Addiction is a chronic condition that can affect almost every aspect of a person’s life, including their relationships with friends and loved ones. Addiction therapy is one treatment option a person may wish to try.

People of all ages, income and education levels, races, and religious backgrounds can develop a substance use disorder, or addiction.

People with a substance use disorder keep seeking what brought them relief, even though it may now be damaging their physical and emotional health, ability to think, work, education, relationships, and more.

In order for it to be effective, addiction therapy has to be as broad spectrum as the disorder itself. This means that a healthcare provider should design it to meet the individual’s specific needs.

Addiction is a significant public health concern. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in the United States, 20.3 million people over the age of 12 (or 7.4% of the U.S. population) have a substance use disorder. This includes addictions to alcohol, pain relievers, and illicit drugs.

Keep reading to learn more about addiction therapy and how it works.

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Addiction therapy is a multifaceted form of care that helps people with addiction reclaim their lives.

Although there are different approaches to addiction therapy, there are several common objectives, which include:

  • stopping the use of alcohol, drugs, or both
  • maintaining abstinence from the substance
  • addressing other mental health issues that may be present, such as depression or anxiety
  • improving the person’s understanding of their behavior and what motivates them
  • developing coping mechanisms for stress
  • building self-esteem
  • helping the person rebuild their personal relationships and professional lives

Drug and alcohol abuse can interfere with the way that people think. It can make people more impulsive, interfere with their ability to pay attention, and hamper learning and memory. To be effective, addiction therapy has to help people manage these symptoms.

Like other chronic conditions, addiction is treatable and manageable. However, if a person with addiction stops following their treatment program, they could relapse.

This also means that addiction therapy must emphasize building up a person’s commitment to their recovery, so they can maintain their new lives beyond addiction.

Addiction therapy can help people adjust their attitudes, learn new ways of relating to people and reacting to circumstances, and, in general, overcome the disordered thinking processes that are a part of drug and alcohol abuse.

Learn more about addiction here.

There are multiple approaches to addiction therapy, and each works differently.

Addiction therapy can take place on an individual basis or in groups. Also, healthcare providers can offer it on a residential or outpatient basis.

The sections below will look at some common options in more detail.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people identify what triggers their urge to abuse drugs or alcohol and develop coping strategies to handle or avoid these triggers. It can also teach them new behaviors to replace drug-seeking habits.

Learn more about CBT here.

12-step programs

Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous are peer support groups that encourage individuals to take responsibility for themselves and their actions, develop alternatives to drug- or alcohol-seeking activities, and learn how to cope with situations in which there may be a temptation to relapse.

Motivational interviewing/enhancement

This practice, which is based on the concept that people will be more committed to their recovery if the drive for change comes from them, uses the power of people’s future hopes and dreams to help them make changes in their present.

Contingency management

Therapists employing this behavioral approach to treatment offer people specific, tangible rewards — such as money — for staying abstinent from the substance.

Cognitive bias modification

This approach helps people break their connection to cues associated with substance abuse. Studies have shown that it can help people stop craving alcohol and drugs.

Family therapy

Healthcare providers frequently use this approach in younger people with addictive disorders. It addresses the interaction between family dynamics and patterns of drug and alcohol use.

Learn more about different types of therapy here.

Healthcare providers can combine addiction therapy with other forms of treatment, such as medication, to help the person on their road to recovery.

The following sections will look at these other options in more detail.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, taking certain medications can help people withdraw from drugs and alcohol by reducing the symptoms of detoxification. Indeed, doctors and mental healthcare providers prescribe them 80% of the time.

Medication can also help prevent people from relapsing by reducing cravings, blocking the rewarding effects of the substance, or causing unpleasant side effects if the person does use the substance again.

Lifestyle changes

Making lifestyle changes — such as eating a more healthful diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly — can benefit people recovering from addiction.

In addition to promoting health in general, these practices can also improve thinking and help people in recovery feel more confident about themselves.


Mindfulness, or the practice of meditating by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, is another approach that a healthcare provider may combine with addiction treatment.

Research suggests that this approach can reduce cravings and help people become more aware of their triggers for substance abuse, thereby preventing relapse.

Addiction is a chronic condition. However, it is treatable and manageable. Stopping the addictive behaviors of excessive drinking or drug use is only the first step.

The various approaches to addiction therapy all seek to provide a person with new ways of thinking and behaving.

Addiction therapy is an important part of a lifelong process of recovery.