patient’s intrapersonal relationships. That’s important for recovering addicts, who may have unintentionally sabotaged relationships as part of their illness.

Like other therapies mentioned, it also gives them the tools to rebuild a support network. By doing that, it becomes possible to turn to others instead of drugs or alcohol in crisis.

What Is The First Stage of Addiction Therapy?

That said, the first step of addiction therapy is always the same. No technique is effective if the person on the receiving end doesn’t admit they need help.

That’s why addiction therapy always starts by opening up someone with an addiction to the possibility of treatment.

Done well, addiction therapy helps mitigate the triggers of addiction and prevent relapse. But it’s not a treatment solution. Rather, it works with treatment to keep addiction at bay.

Wrapping Up

There are many kinds of addiction therapy. What types are most effective changes depending on the person and the nature of their addiction?

It’s important to remember that addiction therapy and treatment are ongoing processes. There’s no one-stop solution that allows you to add water and let stand for immediate results.

It’s a long, involved and sometimes complicated process that requires rebuilding trust and tackling not just the addiction but what caused it in the first place. It takes time, patience, and a willingness to accept help from others. It’s never easy, but always worthwhile.


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