Substance Use

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Psychologist talking about twelve-step program to addicted man during group support meeting

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Understanding Therapy: A Guide to Therapy Treatment for Addiction

Substance abuse in the United States continues to grow at record rates. The past few years have left many people desperately searching for ways to cope with events in the country and around the world. Some find comfort in music or simply spending time with family. Others, unfortunately, find their solace in illegal substances. This can lead to dependence, addiction, and, in the worst cases, overdose.

The lethal drug fentanyl is responsible for the most overdoses resulting in death. (1) The user is typically unaware that fentanyl is an ingredient in a drug they’ve taken. Law enforcement agencies do what they can to curb this problem — from 2018 to 2021, the number of pills laced with fentanyl confiscated by law enforcement officials skyrocketed by more than 188%. (2)

Drug and alcohol dependence can sneak up on a person, and many never seek treatment. What may have started out as a way to relax or to get through the day can quickly become an addiction the person feels powerless to control. Thanks to the work of medical professionals, various treatment options exist, from medication to addiction therapy.

In this guide, you’ll learn about addiction therapy: what it is, the various methods used, and how it can be the key to a life lived free from the pain of addiction.

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What Is Drug Addiction Therapy?

Drug and alcohol addiction therapy utilizes a host of methods when addressing drug use patterns or an underlying substance use disorder. Some therapy methods address substance use by not addressing it. Think of how a mother “redirects” her very young child — not by saying “no” or forcefully taking an object away, but by offering something else as a distraction.

Addicted individuals may already have varying anxiety levels, so the idea of showing up somewhere on a specific day and time with the express purpose of talking about it can exacerbate this frustration.  It brings about the same type of inner reaction the child has when mom calls out “no” loudly or grabs a toy they were playing with.

Therapy sessions in which the patient knows they can speak (or not speak) about anything they choose and lead (or be led) through the session eliminates the fear of:

  • Going somewhere new
  • Meeting new people (whether group-based or one-on-one)
  • Preparing conversation ideas ahead of time
  • Figuring out the childhood memories or adolescent stories most apropos to initiate conversation(s) with strangers

Other addiction therapy methods address addiction quite pointedly. Let’s take a look at the example of the mom and child again.

Distraction tactics are a viable option for a mom to capture her child’s attention in a non-threatening situation. Still, a direct approach is more appropriate if the child is to learn the serious consequences of chasing after a ball into oncoming traffic.

Addiction therapy for substance use offers the same spectrum of intervention styles — some cover substance use disorder treatment or address substance abuse patterns, while others take a different approach, asking participants to work through cravings and define their triggers. All in hopes of equipping participants with the coping mechanisms necessary to maintain sobriety and avoid relapse.

Other therapies for addiction focus on the issues that might have contributed to or worsened an individual’s substance use. For instance, people who have experienced trauma often struggle with alcohol dependency and require therapy options that address specific trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treatment options may include EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. (3)

Drug abuse therapies can also be categorized into:

  • Evidence-based treatments: These treatments have research supporting their success.
  • Alternative treatments: Alternative therapies may present certain successes in clinical trials or other settings, but not much (verified) evidence exists for these types of treatments, and outcomes haven’t been verified by outside research.

A substance abuse treatment plan should apply evidence-based research, but alternative therapy has its place. The most important thing is that the person seeking therapy receives the thoughtful care and guidance needed in a most vulnerable position.

Why Does Addiction Require Therapy Treatment?

Addiction is a chronic, complex disease affecting the brain, contributing to compulsive actions and an inability to control substance use. The way addiction is often presented in movies doesn’t really paint a picture of reality, such as today’s opioid crisis and the uptick in overdose deaths since the pandemic. Instead, we see a character struggling, going through a detox process, and then everyone living happily ever after — the reality is much different.

What’s not presented in movies is the variety of triggers that characters experience and the intense cravings that can hit from out of nowhere, lasting for years in some cases. And it isn’t just a biological mechanism. Several factors, biological and environmental, can contribute to susceptibility to addiction.

The reward center of the body, the limbic system, is ground zero for substance use disorders. It creates a connection to and regulates the brain’s pleasure center, which causes a person to repeat the activities that bring joy.

Typically, these activities include:

  • Enjoying warm conversations with friends and family
  • Eating a tasty meal
  • Sleeping in a cozy bed

This response of repeating the activities that bring pleasure (and avoiding those that don’t) is necessary for survival. The problem for those suffering from addiction is that alcohol and other substances can trigger this system and produce the same response — and a deep desire to continue taking that substance.

When a person is actively addicted, the brain seeks out these substances to remove unpleasant feelings, such as pain or anxiety. (4) The person can understand that a substance is extremely potent and dangerous, but this doesn’t eliminate the urge to use it.

Therapy can help rewire the brain and teach the person new skills to better cope with negative emotions, strategies for avoiding the triggers that lead to cravings, and ways to resist cravings when they do strike.

Different types of therapy strategies also look at the root causes of substance abuse. For example, substance use disorder is often linked to other comorbidities and mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety.

