Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Treatment Methods for Substance Abuse

Table of Contents

Treatment Methods for Substance Abuse

Substance use disorder occurs when an individual’s alcohol or drug abuse causes medical issues or problems at school, work, or home. It can range from mild to severe and may result in physical and psychological consequences. Fortunately, this condition can be treated. 

In this article, we’ll dig deeper into various treatment options for overcoming dependence on alcohol or drugs.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a class of therapy that changes harmful behavioral patterns and addresses the underlying thoughts and feelings that motivate the person to act destructively.

Since there is a direct influence between a person’s thoughts and actions, behavioral therapy regulates all aspects of behavior, including those learned and those influenced by the surrounding environment. Behavioral therapy teaches individuals alternative strategies to alter how they perceive and respond to different situations.

Types of Behavioral Therapy

There are two common types of behavioral therapy: operant and classical conditioning.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning, often called instrumental conditioning, is a learning method developed by psychologist B.F. Skinner. It is based on the concept that a stimulus causes behavior, which then causes an outcome (consequence). Both positive and negative reinforcers are used in this type of conditioning. Behaviors that are reinforced (rewarded) by operant conditioning are more likely to be repeated, while behaviors that are punished are less likely to be repeated.

For example, lab rats are rewarded with a food pellet if they press a button when a green light is on. If they press the button when the red light is on, they will get a small jolt of electricity. They eventually pick up on the pattern and know only to pull the lever when the green light shows.

Operant Conditioning 

Other examples of operant conditioning include a student being praised by their teacher for behaving well in class (reinforcement) or a parent withholding a child’s allowance as a consequence of poor behavior (punishment).

According to the principles of operant conditioning, drug addiction is maintained because of the pleasurable effects that drugs have on the user. Dopamine, which activates the brain’s reward system, is released when someone takes drugs. As a result, users may develop drug addiction as a means of managing pain and other negative emotions.

Classical Conditioning

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov introduced classical conditioning, which is also known as Pavlovian conditioning or respondent conditioning. As Pavlov studied dogs in the 1890s, he developed the conditioning process in order to explain his findings. When a bell was rung or the sound of footsteps was heard just before food was presented, Pavlov observed that the dogs began to salivate. If a bell rang even before the meal was provided, the dogs would start salivating in anticipation of the food, even if it was never brought out.

According to classical conditioning theory, an unconditioned stimulus (like the bell ringing) can be transformed into a conditioned stimulus and trigger a conditioned response (like salivation in Pavlov’s dogs). The classical conditioning process is detailed below:

Classical Conditioning

Another illustration of this is taste aversion. When a person consumes food and ends up getting nauseous, they may develop a permanent aversion to that kind of food. In this instance, the neutral stimulus of that specific food is combined with the unconditioned stimulus of nausea.

An example of classical conditioning and addiction is a person regularly smoking marijuana inside the car. In this instance, the car can be considered a conditioned stimulus. The setting (riding in a car) may trigger intense cravings (like the dogs’ salivation) that can lead to substance dependence and relapse behaviors.

Effectiveness of Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy has been used to address a variety of health issues. While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown promise in addressing substance use problems, studies have shown that its efficacy can vary depending on the kind of substance misused. Still, the American Psychological Association reports that an estimated 75% of patients in behavioral therapy report some improvement in their symptoms.

Behavioral therapists work with individuals to cultivate strategies for the following areas of improvement in their lives:

  • Establishing mutually agreed objectives
  • Removing a problematic pattern of behavior that hinders progress and adopting ways to better cope with stress
  • Changing unhealthy behavioral patterns to more productive ones that help accomplish the goals established

Applications of Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly regarded as the “gold standard” in the treatment of numerous health conditions. A study conducted in 2012 indicated that behavioral therapy is most useful in treating behavioral and mental health disorders such as general stress, anger-related disorder, anxiety disorder, somatoform disorder, bulimia, depression, opioid use disorder, and other substance use disorders. Behavioral therapy has also been shown to be effective in developing communication, healthier thought patterns, coping strategies, and self-esteem.

Group Therapy

This kind of psychotherapy in which one or more facilitators work with multiple individuals at the same time. Although it can be effective when used alone, group therapy is often integrated into a more extensive treatment program that includes individual therapy.

Group Therapy

Benefits of Group Therapy

Social Support

One benefit of this type of psychotherapy is being able to draw on the support and encouragement of other participants. They also have the opportunity to recognize that they are not alone in their struggles. Participants also receive peer encouragement, boosting their self-esteem in achieving their recovery goals.

