Are Addiction Therapists Worth It? (How to Find the Right One)
Yes, addiction therapists are worth the investment. By working with a therapist, you can achieve gains in recovery that you likely won’t be able to on your own. It is important to find one that is a good fit for your needs.
When Therapy Is Needed
Nearly 1 in 13 adults in the United States struggled with addiction and needed treatment for substance abuse in 2016, per the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). There are many different forms and methods of addiction treatment, and most of them involve some form of therapy.
An addiction therapist may work with a complete addiction treatment program or on their own. They generally offer hour-long sessions at least once a week.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that the most regularly used forms of addiction treatment are behavioral therapies. An addiction therapist uses behavioral therapy to look beyond just drug abuse and find the why — what caused the drug use in the first place and what thought patterns can be changed to elicit positive behavioral change.
Addiction is a pervasive disease that interferes with most, if not all, facets of everyday life. An addiction therapist can help to improve life in general while also helping to manage the chronic disease that is addiction.
Counseling and therapy can address all parts of a person’s life in an effort to establish healthy habits and new life skills for a long-term recovery.
What Addiction Therapists Do
An addiction therapist will typically begin by doing a detailed assessment. They will want to know about medical and mental health history as well as family and personal history with addiction and drug abuse. Addiction therapists will often ask initial questions about family structure and dynamics, home and work life, and other pertinent personal questions to get a feel for the person and better understand how to tailor treatment.
Addiction treatment should be individual. No people are the same, and the disease can influence each person in their own way. An addiction therapist will use the initial evaluation and follow-up questions to design and carry out a specialized plan for treatment and recovery.
NIDA explains that addiction treatment and therapeutic methods can be carried out in a variety of settings, including outpatient, inpatient, or residential facilities.
Addiction therapists are typically licensed through the state in which they practice. The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) provides three different levels of credentials for addiction treatment providers. Addiction therapists specialize in helping to manage the disease of addiction and how it impacts a person’s life. This level of specialty can identify thought processes that are tied to drug use and how to positively modify these behaviors to achieve and maintain abstinence.
Types of Therapy
There are many different therapy modalities that an addiction therapist may use to treat drug abuse and manage addiction. Some of the most widely used models include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has been shown to be an effective tool in managing addiction. The American Psychological Association (APA) publishes that it is one of the most common forms of therapy used in drug abuse treatment.Addiction is a brain disease. When you use drugs, some of the wiring of the brain related to mood regulation, motivation, and reward is altered. Studies published in the journal Translational Psychiatry show that CBT can actually make changes to the brain, helping to strengthen some of the connections within. CBT may actually heal some of the damage done to the brain by regular drug use.
In CBT sessions, an addiction therapist will look to uncover self-destructive and negative thoughts that may have led to drug use and determine how to flip them around. By modifying the thought patterns that are leading to negative behaviors, positive change can be made.
CBT can improve self-esteem and self-confidence. New coping skills for stress management and dealing with triggers can be learned during CBT sessions. CBT can also make a person more aware of their thoughts and emotions, which can aid in controlling behaviors and enhance problem-solving and communication skills.
CBT generally uses homework outside of the therapy sessions so clients can try out the newly acquired skills and then report back at the next session on what worked.
An addiction therapist can use CBT to address all mental health concerns that can play into drug abuse and overall life quality.
A therapist will often use CBT in both group and individual sessions. The individual sessions will focus on specific concerns, while group sessions may tackle coping techniques and teach life skills for recovery.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT is a form of CBT that was initially created to treat borderline personality disorder.As explained by Psych Central, DBT can be a helpful therapy approach for people working through extreme emotional responses and learning how to deal with them better. An addiction therapist may use DBT when there are co-occurring mental health issues along with addiction. DBT uses both group and individual sessions as well as homework between sessions.
There are four main components to DBT: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. DBT sessions work in priority order, beginning with self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, such as suicidal tendencies, and then moving on to whatever may impede the therapeutic process.
Addiction therapists can help individuals to better understand their thought processes, communicate more effectively, improve interpersonal relationships and interactions with others, accept things as they are and learn how to cope with crisis, and aid in managing moods and emotions through DBT methods.
