How to use Online Therapy for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Overcoming alcohol or drug addiction is a tough road to walk alone. Medical doctors, specialists in addiction counseling, and addicts themselves tend to agree that recovering addicts need allies in the fight to maintain sobriety. Indeed, Alcoholics Anonymous—and offshoots like Narcotics Anonymous—have, at their very core, the belief that people recover through fellowship and sharing their experiences with other addicts. Individual and group therapy are also highly recommended. They are the mainstay of most rehabilitation facilities’ treatment protocols. 

But what if the idea of speaking about your addiction before a group of people, or even one person, is too intimidating for you? What if transportation problems, the absence of local services, or financial obstacles prevent you from accessing the help you need? 

Then online therapy could be an effective alternative. Online therapy services—delivered through video chat, telephone, email, text messaging and proprietary apps—are now widely available to treat a range of mental health issues, including addiction recovery. Studies have shown that, particularly when part of a comprehensive treatment plan, online therapy can increase your chances of getting and staying clean.

Here are some of the reasons online therapy might be right for you:

  • You are comfortable with technology and already use it to meet everyday communication needs.
  • You enjoy (or require) the flexibility of communicating from anywhere, anytime. Some services even offer “unlimited access” for a corresponding fee.
  • Traditional therapy services are cost-prohibitive for you.
  • You are already accessing therapy through traditional modalities but feel you would benefit from some extra support.
  • Recovery services are limited in your geographical area.
  • Face-to-face therapy is uncomfortable for you, or you prefer the buffer remote communication puts between you and your service provider.

On the flip side, experts caution that remote therapy is not effective–and can be downright dangerous–for people who are going through acute alcohol or drug withdrawal. Acute withdrawal is best monitored in a hospital setting. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you should also be under a local provider’s care.  If you have been told that your condition would be best treated with prescription medicines, bear in mind that online providers (who are rarely psychiatrists themselves or under a psychiatrist’s supervision) are typically prohibited from prescribing. 

Online/remote therapy has both its advocates and its detractors. Some traditional therapists feel there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction, where body language and the spontaneity of actual speech (versus writing, in the case of text-based communication) enrich a therapist’s understanding of his or her clients. Proponents cite ease and affordability of access, multiple contact methods and digital lifestyle compatibility as unique advantages.

As a client, you can do your part to increase the efficacy of online/remote therapy by following certain guidelines. Research the best practices for choosing an online therapist. Be sure to investigate the credentials of the therapists providing services. Use a service that engages only licensed therapists (look for MSW, LICSW or similar counseling certifications), and also has robust privacy policies in place. Finally, be the strongest possible advocate for yourself within the context of your therapy. Be as honest and forthright as you can be. Voice any concerns—particularly any sense of incompatibility you may have with your assigned therapist. The squeaky wheel axiom applies in this milieu, so speak up to get the most out of your experience.

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