Why Therapy is Essential for Treating Addiction

Most people assume the remedy for recovery involves detox and abstinence from the drugs/alcohol. The truth is, this is only the beginning. Recovery is a lifelong process, one that requires discipline and most importantly intensive treatment and therapy. Addiction is usually a symptom of an underlying issue such as trauma, abuse, grief, and many other mental health disorders. Addiction has been named “disease of the brain”. This complicated idea suggests that the issue stems from the brain. Complex and often confusing, this disease attacks the thinking and behaviors of an individual. Therapy is one of the most useful tools utilized to promote long-term sobriety.

There are many different types of therapy integrated into the recovery process. Almost all addiction programs recognize this and have found that there is not a one size fits all method to this approach. Behavioral therapy is perhaps the most effective in treating the root of addiction and preventing cravings and relapse. However, there are many different forms of therapy. The goal is to identify and address the fundamental issues the addict may be facing. For centuries, therapy has been used for treating addiction of all sorts.

Matrix Model

This model was developed in the 1980’s during the cocaine epidemic. Originally designed to treat stimulant abuse, this therapy method proved to be overwhelmingly effective. The Matrix Model was intended to be a 16-week program that includes individual therapy sessions, group therapy, relapse prevention, family therapy/education, CBT, DBT, and encouraging 12 Step meetings. Contingency management is another major component of this method as well, rewarding sobriety and avoiding punishment for relapse. 

Family Therapy

Working with loved ones is essential for recovery because not everyone is affected by addiction. The addict does not suffer alone, all members of family and friends are affected by the disease. It is important for the family to be educated about the disease of addiction. It’s not uncommon for individual therapy to include family sessions. The goal is to unify and reunite family members who have been affected. Most addicts will remain in therapy if other members of the family do as well. Healing within the family unit has shown lower relapse rates and higher levels of motivation from the addict through positive reinforcement and support.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

(CBT) is a short-term psychotherapy that promotes problem-solving skills. CBT primarily focuses on solutions rather than revisiting old problems. This method of therapy encourages the development of new coping strategies, changing detrimental cognitive thinking, and problem-solving skills. CBT has also been used in treating co-occurring disorders as well.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

(DBT) works to address co-occurring disorders simultaneously. Enhancing behavioral skills, through mindfulness and emotional regulation, is the primary focus of DBT. This type of treatment encourages stress management, decreases impulsivity, and aims to strengthen self-esteem through discipline and structure.

Trauma Therapy

This type of therapy is also a vital form of therapy used for addiction treatment. Recent studies have shown that half of adults have experienced some form of trauma in their childhood. Unresolved trauma is a leading cause of substance abuse. Addicts turn to drugs/alcohol to self-medicate the pain of PTSD. Trauma therapy requires the patient to identify the trauma by creating a safe environment for the individual to share painful experiences. Once the patient has identified trauma the therapist will incorporate tools useful in helping to process, change old belief systems, and promote healing.

Recovery Plans

Every addict requires a recovery plan that best suits their individualized therapeutic needs. It is important therapy promotes a safe and positive collaboration between the addict and therapist. Avoiding condemnation and confrontation, the therapist must empathize with the patient in order to establish a secure and trustworthy relationship.

In order for an addiction treatment program to be successful, you must understand the problem of an addiction.

Education in therapy is also quintessential for recovery, it is important the addict understand that addiction is a disease and not a matter of willpower. Through setting expectations the individual will set goals to accomplish throughout the duration in therapy which will ultimately encourage taking further steps towards positive behaviors.

Therapy must also employ cognitive behavioral change by identifying triggers and impulsivity which retrains the brain’s functionality. Family therapy will help to establish boundaries and healthy communication between the family and the addict in hopes of setting a guide for a strong sober support. Evidence has proven that recovery is a lifelong process that requires maintenance and consistent spiritual and individual growth. Therapy is an effective tool used in cultivating the foundation for long-term recovery.

19 thoughts on “Why Therapy is Essential for Treating Addiction

  1. I wanted very much to find fault with this post because it seems lately that the medical profession is trying to take over treatment and find a way to charge for something that Twelve Step programs do for a buck (or less) a meeting… but therapy has played a big part in my recovery. You make some decent points.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great article. As someone with 25+ years of sobriety, I think it all depends on what a person is willing to accept as “recovery” and “happiness”, and what kinds of issues they are dealing with.

    My issues run pretty deep (childhood sexual abuse, etc), and I wanted to explore and confront them all.

    I sobered up with the 12 Steps (saved my life), but after five years or so I wanted more. More healing. More joy. More me. I’ve done several kinds of therapy for a range of issues and can honestly say that they all helped me improve my life in some way. However, I also have many friends who do nothing but Steps and seem happy. I can’t see into their mind, but they seem truly happy. And…there are many in the 12 Step community who look down on therapy and actually lobby against it. Luckily my first sponsor wasn’t one of those people. I truly believe it’s about finding the right fit.

    Kudos for writing this!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Brad for your candor and thoughtful comments. I very much relate to your story. The 12 steps have been great and I continue to be a part of the fellowship, however I need outside help too. I pray that I remain open to all healing options as my thinking constantly needs to be retrained. 💕

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Hey Victoria, thanks for checking out a recent post. Glad you enjoyed it. If one can actually enjoy such a story. But these are the situations you can find yourself in, when alcoholism is well out of control.
    I certainly agree, that without one fully understanding the reasons for their addiction in the first place, and deal with such reasons, there is little chance of a peaceful sobriety.
    Unless an AA meeting or similar, is led by an experienced Mental Health Professional to guide the proceedings, and pulling people up when they refuse to acknowledge there shortcomings, and issues, there will be resolution for them. Alcoholic’s retelling issues of former escapades, don’t really do much. A case of the blind leading the blind, down a dark alley. Not the best idea !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate your experience and feedback. However, I’m a bit confused about your suggestion regarding AA meetings. I agree that people sharing about their drinking experience is a waste of time, but I don’t know of any meetings that are let by Mental Health Professionals. But, I suspect that we still share a similar opinion. At my home group, every meeting is based on literature and/or the steps. Even the open discussion style meeting (that is held once a week) is still limited to speaking about step one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello! I just started my blog about addiction and recovery. I am telling my story in hopes of helping anyone who may want it. I am new to this so I was just wondering if maybe you could take a look at my posts and recommend it to anyone? Thank you so much!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If you have insurance (maybe Blue Cross), Life Healing Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a residential trauma treatment facility I went to for 35 days. They treat addiction and trauma just as Victoria recommends: CBT, DBT, group therapy, individual therapy, art therapy, adjunctive therapies (I did somatics). I was one of the only trauma patients there without an addiction history, so most residents can relate. They have detox unit to ease patients into the program and have optional AA meetings. Hazelden was sending repeat trauma patients there. It’s not a spa, nor is it a prison. It used to be a summer camp. They help residents find therapists for after the program. If you’re struggling with dissociation, I wouldn’t recommend it because DBT requires presence. Contact me if you need trauma hospital referral for dissociation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Victoria,
    I had a sponsee tell me he’s looking into going to therapy too. I told him to go for it. I know a lot of addicts who get outside help.
    I learned a lot from this post.
    What stood out to me was the statement.[Unresolved trauma is a leading cause of substance abuse.]
    My sponsor always tells me this, and as I continue to work on myself through the 12 steps, I’m finding out how true it is and how much childhood trauma I had experienced myself.
    I will share this post with others.


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