Why Therapy Is An Essential Part of Addiction Recovery
One of the most unspoken truths about addiction recovery is that the struggle doesn’t end when the drug use does. Studies have shown that while detox is crucial to addiction recovery, therapy and long-term follow-up to prevent relapse are just as important in creating long-lasting change .
Therapy not only helps in healing the addicted brain, but it also serves as an invaluable foundation and emotional outlet as you move forward in recovery.
Addiction is a life-threatening disease that feeds off of many underlying issues that need to be comprehensively addressed during the initial stages of recovery. Substance use is often a symptom of a greater underlying problem stemming from emotional discord or trauma.
When going through the process of recovery, many difficult emotions may arise, or many painful memories might start to come back. Using therapy for drug addiction and alcoholism as part of your recovery arsenal helps to manage the various emotions and events that come your way, without threatening your recovery.
Family members and significant others can also benefit from therapy, as they have likely been greatly impacted by your struggles with addiction as well. Therapy can help loved ones affected by addiction to understand and process what your world is like whilst navigating their own emotions. Maintaining positive relationships with those around you is an integral part of recovery, so it is important to consider engaging in therapy with those who are closest to you.
What is Therapy in Addiction Recovery?
Not all forms of therapy look the same, and there are various therapies that are beneficial along each stage of addiction recovery. For instance, during the initial detox period where withdrawal symptoms are experienced, supportive motivational light therapy will be helpful. Throughout the rehabilitation process, intensive bespoke therapy would be more fitting.
During the later stages of recovery as you progress through life, there are a range of therapies that can be used. These include individual counselling, couples counselling and bereavement counselling.
All forms of therapy provide many invaluable benefits during drug and alcohol treatment and during recovery.
The Benefits of Therapy in Addiction Recovery:
- Learn coping skills that are unique to you
- Have a support system and feel connected to others
- Decrease feelings of isolation
- Discover more about yourself and what drives your individual thoughts and behaviors
- Learn how to change your thoughts and behaviors
- Foster relapse prevention skills
- Learn how to regulate your emotions
- Understand your substance abuse on a deeper level
- Have a safe and nonjudgmental space to discuss what you are really thinking and feeling
- Learn about creating and maintaining positive, healthy relationships with others
There is no denying that stressors and life changing events will continue to happen as life goes on. Facing unexpected events and challenges can give rise to relapse if not addressed and managed in a healthy way. Engaging in therapy will provide a safety net and a foundation for you to lean on in order to continue a healthy recovery.
Why Therapy In Addiction Recovery Is So Important
When suffering from addiction, it simply is not enough to stop using addictive substances and engaging in unhealthy behaviours. In order to experience holistic, deep healing, it is important to go further and address the unresolved trauma, thought processes, and behaviours that led to drug or alcohol abuse in the first place.
Although addiction may be incurable, it is treatable, and there are many different forms of treatment to explore. Some alternative forms of therapy include art therapy and music therapy. However, talk therapy is an integral form of treatment that is used in treating addiction.
Talk therapy will help you in healing the addicted brain by rewiring neural pathways as you learn to shift your thought processes and behavioural patterns.
Talk therapy will also provide you with a safe, non-judgemental space to dive into the traumas and pain that may have led to your initial drug or alcohol abuse.
Therapy will also provide a valuable outlet to explore new feelings, as they arise throughout the recovery process, and it will help you along as you navigate and create your new life in a healthy way.
You don’t necessarily have to have a therapist who specialises in addiction treatment to reap the benefits of therapy, but it will only help you more to have a professional in your corner who understands the many layers and complexities of the illness.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are many different types of therapy you can explore to help you experience a healthy recovery from addiction .
Therapeutic Benefits of Recovery Programmes
Recovery programmes such as 12-step programmes and SMART recovery offer abstinence-based group support. These groups, which include Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, are peer-led rather than being facilitated by a trained therapist. These groups can provide ongoing support, stability, and consistency through all stages of recovery.
12-step and SMART recovery programmes incorporate cognitive behavioural elements and other elements of therapy by challenging you to look at your behaviours and modify thought processes by working through a structured set of outlined steps.
Recovery programmes also challenge you to look at past issues that led to cognitive distortions which may have caused initial drug or alcohol abuse. Not only this, but recovery programmes also provide a sense of comradery and inclusion amongst peers.
What is Group Therapy in Addiction Recovery?
Group therapy is a form of talk therapy that is led by a trained therapist or counsellor. There are many different types of group therapies, from psychoeducational and skills development groups, to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and process groups. During group therapy sessions, you will be in the company of others who share your experiences.
Hearing from your peers during group therapy sessions can help you challenge your own negative beliefs, and can also help to validate what you may be feeling and experiencing throughout your addiction and recovery journey. Addiction can be an extremely isolating disease, and to be able to share the experience in a positive and supportive environment with people who understand you is an invaluable asset to have.