- Motivational interviewing (MI): MI is a short-term therapeutic technique that addiction therapists can employ when a person is ambivalent toward treatment and recovery.Not everyone enters treatment willingly or is committed to recovery right away. Regardless, NIDA explains that drug abuse treatment can be beneficial even when a person is facing court-ordered treatment and may not be initially motivated to seek treatment on their own.
MI can help people to find the motivation to improve themselves and a desire to remain drug-free. MI is considered to be patient-centered, which means that the addiction therapist will likely spend more time listening and less time suggesting change. MI can help clients come to terms with wanting to change for themselves and not because someone else told them to.
MI has two goals, Psychology Today explains, helping a person to find the motivation to make a change and then the commitment to doing so. MI sessions will focus on first finding that inner motivation by talking about the impact drug use has on daily life. It is conversational, and the addiction therapist will often mirror back what the person has said to help them see exactly what the issues may be.
Once a desire to make a change is defined, the addiction therapist can help find ways to commit to positive change. MI is often followed with additional behavioral therapies during addiction treatment.
- Contingency management (CM): CM is incentive-based, meaning that an addiction therapist will offer rewards for things, such as clean drug tests. Vouchers for goods and services within an addiction treatment program may be offered for clean urine samples. CM can motivate individuals to remain abstinent.NIDA publishes that CM can be an effective tool for promoting abstinence and treatment retention. It may be another form of therapy that can be beneficial when a person needs help finding the motivation to remain in treatment and seek recovery.
CM is often short term. It is often combined with additional behavioral therapy models.
Benefits of Addiction Therapists
NIDA publishes that relapse rates are high. Addiction therapists can help to manage all the varied aspects of addiction, including emotional, interpersonal, and behavioral concerns. By looking at the root cause of drug abuse and learning new coping mechanisms and tools for managing triggers, an addiction therapist can help to minimize instances of relapse. Higher self-awareness and stress management aid in long-term recovery.
Addiction is also a costly disease, and treatment can be as well. However, NIDA reports that drug abuse treatment can actually save at least $12 for every $1 spent when health care costs, legal and criminal fees, and expenses related to lost workplace production are included. An addiction therapist can be worth it from both a cost and personal perspective.
Tips for Choosing an Addiction Therapist
It is important to feel a connection with a therapist. Since personalities differ, it can be useful to call an addiction therapist and have a conversation with them prior to committing to treatment.
It can also be helpful to ask around and get direct referrals from someone who has used this person before. Primary care providers, mental health professionals, and 12-step group members can be good resources.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator is a useful tool for finding addiction treatment and mental health services in your area.
When you have found a few options for addiction therapists, some things to look for include:
- Credentials. There are many levels of addiction counselors and therapists. Those with higher level degrees and education may be better qualified to manage specific concerns.
- Find out if they specialize in addiction treatment, what their qualifications are, and how long they have been practicing. For example, it can be helpful to have a provider with experience in treating co-occurring disorders when both mental illness and addiction are present.
- Financial options. Inquire about payment options and discuss financial concerns prior to committing. It is beneficial to have all this worked out prior to admission into therapy. Addiction therapists may take insurance or offer payment plans for services.
- Discuss the therapy type, options, and expectations ahead of time to ensure that they line up with what you need.
- Find out how soon you can begin and how often therapy sessions will be. The sooner addiction therapy can start, the better. Finding a therapist with openings can be highly beneficial.
Addiction therapists can be very helpful in managing drug abuse and addiction. They are best suited when used in tandem with other treatment methods as part of a complete treatment program.
Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (September 2017). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Principles of Effective Treatment. (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Drug Addiction Treatment in the United States. (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Certification. (2019). NAADAC.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? (2019). American Psychological Association.
Talking Therapy Changes the Brain’s Wiring, Study Reveals for the First Time. (January 2017). Translational Psychiatry.
An Overview of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. (October 2018). Psych Central.
Is Legally Mandated Treatment Effective. (April 2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
What is Motivational Interviewing? (2019). Psychology Today.
Contingency Management Interventions/ Motivational Incentives (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opioids, Marijuana, Nicotine). (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
How Effective Is Drug Addiction Treatment? (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Cost Effectiveness of Drug Treatment. (February 2016). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.