Sometimes, abusing a substance starts as self-medication to help reduce the short-term effects of a mental illness. Therapy helps address the core mental healthcare issues that led to self-medication and teaches the person how to avoid relapse due to triggers.

Are you struggling with substance abuse? Could you or someone you know benefit from substance use treatment and addiction therapy? We understand how you feel and there is help. Call Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439 to speak to one of our experts.

What Happens in an Addiction Therapy Program?

Several therapy options exist, but all of them have the same end goal: to help the person who is struggling. (5) Some of the other outcomes include increasing a person’s coping strategies to help mitigate negative emotions and thoughts, helping the person learn how to avoid the situations that contributed to their use, and how to deal with life’s circumstances in healthier ways.

Even after completing detox, cravings can still pull the person back into substance use. Stressful situations can cause them to utilize old coping skills and engage in old behaviors. Relapse can occur months and even years after a person’s last use because the brain still seeks the reward that comes from the high.

Addiction therapy offers solutions to cope with stress, cravings, and other aspects of addiction. Some therapy addresses multiple issues at the same time, while other options seek to address one specific aspect of an addiction.

CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, looks at how an individual’s way of thinking influences their behavior. This type of therapy works for various applications, such as substance use and mental health. (6) (7)

Other options specifically address a given problem, such as childhood traumas and different past experiences that led to adult drug use.

EMDR therapy can help individuals process and work through this trauma. While this approach looks at just one aspect of an individual’s life, addressing these types of underlying issues can be beneficial for long-term sobriety.

Complete American Psychological Association guidelines for different therapies can be found here. (8)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is evidence-based, uses a form of psychoanalysis, and is a common therapy for substance use and behavioral issues overall. It’s the most widely used addiction therapy (6). CBT modifies behavior by looking at adjusting a mindset that isn’t conducive to long-term sobriety.

The CBT model says that relapse begins the moment a person doesn’t use proper coping mechanisms for emotion regulation, in certain circumstances, or in response to substance cravings. Healthcare providers and social workers aim to fix the involved problem-solving abilities of that person.

A person’s addiction begins as stress, depression, self-esteem issues, or other underlying mental health conditions and the accompanying unhelpful thoughts that cause them to drink alcohol or take drugs to self-medicate. This is an example of an incorrect coping method. These types of coping methods, if used while in recovery, may lead to substance use again, or relapse.

The ability to withstand pressure within a high-risk, triggering situation is the difference between living substance-free or relapsing.

CBT helps individuals:

  • Identify the situations that pose a high risk to their sobriety
  • Develop ways to avoid these situations
  • Develop coping mechanisms to deal with these situations if they’re unavoidable, such as practicing mindfulness
  • Increase self-reliance

CBT teaches that a person’s way of thinking when in high-risk situations leads them in one of two directions:

  • Proper thinking leads to effective coping, which leads to increased reliance on self, which leads to a desire to protect their substance-free life in people struggling with addiction.
  • Incorrect thinking leads to ineffective coping, which leads to a lack of self-reliance, which leads to relapse.

Other Behavioral Therapy Methods

Behavioral therapy is a broad term, but it encompasses therapy treatment that focuses on learned behaviors and how they are influenced. Internal thoughts and external circumstances influence behavior. Over time, applying the same thoughts to circumstances leads to a learned response.

Other forms of therapy include:

Behavioral therapies seek to help people unlearn these behaviors and can be applied to many disorders, such as:

  • Depression
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Insomnia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Social anxiety and other anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Anorexia and other eating disorders
  • Substance abuse

Many factors contribute to addiction, and behavioral therapy has varied applications, which is why it’s a part of most addiction treatment strategies. That said, every person responds to CBT treatment therapy differently. Some people benefit from a range of therapy practices while also partaking in cognitive therapy, such as family therapy, which also helps the loved ones of the addicted individual. (10)

Family Behavioral Therapy

Addiction and its effects are often felt in families for generations. The actions of an addicted person extend to those around them and can significantly impact the mental health and finances — sometimes even the physical health — of the whole family. Family members may even enable the substance abuse without knowing it.

Incorporating family therapy into an overall therapy treatment plan accomplishes several things, such as:

  • Making the distinction between behaviors that enable the user and behaviors that don’t enable
  • Bringing to light how the addicted individual’s actions impact family and friends’ well-being
  • Providing an open and non-judgmental platform for every family member to explain how they feel using “I am” or “I feel” statements
  • Creating a structure of support for recovering users who’ll return home once treatment is completed

How a recovering addict feels at home is often the initial precursor to their addiction. A person can successfully complete addiction therapy treatment and relapse once they return home because the family environment is negative or toxic, still having the triggers that initially spurred substance use.

Family therapy addresses these triggers and attempts to examine the root cause of the family’s addiction history.

Seeking Treatment

Treatment for substance use, misuse, dependence, and addiction can have various approaches, all of which are tailored to the person who wants to achieve sobriety. Zinnia Health understands that the needs of each person are unique.

If you or someone you love is abusing drugs, reach out and contact our staff of expert mental health professionals and clinicians. We understand the effects addiction has on the individual, the family, and the community. Call Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439 for more information.


Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us