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What Role Does Addiction Therapy Play in Recovery?

Recovering Through Therapy

Drug and alcohol abuse can take a heavy toll on every aspect of your life. It can cause strain in relationships and can impact your health.

However, with the right addiction recovery therapy program, it is possible to lead a healthy life. Whether you are suffering from an addiction to alcohol, marijuana, crystal meth or heroin, recovery is possible.

The Role of Therapy

Drug and alcohol recovery therapists help you understand why you or your loved one may have begun to use drugs and/or alcohol. Without addressing what may have led to the initial addiction, you are vulnerable to relapse once you leave a treatment program.

Using approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), therapists will not necessarily dig into your past (e.g. childhood experiences), but will focus on what is causing and maintaining your addiction in the here and now.

Therapists can also help you work through any unresolved emotional problems that may be leading you to use drugs and alcohol, such as past trauma, abuse or grief. Unhealthy family dynamics could be addressed in addiction therapy as well.

Many people who use drugs and alcohol may also have co-occurring mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression and/or anxiety. A psychotherapist can help you identify, understand and manage these conditions. In some cases, a doctor may recommend medications, such antidepressants, as part of treatment.

When a therapeutic approach is customized to your unique situation while also addressing co-occurring social, psychiatric and medical problems, the result can be a sustained recovery and productive life free from substance abuse.

Benefits of Substance Abuse Therapy

Therapy is often introduced in an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program. Often, therapy cannot begin until after detox and a short period of abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol. Therapy can also continue long after the initial treatment episode ends.

Benefits of therapy may include:

  • Self-awareness – Developing self-esteem, receiving positive regard and experiencing focused attention may initially feel uncomfortable but will become a positive motivator to remain abstinent.
  • Stress management – Learning that everyone experiences stress and understanding how to manage it without resorting to substance use is important. You can learn healthy ways to do this during therapy.
  • Developing communication skills – During a therapeutic relationship, you are heard, validated and encouraged to be honest and identify feelings. This will enable you to begin a process of healthy communication.
  • Addressing trauma – Any level of undiagnosed trauma can fuel an addiction and cause relapse. Addressing trauma with a skilled therapist is key.
  • Identifying possible underlying issues – A therapist can help you uncover any depression, anxiety, co-addictions (gambling and codependency), family dysfunction, health problems and anything else that has been pushed aside during active use.
  • Overcoming shame about substance use – During active addiction, people often say and do things that they later regret. Talking about these issues can relieve discomfort and help you realize that you are not a bad person – you are a person suffering from a substance use disorder.
  • Repairing damaged relationships – Personal relationships are often strained by the time someone enters treatment. Rebuilding trust, with others and in yourself, takes time. A good therapist can assist in this process and act as a mediator with significant others if necessary.

What Is a Therapist?

The term “therapist” may refer to:

  • A psychologist.
  • A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).
  • A licensed professional counselor (LPC).
  • Other licensed professionals.

Other people who may help with substance use counseling are recovery coaches, peer counselors, substance abuse counselors and other certified but non-licensed professionals.

In early recovery, a licensed therapist is a good person to work with when you are experiencing psychological stress or dealing with trauma-related issues or co-occurring disorders.

How Does Therapy Work?

Many people experience therapy for the first time during drug or alcohol addiction treatment. Some may have attempted to “go to therapy” during active addiction and found that the benefits were negligible for a number of reasons:
  • It is difficult to benefit from therapy when you are under the influence.
  • Many people report lying to their therapist about drug or alcohol use.
  • A good therapist may not work with you during active addiction.

During and after treatment, a therapeutic process can begin with the absence of distortions caused by substance use.

Typical Session

Typical individual sessions last for about 50 minutes and often begin with identifying problems you’d like to address and goals you may have, as well as methods and interventions that can assist in this process.

You may develop a formal treatment plan and decide how often to meet. This arrangement can be revisited as therapy progresses.

These meetings are usually held in a private office. What you share in your therapy sessions is confidential, and you have a right to feel safe with your therapist.

