Overview of Addiction Treatment Therapies

Overview of Addiction Treatment Therapies

Substance abuse is a complex disease that affects the physical structure of the brain and a person’s behavior.

Among these are nicotine (tobacco), alcohol, prescription drugs like Oxycodone and Fentanyl, and illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin. 

The use of these substances creates long-lasting changes in the brain. Over time, these changes limit a person’s ability to choose whether to take the substance or not. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction affects multiple brain circuits, including those involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and inhibitory control over behavior.”

Besides the harm caused by substance addiction on its own, it can also lead to other long-term issues:


  • Mental and physical illnesses
  • Disruption to family life
  • Problems at the workplace
  • Problematic behavior that leads to arrest

As severe as substance addiction can be, there are treatments available. While effective, these treatments can be complex and time-intensive. The following overview will provide a general look at treatments, how they work, and when you should seek one out.

Elements of an Effective Treatment Program

For a substance abuse treatment plan to be effective, the person must:

  • Stop using the substance
  • Remain substance free
  • Become a productive member of society

While no single treatment is right for everybody, all effective plans include many interconnected parts. They may include medication, behavioral therapy, tests for related diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, and support groups. It’s also important to know that treatment can take some time and needs to be continuously monitored and updated to meet the ever-changing needs of the patient.

Nexus Recovery offers a comprehensive program made out of multiple components that work together to get the patient on the road to recovery.

In addition to physical cravings, someone with an addiction issue will also spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about their drug of choice. These thoughts become a compulsion and impossible to control, which leads to drug-seeking behavior that can sometimes be criminal.

Feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, despair, and the like are often at the root of substance abuse. The substance might temporarily mask these feelings, but they return once the high wears off, creating a vicious circle of drug abuse.

Taking a substance will temporarily stop the cravings and compulsion for it, but soon the same feelings return. In time, it takes more and more of the same substance to achieve the same effect it once had.

People addicted to drugs and alcohol may feel like they have no control over their drug use. Refraining from using or stopping seems to be an impossibility for them. The substance controls them, rather than the other way around.

Someone addicted to drugs or alcohol will continue to seek them out even if their addiction has made them lose friends, family, spouses, and jobs. Drug-seeking behavior can even lead to diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medications can help a patient overcome the withdrawal symptoms associated with detoxification.

It’s important to understand that this type of therapy is only one part of a complete program. In this approach, the medication prescribed depends on the substance someone is addicted to.

For opioid addiction, methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone may be taken to alleviate common withdrawal symptoms like agitation, anxiety, muscle pain, intense cravings, diarrhea, sweating, seizures, and vomiting. Besides reducing the physical symptoms, these medications can also help with behavior issues, such as the compulsive drive to seek out substances, which can often lead to criminal activity.

Those addicted to tobacco, might use a nicotine spray, patch, gum, or lozenges to help overcome cravings. These products are available without a prescription at most drug stores. The FDA
has also approved two prescription medications that were created to help reduce relapse.

There are even FDA-approved medications available to help those addicted to alcohol. Naltrexone and Acamprosate approach alcohol addiction in different ways. Naltrexone limits the rewarding effects of alcohol, Acamprosate helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms and actually makes the effects of drinking alcohol feel unpleasant.

Frequently, these medications are also prescribed along with other drugs that help treat related mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and compulsion that are often associated with addiction.

Medical Devices

In the last few years, medical devices have come on the market that have also shown effectiveness in the treatment of substance addiction.

In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed the NSS-2 Bridge to be marketed for the treatment of opioid withdrawal. Placed behind the ear, this device stimulates branches of specific cranial nerves with electrical pulses. These pulses have been shown to reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. The FDA has also recently approved the reSET mobile app (available by prescription only) that can be used in conjunction with behavior therapy to help chart a patient’s recovery progress.

Brain implants are another technique that has recently been getting a lot of attention. Unlike the NSS-2 bridge device, which is placed behind the ear, these “deep brain stimulation” devices require surgery to be placed inside a specific area of the brain. Although approved by the FDA for Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and obsessive compulsive disorder, studies are still being undertaken to show its effectiveness for substance abuse issues.