Skill Development

Every participant in group therapy may be at a different point in their own recovery journey. As a result, they have valuable insights and coping mechanisms for preventing relapse they can share with others. Group therapy can also provide a safe environment for trying out new coping strategies and skills to maintain abstinence without fear of being judged. Participants can provide feedback on how effective the coping techniques are, which can assist them in their recovery. 


Group therapy is readily available in numerous states or countries. It is more cost-effective for people to join group sessions since the mental health professional can focus on a larger number of people at once.

Types of Group Therapy

Group therapy can take many forms, and the specific methods used by each group can vary significantly. In the sections that follow, you’ll learn about the three most common forms of group therapy.

Support Groups

Support groups assist individuals in coping with major changes in their lives, like losing a loved one or moving forward from severe drug use. There are different types of support groups available, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. Participants in a support group are able to give and receive compassion and acceptance. Everyone in the group is encouraged to examine their behaviors and beliefs and share them.


Self-help and support may significantly affect an individual’s coping, rehabilitation, and overall well-being. In contrast to therapy groups, self-help groups are not guided by professionals, do not charge a fee for their services, and do not limit the number of participants. They offer numerous advantages that professionals cannot, such as mutual support, companionship, experiential knowledge, identity, and a sense of belonging.

Psychoeducational Groups

In psychoeducational groups, individuals are taught about their problems and given coping tools to help them manage their symptoms. Opioid use disorder, anxiety, and phobias are some of the health conditions generally addressed in such settings.

Process-Oriented Groups

Process-oriented group therapy is an essential part of a comprehensive treatment program. In process-oriented groups, participants can provide each other with support and constructive feedback, which can assist their peers in acquiring critical skills for relapse prevention and the path toward recovery. The focus in such groups is on learning from one another and forming lasting bonds.

Finding the Right Group Therapy

The American Group Psychotherapy Association website has a directory of licensed group therapists that the general public can access and find treatment.

Moreover, individuals working with a healthcare provider can inquire about referrals and recommendations. People could also ask local healthcare centers and hospitals, as they frequently support several groups.

After choosing a group therapy that potentially fits your needs, you may ask the therapist or facilitator questions, such as the following:

  • What are the guidelines for maintaining confidentiality?
  • How would you describe your training methods? Are they up-to-date and applicable to my mental health condition?
  • How would you describe the usual gathering?
  • How much does this therapy cost?

Once you are confident with your research, make sure you can commit the necessary amount of time to attend group therapy so you won’t miss out on its sessions.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is a form of psychological counseling aimed at helping families work through their differences by addressing the behavioral, psychological, and emotional factors at play. A therapist or counselor will help the family members work toward a more harmonious dynamic by improving communication and resolving conflicts. This type of therapy aims to identify and solve family issues on the psychological and behavioral levels.

The family systems theory is the theoretical foundation for several types of family therapy.

Family Therapy

Family Systems Theory

Family systems theory centers on the dynamics between members of the family and their environment. It recognizes the family as a complex system of individuals who are interconnected and dependent on one another. Several fields have benefited from applying family systems theory, such as psychotherapy in general, family relationships, community settings, educational field, organizations, and health care settings.

Benefits of Family Therapy

Improved Communication

Because family therapy stresses the need for proper communication, family members can better express their wants and needs and work through their differences in a way that does not strain the relationship.

Conflict Resolution

Using the framework of family theory, people can learn more about themselves, work through their differences and conflicts, and develop stronger emotional bonds with one another.

Strengthened Family Bonds

Therapy can help close connections evolve by enhancing communication and cooperation between members of the family. It also fosters acceptance of things they cannot control and assists with major life changes within the family.

Common Family Therapy Techniques

Common Family Therapy Techniques

Structural Techniques

Structural techniques are geared toward enhancing family members’ ability to set boundaries and manage family dynamics. These techniques might be useful for families setting healthier boundaries and establishing consistent routines at home. The main difference between structural therapies and other techniques lies in structure rather than a behavioral focus.

Strategic Techniques

Strategic techniques are evidence-based methods for helping children and adolescents ages 7 to 16 deal with and overcome their emotional and behavioral issues. The primary goal of this is to facilitate healthier dynamics within the family. Strategic techniques are short-term initiatives intended to resolve familial issues that are the root cause of problematic adolescence. Most family strategic techniques require 12-16 sessions.

