The Top 5 Evidence-Based Therapies for Treating Alcohol and Drug Use

Evidence-Based Therapies
The Top 5 Evidence-Based Therapies for Treating Alcohol and Drug Use priscilla du preez F9DFuJoS9EU unsplash

You are not alone if you are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. Substance use disorders affect up to one in every twelve adults in the United States. Fortunately, there are effective medications and therapies available to assist you in your recovery. 

It can be difficult to know where to begin if you want to make a change. There are numerous medications and therapies available to aid in recovery. But how do you know which one is right for you? 

Understanding which therapies are “evidence-based” (supported by science) can assist you in making the best decision. Continue reading to learn more about how therapy can treat substance use disorders and which types of therapy have evidence to back them up. 

How are substance use disorders treated?

A substance use disorder is a type of mental illness in which drugs or alcohol cause significant problems in your personal or professional life. 

In general, substance use disorders are treated with:

  • Therapy
  • Medications
  • A combination of therapy and medications

In some cases, your treatment might also include:

  • Medical devices
  • Smartphone and tablet apps
  • Treatments for other mental or physical health problems

Treatment for substance abuse is never one-size-fits-all. The best treatment for you will be determined by your mental and physical health, the substance(s) you are using, and your personal preferences.

What does ‘evidence-based’ treatment mean?

Evidence-based medicine refers to treatments that have been rigorously tested and proven to be effective. 

An evidence-based treatment is:

  • Supported by published scientific data
  • A treatment that has been tested/tried successfully more than once
  • A treatment that has worked for different groups of people and in different settings

Using therapy to treat drug and alcohol use disorders

The most commonly used treatment for substance abuse is talk therapy (counseling). Therapy is a treatment that assists people with emotional, physical, and mental health issues in functioning more effectively. 

Therapy can help you if you have a substance use disorder:

  • Feeling optimistic 
  • You should feel heard and seen.
  • Recognize and modify your behavior
  • Recognize your lifestyle choices.
  • Recognize how your relationships influence your substance use.
  • Improve your interpersonal relationships at home, school, and work.
  • Discover new life skills.
  • Reduce or discontinue your substance use.

You meet with a therapist or counselor during therapy. In some types of therapy, you meet one-on-one. Other types of therapy include sessions with your partner, family, or peers.  

Remember that most people require at least three months of treatment to significantly change their substance use. You can also combine different types of therapy. You could, for example, see a couples therapist while also participating in a 12-step program.

What are the best evidence-based therapies for substance use?

There are numerous scientifically supported types of talk therapy:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a one-on-one therapy in which you meet with a therapist privately over time. It is widely regarded as the most effective treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Many large trials have been conducted to investigate CBT. There is evidence that it reduces substance use and improves overall quality of life. It is effective for a wide range of substance use disorders. Even after you have stopped therapy, CBT may help you avoid relapses.

Couples therapy: This is a therapy in which you and your partner meet with a therapist over time. There is evidence that this type of therapy reduces substance abuse, improves relationships, and reduces domestic violence. 

Multidimensional family therapy (MDFT): MDFT is a drug and alcohol treatment program for teenagers and young adults. Over time, the entire family meets with a therapist. MDFT has been shown to help uncover family influences on substance use and improve overall family functioning.

Motivational enhancement therapy (MET): MET is a one- to four-session treatment in which you meet with a therapist or healthcare provider. Motivational interviewing is another name for it. There is evidence that MET can help with substance use disorders, particularly if you are still deciding on your personal goals.

12-step therapy programs: Twelve-step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) are self-help group therapy programs. There is evidence that these programs are just as good — if not better — than other types of therapy for achieving and maintaining alcohol sobriety. These programs may also be more cost-effective and easier to find than other therapies.  

Do I need to detox?

It all depends. If you are physically addicted to drugs or alcohol, your treatment may need to begin with supervised detox. 

A detox is the process of eliminating alcohol and/or drugs from your body. Detox is not a treatment in and of itself, but it can help you prepare to begin other types of treatment, such as therapy.  

Detox can be performed as an inpatient or as an outpatient treatment under medical supervision. 

Taking the next step

At New Origins, we believe that treatment should go beyond just addressing the illness itself. That’s why we work with an integrated model of care to build a thriving and sustainable life for all of our patients.

Addiction can come in many forms. Our integrated model of care addresses the root cause of addiction – giving you tools to overcome it no matter what form it takes.