At its core, addiction therapy is about helping a recovering addict identify and move past the physical, emotional and psychological issues underlying addiction.
Much of the time, substance abuse isn't really about the substance - it's about the person self-medicating. They're often unconsciously searching for a way to numb emotional or psychological pain. For example, many people with addictions are victims of child abuse. In fact, research shows that two in three people in treatment for drug or alcohol abuse report undergoing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse as children.
Quality addiction therapy gives people a safe space to explore, process, and eventually heal the root causes of the addiction, leaving the person healthier, more resilient, and addiction-free.
Where does addiction therapy begin?
Addiction therapy can refer to individual talk therapy (psychotherapy), group therapy, and/or behavioral and cognitive therapy that is long-term and ongoing.
This therapy often begins while patients are in inpatient or outpatient drug or alcohol rehab programs, and can continue after the program ends.
What's the difference between inpatient and outpatient rehab programs?
When you enter an inpatient rehab facility, you live on site for the duration of the program and all your needs are handled, including food, housing, and treatment. This leaves you free to focus solely on recovery, and allows you to be monitored 24/7, which is particularly helpful during the detox and withdrawal process. Most inpatient programs last from 1-3 months.
Outpatient drug or alcohol rehab programs allow patients to live on their own and come in for treatment. Most outpatient programs last from 2-4 months, with the option to extend treatment. Both inpatient and outpatient rehab programs keep patient information and records confidential. The only exception to this is medical emergency.
Whether one goes to an inpatient or outpatient program, therapy generally lasts longer than the program itself.
How does addiction therapy work?
Drug and alcohol rehab treatment programs generally unfold in phases:
Phase I: Intake
Going through intake generally involves filling out forms like your medical history, and submitting insurance information to be able to start treatment. It sometimes also includes a psychiatric and/or psychological evaluation.
Phase II: Detox
Detox (short for detoxification) is the process of totally removing the addictive substance(s) from the body. It takes anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks, depending on how severely the person was using drugs and/or alcohol.
Those who were heavily addicted can expect to experience serious withdrawal symptoms, but inpatient rehab facilities are well equipped to handle the process. The staff at rehab centers are trained to ensure patient safety and comfort while their bodies and brains adjust to being substance-free.
Phase III: Therapy
Once the body has been cleansed of all toxins, therapy begins. Most rehab programs offer a combination of individual and group therapy. The emotional and psychological impact of drug addiction is just as serious and pervasive as the physiological effects, and this is part of what is explored in therapy.
One-on-one therapy is an opportunity for a recovering addict to be heard and guided by a trained rehab therapist. It's a safe space within which to examine the addiction cycle, as well as the person's family and personal history, which can contribute to addiction. For example, one study showed that rape victims were 6x more likely to have used cocaine and 10x more likely to have used drugs other than cocaine (such as heroin and amphetamines). Individual therapy gives people a chance to move through old trauma, which often affects their present life circumstances.
Group therapy is another opportunity to heal, and research shows it to be a very effective way to help move past addiction. Group therapy allows those struggling with addiction to hear one another's stories and share their experiences in a safe environment. You connect with others who've been through similar experiences, and bond on an emotional level. This helps you learn how to move forward without feeling alone.
Many report group therapy as enlightening and uplifting, since it gives you for the opportunity to heal and grow in a truly non-judgmental setting. A number of those who go through treatment stay in touch with their peers, allowing them to give and get support on an ongoing basis.
What happens after addiction therapy?
The recovering addicts who tend to get sober and stay sober (not relapse) frequently take advantage of support even after an official drug or alcohol rehab program and its included therapy ends. For some, this means enrolling in an outpatient program, and maintaining therapy for months or even years after either their inpatient or outpatient rehab program ends.
Another popular and compelling method for staying sober after rehab is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and other 12-step programs. Research shows that those who attend weekly meetings are far more likely to stay sober, in part because 12-step programs offers a strong community.
Similar to the environment in drug or alcohol rehab, AA and NA meetings are safe spaces in which to share and hear others share. You have the chance to talk about everything you're going through with others who truly understand. One of the biggest triggers for those struggling with overcoming addiction is feeling isolated and alone. Belonging to a safe and healthy community is one way to instead feel connected and supported, which makes it easier to stay sober, strong, and happy.
One important thing to know is that those surrounding the recovering addict (family, friends and other loved ones) can attend a 12-step program themselves, called Al-Anon. It's often extremely helpful for those within an addict's support system to get help themselves, since the cycle of abuse and addiction is complex and often involves more than just the addict him/herself.
Addiction doesn't form in a vacuum. Many times there are pervasive and underlying reasons someone became dependent on a substance. Addiction therapy can help address and resolve these issues, setting you up to not just survive, but thrive.