Types of Therapies

  • Group therapy is offered in inpatient, residential and outpatient settings. Group size varies, but groups are usually small with around 8-12 members. There should be a skilled facilitator, a set time to meet and an evaluation before group therapy begins.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is sometimes offered in group settings and is frequently provided by individual therapists. CBT focuses on a person’s feelings, behaviors and thoughts. A therapist will help you identify beliefs about yourself and the world that may be unhealthy and help you challenge these beliefs.
  • Motivational interviewing focuses on changing behaviors that may prevent you from reaching your goals. The therapeutic relationship is considered a partnership between you and your therapist, who may be directive in his or her approach while also being supportive and guiding you toward realizing your goals and your desire for change.1
  • Family therapy – Offering services to the entire family can improve your chances of recovery. While substance abuse treatment focuses on the person using, family therapy addresses relational problems and can improve treatment effectiveness.2
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy was invented by Dr. Marsha Linehan and could be considered a modified form of CBT. DBT emphasizes the concept of validation and uses mindfulness-based skills, where the therapist and patient work on accepting uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and behaviors rather than struggling with them.3
  • Music or art therapy – These are complementary treatments that provide creative outlets and are most often combined with other therapies.4
  • Therapeutic yoga and mindfulness meditation – Yoga and meditation have received increasing attention and credibility in the treatment of substance abuse. Many rehab centers offer one or both as part of treatment. Finding a teacher who understands addiction treatment is beneficial.5
  • The Matrix Model – This behavioral therapy appears to be helpful in treating substance abuse and most specifically stimulant addiction, which can often be difficult to address. The Matrix Model uses elements of other proven therapies and may include family and individual therapy, CBT, relapse prevention, life skills, drug testing and 12-Step support.6

When Is Drug Addiction Therapy Necessary?

Admitting that you or a loved one may need addiction recovery therapy can be difficult.

Many people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction often think they can overcome their addictions alone. In reality, drug addiction can be quite complex. While you or your loved one may very well have a strong desire to quit, successfully recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction requires professional help.

Even the most strong-willed person may find it difficult to conquer addiction without the help of an addiction recovery program. This is because drugs and alcohol actually alter the way the brain functions. Chemicals contained in drugs and alcohol create changes in the brain that actually foster substance abuse on a compulsive level.

As a result of scientific advances, drug and alcohol recovery therapists now understand far more about the way substances work in the brain. This insight has made it possible to successfully treat drug and alcohol addiction, so people are able to once again lead productive lives.

Signs of Addiction

According to the National Council on Drug Dependence and Alcoholism, Inc., signs of addiction may include:

  • Mood swings.
  • Red or glassy eyes.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Behavioral changes.
  • Irritability.
  • Runny nose.
  • Careless grooming.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns.

If you have noticed any of the above symptoms in yourself, a family member or a friend, it may be time to seek professional addiction therapy. Obtaining professional help is essential to the drug and alcohol abuse recovery process.

How Recovery Programs Work

First, you need to go through the intake process. You will complete forms and provide information to the assessment staff, so that they can customize an addiction recovery support program that meets your needs.

Next, you will attend detoxification, if necessary. The length of time required for detoxification will vary based on a number of factors, including the severity of your addiction. The goal of detox is to eliminate alcohol or drugs from the body. Fully trained medical staff will monitor you to ensure your safety. Only when those toxins have been purged from your system will you be ready to move on to the next phase of addiction therapy.

Once you or your loved one has left the program, you can continue attending therapy sessions on an outpatient basis. This can help to reduce the chances of relapse. In fact, a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that such programs can increase the chances that people will abstain from drug or alcohol use.

Start the Path to a Sober Life Today

The effects of drug and alcohol abuse on your life and the life of your family and friends can be significant. It is possible to counter those powerful effects with a comprehensive addiction recovery therapy program.

Regardless of how long you or a loved one have suffered from addiction or how severe the addiction may be, help is available. Contact our toll-free addiction recovery helpline today at to get the help you deserve and begin the path to a happier, sober life today. There are also free alcohol abuse and drug addiction hotline numbers you can call.

No matter what your situation may be at the moment, it is never too late to get the help you need. Addiction recovery therapy can provide you with the tools you need to get clean and sober and learn how to maintain your recovery in the future.

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