Group therapy is a powerful vehicle that is used in many addiction treatment facilities today. There are numerous benefits of group therapy.
The Benefits of Group Therapy in Addiction Recovery:
- Decreases feelings of isolation
- Increases positive peer support through recovery
- Allows individuals to see the recovery of others
- Provides a safe space to discuss shared experiences
- Teaches healthy coping skills and tips for managing difficult emotions
- Provides helpful information to individuals who are new to recovery
- Provides a sense of structure and consistency that is essential to recovery 
What is Individual Therapy in Addiction Recovery?
Individual therapy is a one-on-one form of therapy that is focused on working through a person's unique set of emotions, struggles, thought patterns, and experiences. Individual counselling sessions can take place once a week for months or even years, and are beneficial during every stage of addiction recovery.
When engaging in individual counselling sessions, you’re able to to get to the specific and unique underlying root causes of your addiction. Addiction is a battle that manifests so differently and for different reasons within each person afflicted. Individual counselling provides the one-on-one focus needed to access and treat your distinctive, personal reasons for engaging in drug or alcohol abuse.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Individual counselling can also be used in dual diagnosis treatment for mental health concerns that present alongside substance use, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
In a study conducted from 2019 to 2020, 59% of people starting treatment for drug and alcohol abuse stated that they also had mental health concerns . Depending on your struggles, receiving dual diagnosis treatment through individual counselling can be pivotal in your recovery.
The Benefits of Individual Therapy in Addiction Recovery:
- Provides individualised treatment unique to your history, experiences, and struggles
- Encourages you to develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you connect with the world around you
- Facilitates the development of communication skills organically
- Prompts you to reflect on difficult experiences and emotions in a safe and supportive space
- Allows you to work at your own pace and set your own unique goals for treatment
- Teaches healthy coping skills and how to reframe negative thoughts and beliefs
Types of Therapy Useful in Addiction Treatment and Recovery
There are many specific modalities of talk therapy that are used in addiction treatment and throughout the recovery process. Some of the more prominent types of talk therapy used are dialectical behavioural therapy, integrated therapy, trauma-focused therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and person-centred therapy. Although each type of therapy uses different methods and techniques, they all work towards the shared goal of inner healing.
What Is Dialectical Behavioural Therapy?
Dialectical behavioural therapy, or DBT, is a form of therapy that focuses on the concepts of acceptance as well as change. The focal points of DBT are based around being mindful and present, learning how to regulate emotions and cope with stress, and working on improving relationships . DBT is used in addiction treatment to help reinforce positive behaviors and to decrease drug and alcohol abuse.
What Is Integrated Therapy?
Integrated therapy is a one-on-one form of psychotherapy that takes a more holistic approach based on an individual person's needs. This form of therapy pulls from different therapeutic models in order to create a plan that best serves the person based on their unique needs, history, beliefs, and experiences. Integrated therapy is a comprehensive, flexible form of therapy that uses different therapeutic elements to best treat the individual. An integrated approach is often used in addiction treatment due to the unique and varying causes of substance use within each individual .
What Is Trauma-Focused Therapy?
Trauma-focused therapy is a form of psychotherapy that takes a look at the unprocessed traumas of one’s life and how these traumas have affected the present. A trauma, regardless of how major or minor it may appear to others, has the potential to negatively impact a person’s mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical wellbeing. Focusing on healing the underlying trauma can help to heal these aspects of our being. Often, drug and alcohol abuse can stem from unprocessed traumas, which is why this form of therapy is so beneficial in addiction treatment.
What Is Motivational Enhancement Therapy?
Motivational enhancement therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on eliciting a person's inner desire to change. Rather than following a more authoritative approach, motivational enhancement therapy techniques focus on coming alongside the person, and evoking their own individual reasons for wanting to end substance use. This form of therapy is often used in the earlier stages of recovery when a person first enters treatment, but can also be used throughout the recovery process as well.
What Is Person-Centred Therapy?
Person-centred therapy, also referred to as Rogerian therapy, focuses on fostering unconditional positive regard, empathy, and understanding. In this form of therapy, there is an emphasis on the person being heard and understood in a non-judgemental, safe, and supportive space. The person does most of the talking, while the therapist actively listens. This non-directive approach places the person undergoing therapy in the driver’s seat of their therapeutic experience.
Person-centred therapy emphasises that we all have the capacity for growth and change within us, and it highlights that we can all self-actualise our potential. While going through addiction recovery, you may experience many negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, and engaging in person-centred therapy can help alleviate those negative associations that have formed in your mind. This form of therapy can provide you with the empathy, support, and non-judgment that is essential during recovery .