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, call us today.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

For over 40 years, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been exhaustively studies for its effectiveness in treating substance abuse.

During this time, various techniques have been improved and refined and are now part of just about every comprehensive recovery program.

As it relates to substance abuse, CBT is based on the idea that people with addiction issues hold a series of negative, “core beliefs” that trigger the craving or compulsion to seek out a substance. 

CBT can be inpatient or outpatient. Typically, outpatient therapy teaches patients to understand and avoid the types of situations that trigger substance use. At the start of a CBT program, patients may see a provider several times a week. These programs vary from patient to patient, but according to one study conducted by the National Institute of Health, “Consistent across interventions is the use of learning-based approaches to target maladaptive behavioral patterns, motivational and cognitive barriers to change, and skills deficits.”

Typically, CBT therapy includes agenda-setting, identification of goals, and work to be done outside of session times to ensure that treatment is carried over into real life. This is especially important in early stages when patients are taught to identify risky situations and places that might encourage drug-seeking behavior. Working with a therapist, patients are given techniques to use to manage difficult situations and break old habits. Techniques are also given to help combat negative thoughts that lead to relapse, such as, “Why even try,” “I can just take one,” and “I will never be sober so why try?”

People suffering from several substance abuse problems might be better served in an inpatient or residential setting. These facilities offer 24/7 structured care and group support to keep the patient on track during his or her journey to recovery.

Ultimately, CBT can be broken down into three basic areas:


  1. Change attitude behaviors related to substance abuse
  2. Improve healthy lifestyle skills
  3. Continue with other treatments, such as medication

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

The word “dialectic” means the synthesis of two opposite forces or ideas – think of the famous yin & yang symbol as a visual depiction of this concept.

Developed by Dr. Marsha M. Linehan in the 1970s, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) aims to identify negative thinking and behavior to combat it with their positive opposites. For a long time, this type of therapy was used largely for suicidal and similarly destructive psychological disorders, but it’s since been found to be an effective approach in treating people with substance abuse issues.

DBT seeks to minimize and eventually eliminate behaviors that cause the patient harm, reduce blocks to therapy, and increase positive behavior skills. An article published by the NCBI explains the role of DBT in people suffering from some form of substance abuse:

  • Decrease the abuse of substances
  • Alleviate physical discomfort
  • Diminishing urges
  • Avoiding situations that present opportunities to abuse a substance
  • Reducing negative behaviors that lead to drug abuse
  • Increasing support of healthy behaviors

How Long Does Therapy Last?

According to the AAACEUS.com, “Individuals progress through drug addiction treatment at various speeds, so there is no predetermined length of treatment.” Because of this, it’s impossible to say how long any individual program should last. However, studies show that the length of therapy has a direct correlation with its effectiveness: the longer the treatment, the more effective it will be.

Those who choose long-term treatment of about 60 to 90 days have a much higher chance of maintaining sobriety for their first year. Once a person stays sober for a year, their chances of relapse are minimal.

Does Therapy Ever End?

Therapy is an ongoing process.

While addiction is a treatable disease, it can never really be “cured.” Because of this, therapy is, in some sense, a lifelong commitment to abstain from using drugs or alcohol.  Nexus Recovery stresses the importance of such aftercare by offering patients multiple ways to “to stay involved, supported, and accountable” after completing treatment.

It’s also important to note that relapse is common and does not mean that therapy has failed, but it might mean that the treatment approach needs to be modified or changed in some way.

Who Should Be in Treatment?

It’s important to seek help for yourself or a loved one if they exhibit some combination of the following behaviors:

  • A feeling that the substance must be used regularly
  • Intense urges for the substance that overrides everything else
  • Needing higher doses to get the same effect
  • Ensuring you always have a supply on hand
  • Failing at work or family obligations
  • Continuing to use the substance and overspend on it even when you know it’s causing problems
  • Committing criminal acts to get the substance
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence (drunk driving, unsafe sex)
  • Structuring your entire life around the drug
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you can’t get the drug

If you or a loved one are suffering from substance abuse addition, Nexus Recovery is here to help. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.

If you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

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