When to Seek Family Therapy

It can be difficult for a family to determine if therapy is right for them. While it may appear to be an admission of failure at first, choosing family therapy can be a significant step forward. The following are the most frequent reasons why people attend family therapy sessions:

  • The conflict between parents and children
  • Coping with the death of a loved one
  • Sibling rivalry
  • Co-parenting
  • Blended family dynamics and step-parenting
  • Behavioral or mood difficulties in a child
  • Parenting through divorce
  • Planning for a parent’s illness or old age
  • Communication problems with adult children

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Understanding Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common psychological treatment options that address various problems, including anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse problems, depression, marital problems, eating disorders, and other mental health conditions. It is founded on the concept that your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all intertwined and that dwelling on unpleasant thoughts and feelings can keep you stuck in a downward spiral. CBT aims to help people deal with stressful situations by breaking them down into manageable components.

Benefits of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

When it comes to addressing mental well-being, cognitive behavior therapy has many benefits, including:

Reducing Negative Thoughts

Individuals who suffer from mental health conditions usually have a negative outlook on the future because of how their problems manifest. CBT teaches people to recognize that thoughts and feelings are not always reliable and do not always reflect the likelihood of actual events. CBT changes one’s perspective and gives them hope.

Increasing Coping Skills

CBT teaches practical and applicable coping mechanisms and life skills. It teaches people that while they cannot change external circumstances, they can change how they react to and perceive them.

Enhancing Self-esteem

Low self-esteem is a common symptom of many types of mental illness. This contributes to the vicious cycle of negative thinking that influences behavior. However, behavioral therapies can break this cycle and contribute to the growth of self-confidence. CBT teaches people that they have the power to direct their thoughts, which can profoundly affect their worldview.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Techniques

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring refers to a set of techniques used to change one’s thought patterns. It has the ability to change how people feel about issues that cause them anxiety or frustration. Cognitive restructuring does not impose a positive outlook on a person’s life but cultivates an accurate and grounded approach.

Behavioral Activation

Behavioral activation is a technique of CBT in which an individual actively seeks to change their emotional state by using behaviors. Behavioral activation is often used to treat depression and is based on the idea that one can activate a desired mental state by repeatedly practicing specific behaviors. For instance, when someone does something that makes them happy, like exercising or gardening, they are more likely to spend time doing it.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a CBT technique used to deal with anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other irrational fears. Anxiety is treated by figuring out what sets people off and using techniques designed to alleviate those sensations. These triggers can be attacked all at once (flooding) or dealt with one at a time and gradually lessen their impact (desensitization).

Effectiveness of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Research shows that CBT significantly enhances both functional status and quality of life. It has been shown to be as effective as or more successful than other psychological therapies. Evidence-based studies consistently rank CBT as the leading treatment for eating disorders. Studies have also shown that CBT can help alleviate anxiety and mood disorder, such as depression.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, we invite you to learn more about the services and resources we offer at Nuview Treatment Center.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Understanding Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an intervention that uses medications in conjunction with counseling and other substance abuse treatment methods. MAT is useful for treating opioid addiction because it helps restore chemical balance in the brain, relieves physical cravings, and prevents the euphoric effects of opioids.

Common Medications Used in Treatment


Antidepressants are effective in treating substance use disorders. These medications are frequently used during detox, when the individual may experience depression and anxiety as withdrawal symptoms while attempting to curb their physical dependence on an addictive substance. For instance, nicotine withdrawal is relieved with bupropion since it can reduce cravings.

Anti-anxiety Medications

Short-term use of benzodiazepines is helpful in alleviating anxiety, which is a common withdrawal symptom from dependence on alcohol, opioids, or stimulants. The use of benzodiazepines can lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and seizures during alcohol detox.

Mood Stabilizers

People who abuse drugs may struggle with mood changes similar to bipolar spectrum disorder. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders characterizes bipolar disorder as having episodes of extreme excitement, overactivity, delusions, and euphoria (mania) and periods of sadness and hopelessness (depression).

Substance abusers with and without co-occurring mood disorders have benefited from the clinical use of mood stabilizers, particularly valproate. Research shows that mood stabilizers are effective treatment over the long term, specifically for symptoms like agitation, impulsivity, and dissatisfaction. Valproate also proves to have anti-craving efficacy on drug addiction. 

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment

Reduced Symptoms

MAT can help manage and prevent withdrawal symptoms for individuals undergoing drug detox. Withdrawal symptoms are often the cause of relapse because of how challenging they are to manage. With the assistance of medications, such as bupropion, individuals are able to maintain sober.