Therapy for Process Addictions
Along with drug and alcohol addiction, therapy is also beneficial for gambling addiction, sex addiction, internet addiction, codependency, and other process addictions.
Also known as behavioural addictions, these patterns of behaviour share many similarities with drug and alcohol addiction. Because of this, the benefits of therapy for gambling, sex, and internet addiction are the same as the benefits of therapy for drug and alcohol abuse.
Research indicates that 12-step meetings, motivational enhancement therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy often work best when treating process addictions. Therapy for both drug addiction and process addiction focuses on acknowledging patterns of abuse, developing coping strategies, managing high-risk situations, and learning how to make healthier lifestyle choices .
Do I Need Therapy?
Therapy is an integral part of successful and effective addiction treatment. Not only is it important within the earlier stages of recovery, but it is invaluable throughout the life-long process of recovery. Healing the addicted brain and the emotional body is an ongoing process that takes time and consistent effort.
Studies indicate that two-thirds of individuals relapse within weeks to months of starting addiction treatment. Many people experience relapse due to a lack of having a long-term recovery plan that incorporates relapse prevention . Because of the chronic nature of the disease, using therapy for relapse prevention is critical for maintaining long-term recovery.
If you are struggling with any of the following concerns, you may benefit from using therapy as part of your recovery plan.
Instances where you would benefit from therapy include:
- Having unresolved trauma
- Struggling with daily life
- Experiencing difficulty in relationships
- Feeling alone or isolated
- Experiencing suicidal thoughts
- Having low self-esteem and self-worth
- Feeling like you can’t talk to your family or friends
- Others are concerned about your well being
- Experiencing physical changes, such as appetite changes or sleep troubles, that you can't explain
- Struggling with mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD
Therapy for drug addiction and alcoholism can provide you with a foundation to build your recovery upon. Through therapy, you can acquire new coping techniques and strategies useful in maintaining a healthy recovery from addiction. You can come to understand the root causes of your drug and alcohol use and learn how to change your thought patterns and behaviors to prevent you from engaging in use again.
Addiction is a living, breathing illness and it moves and changes with you. In the earlier stages of recovery, it is essential that you not only detox from the physical substance, but also that you begin healing your emotional base. Receiving dual diagnosis treatment for conditions such as depression and anxiety in the earlier stages of recovery will help you understand your use on a deeper level and will help safeguard against potential relapse.
Growing in Addiction Recovery Through Therapy
The benefits of therapy are endless no matter where you are in recovery. Many individuals in recovery benefit from periodical therapy sessions in order to make effective, deep-seeded changes, allowing them to continuously grow and thrive in life and in recovery.
The further into recovery you go, the more layers get peeled back, unveiling new issues that you may not have initially been aware of. Therapy is a fluid process that moves with you as you go deeper within and discover more about yourself. It is an unbiased sounding board for you to reflect off of, and is a useful tool for working through newly revealed problems.
Therapy can also help you learn how to build healthy relationships and learn true intimacy. It can help you forgive yourself and help you to get rid of negative feelings and thoughts you may be harboring against yourself. Therapy can be the bridge that helps you regain your sense of self, build your self-esteem, and discover more about who you truly are.
Finding a Therapist for Addiction
Finding the right therapist is equally as important as undergoing therapy as part of ongoing rehabilitation from addiction.
Depending on your individual needs, you can find a therapist that is qualified in delivering certain therapy techniques and subjects. For instance, if you need a therapist to help repair relationships, damaged during active addiction, then you would seek to find a local couples or family therapist, ideally specialising in addiction.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has many great articles covering a variety of subjects. It is also a great place to source a local FDAP accredited counsellor or therapist 11
Your local GP can also refer you for free addiction counselling and therapy on the NHS. Although you should take into account that there will be a waiting list. Waiting lists for counselling vary from area to area. The average waiting time is anything between 6-12 weeks.
- NIDA - Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
- NIDA - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment
- NCBI - Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64223/
- GOV.UK - Adult Substance Misuse Treatment Statistics 2019 to 2020: Report - https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/substance-misuse-treatment-for-adults-statistics-2019-to-2020/adult-substance-misuse-treatment-statistics-2019-to-2020-report
- Behavioural Tech - What Is Dialectical Behavioural Therapy? - https://behaviouraltech.org/resources/faqs/dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt/
- Psychology Today - Types of Therapy - Integrative Therapy - https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/integrative-therapy
- Good Therapy - Person-Centred Therapy (Rogerian Therapy) - https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/person-centered
- NCBI - Introduction to Behavioural Addictions - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3164585/
- American Addiction Centers - Drug Relapse - https://drugabuse.com/addiction/relapse/
- BACP - British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy - https://www.bacp.co.uk