Improved Quality of Life

MAT can be beneficial for assisting individuals in getting their lives back on track when taken as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that involves therapy and counseling. Those who engage in MAT have a greater chance of remaining sober for a longer time and experiencing a recovery from drug addiction and alcohol abuse.

Increased Treatment Success

When compared to therapy approaches that do not involve medication, MAT has a record of treatment success. According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, monthly buprenorphine injections are an effective treatment for opioid use disorder. MAT may be the best option for problematic substance use that requires detox. It is applicable to both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation settings. Many patients begin MAT while they are leaving inpatient treatment and moving on to outpatient care.

Potential Side Effects and Risks

Addiction medicine specialists support medication-assisted treatment, but it’s not without its downsides. One of the challenges with MAT is locating an ongoing treatment program close to the individual’s residence, as most of these programs are still restricted to urban regions with higher addiction rates. The reported side effects of drugs used in MAT are another drawback. Methadone is associated with higher rates of dependence and more negative side effects, while buprenorphine is thought to have fewer and less intense side effects than other medications.

There is also a danger of drug abuse and opioid overdose by individuals who continue to use illicit drugs while on MAT. This is because the most common medications utilized, such as methadone, are controlled substances. Numerous people have overdosed while on MAT because they also took other illegal drugs. For instance, people sometimes mix benzodiazepines with methadone. This is extremely dangerous because these drugs depress the central nervous system, increasing the risk of fatal complications.

Learn about NuView’s Outpatient & Other Treatment Programs

Learn about NuView's Outpatient & Other Treatment Programs

Individuals who suffer from substance use disorder often find it extremely challenging, if not impossible, to quit addiction on their own and seek treatment. Fortunately, you can get the outpatient counseling and medical care you need as you work through your recovery process. You may find the assistance you need from various specialists and community resources. Going to a treatment center can also enhance your chances of long-term recovery.

At NuView Treatment Center, we prioritize meeting the holistic needs of individuals while they are first engaging in the process of addiction recovery. We cover dual diagnosis, alcohol abuse, and several types of substance use disorder (SUD), such as:

NuView Treatment Center aims to provide a thorough evaluation and integrated outpatient treatment for individuals suffering from substance use disorder, mental disorders, and other related issues. Our services cover a wide range of treatment, from outpatient to intensive outpatient programs, partial hospitalization, medication-assisted treatment, individual therapy, and group therapy.

Our Alcohol and Drug Rehab Programs also include:

We have an experienced team of healthcare professionals ready to help you achieve your treatment goals. We’ll help you and your loved ones and determine the best course of action going forward. Get in touch with us right away to get started.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A co-occurring disorder, also known as dual diagnosis, refers to the simultaneous presence of a mental illness and a substance use disorder. It can be complex to treat because both conditions interact with each other, often exacerbating the symptoms and complications of each individual disorder.

Therapeutic interventions for dual diagnosis treatment typically include a combination of medication management and various forms of therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), family therapy, and group therapy are often integral parts of a dual diagnosis program. Holistic therapies such as mindfulness training, yoga, and art therapy may also be included to promote overall well-being.

While addiction treatment programs primarily focus on helping individuals overcome their substance abuse, dual diagnosis rehab is a more comprehensive approach that simultaneously treats substance abuse and mental illness. This form of treatment recognizes the interconnection between these disorders and works to address the root causes of each to promote long-term recovery.

A dual-diagnosis treatment center is equipped to handle the complexities of co-occurring disorders. In addition to substance abuse treatment, these centers provide therapy and interventions for a variety of mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They often employ a multidisciplinary team that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, and addiction counselors.

In a dual diagnosis program, you should expect a comprehensive approach to treatment that addresses both your substance use and mental health issues. The program typically begins with a thorough assessment to determine the best treatment plan for your unique needs. From there, you can expect individual therapy, group sessions, possibly family therapy, and a range of therapeutic interventions. The aim is to equip you with the tools and skills necessary for long-term recovery.

When looking for a dual diagnosis treatment center, consider factors like the qualifications of the staff, the range of services provided, and the center's approach to treatment. Reviews and testimonials can also provide insight into the experiences of past clients. Choosing a center that feels comfortable and suits your needs is important. Remember, reaching out for help is the first step to recovery.

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  2. American Psychological Association. (2012, November 1). Understanding psychotherapy and how it works.
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  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2022). What is Mental Illness?
  6. Evolution of cognitive-behavioral therapy for eating disorders, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 88, 2017, Pages 26-36, ISSN 0005-7967.
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  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2019, February 19. Monthly buprenorphine injections effective for opioid use disorders. Retrieved from on 2023, April 4

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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