Addiction treatment for substance use disorders has come a long way from the traditional 12-step approach and earlier methods of addiction recovery. While these approaches were once commonly used for addiction recovery, they don't necessarily provide the same effectiveness for everyone. In some cases, earlier methods actually made addiction worse. Since addiction is a complex issue, a "one size fits all” approach is being replaced with a focus on more individualized approaches. As researchers learn more about the nature of addiction and apply psychiatry principles and theories, addiction counseling and treatment is taking on more of an evidence-based approach to recovery.

Modern Understanding of Addiction and Effective Treatment

Modern psychiatry has helped shape approaches to addiction treatment and counseling over the last 50 years. Gaining a better understanding of how and why addiction occurs and what is needed to help people recover has led to improvements in treatment programs. These newer approaches provide more effective treatment for individuals who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction.

Principles of Effective Treatment

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists several principles that make up effective addiction treatment programs. These principles are based on decades of scientific research on psychiatry and addiction. Programs that include these have a greater chance at helping people successfully recover from addiction. A few of the key principles of effective addiction recovery programs include:

Integrated Treatment

Integrated treatment involves focusing on an individual’s physical, mental, and social health during recovery. While treatment typically includes helping people physically recover from addiction, offering ways to improve their mental and social health are just as important. These treatment methods might involve group therapy to allow people to meet and bond with others who struggle with addiction. They might also include individual therapy to address specific issues that individuals need help with during recovery, such as changing negative thought patterns, managing stress, or recovering from trauma.

Individualized Treatment

Addiction treatment is moving away from providing a generalized approach to recovery. As scientists learn more about addiction, individualized treatment has become the go-to approach. With addiction’s complex nature, treatment programs should offer personalized help that takes an individual’s particular situation into consideration. For example, some individuals might need help with the challenges of recovering from an opioid or alcohol addiction, while others may need support in recovering from multiple substance abuse issues or an addiction that has lasted for years. Providing individualized treatment ensures that people receive the help they need to recover.

Treating Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders are mental health disorders that occur in those who also have a drug or alcohol addiction. Why is it important to provide treatment for co-occurring disorders? Individuals who have depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental health disorder face certain challenges while trying to overcome addiction. Taking these mental health disorder diagnoses into consideration allows providers to create a more effective treatment plan. Treatment for co-occurring disorders offers counseling and other services that help individuals recover from addiction while also managing mental health disorders.

Professional Addiction Counseling Methods

Counseling is a key component of addiction treatment, since it allows individuals to work through issues that might be affecting their recovery. Through counseling, individuals can build skills they can use to resist the urge to go back to drugs or alcohol, which helps lower their risk of relapse. Several approaches to counseling are used professionally in addiction treatment programs. The type of counseling that works best for people can vary depending on their situation and how severe their addiction is.

Client-Centered Approach

A client-centered approach to counseling involves having people engage in nondirected talk therapy with their counselor or therapist. During these sessions, therapists do not judge their clients. Instead, they listen and provide guidance based on the emotions, experiences, and thoughts that their clients share with them. This approach can help build a trusting relationship between individuals and counselors or therapists, which is important for recovery. Individuals can talk about any issues or concerns they have rather than the therapist direct the sessions.

Trauma-Based Approach

A trauma-based approach to counseling focuses on trauma that individuals have experienced in order to help them heal. Recognizing the effects of trauma and helping people work through these experiences can play an important role in helping them recover from addiction. These therapy sessions provide a safe and compassionate environment where individuals can talk about trauma in their past. Counselors can then help them understand how traumatic experiences have affected their life and assist them in finding healthy ways to recover. A trauma-based approach helps empower individuals to heal from past trauma and make healthy choices during and after recovery.

Youth Specialization Therapy

This form of therapy focuses on helping younger individuals recover from addiction. It may also focus on their relationships with partners, siblings, or other caregivers who are experiencing substance use. In other words, youth specialization therapy provides counseling that is aimed at helping youth affected by substance use issues both individually and within family units.

Evidence-Based Practices

Evidence-based practices involve the use of methods or techniques that have been shown to be effective at treating addiction. These practices are often used as part of an overall treatment plan for addiction rather than being solely used for recovery. A few of the evidence-based practices that can be used for addiction treatment include the following:

Motivational Counseling

Motivational counseling or motivational enhancement therapy helps people learn to understand what they’re going through and encourages them to work toward recovery.

These counseling sessions focus on helping individuals feel motivated to change their situation instead of having a counselor guide them through the process. With the assistance of this type of therapy, individuals can learn to cope with situations that put them at risk of relapse and provide them with encouragement to continue going through treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT was originally used to treat alcohol addiction, but it is now used to treat drug addiction as well. This form of therapy helps individuals identify negative thought patterns that can lead to drinking or using drugs and replace them with healthier thought patterns. This can help people learn to recognize thoughts that might be pushing them to use substances and develop skills and strategies to overcome these cravings. Individuals can keep using these skills and strategies after going through addiction treatment to help them stay sober.


Pharmacotherapy refers to the use of carefully controlled drugs or medications as part of addiction treatment. The use of these drugs is backed by evidence that they are effective at lowering the risk of relapse or decreasing severe side effects of alcohol or drug withdrawal. For example, naltrexone is sometimes used in alcohol addiction treatment to reduce the risk of relapse. This drug helps prevent the rewarding effects of drinking alcohol to occur, making individuals less likely to continue drinking. Methadone is sometimes used for opioid addiction treatment in order to reduce side effects and lower the risk of relapse.

Group Therapy

Group therapy for addiction provides individuals with the opportunity to discuss their condition with their peers. During these sessions, people can listen to others’ stories about their struggle with addiction and share their own experiences. This approach can help individuals realize that they aren’t alone and can turn to others for help during recovery. Group therapy can also help individuals learn new skills for overcoming addiction or dealing with situations that can lead to relapse. For example, they might learn how to manage stress more effectively or get ideas for healthy activities to focus on during recovery.

In-Home Addiction Treatment vs. Inpatient Drug Rehab

Addiction treatment can take place in an inpatient setting or in an individual’s home. Inpatient drug rehab provides a safe environment with steady monitoring for those who struggle with severe or long-term addiction. These treatments also put individuals in a setting where they’re able to receive care from doctors, nurses, and other professionals when needed. In-home addiction treatment programs have individuals go through treatment without being in a monitored setting. Instead, these individuals either go to an outpatient center for counseling sessions or have professionals come to their home for counseling. In-home addiction treatment is used more often for those who have a mild addiction rather than a severe one.

Addiction Treatment with Technology Solutions

Modern approaches to addiction treatment also involve the use of technology. Technological solutions can provide a convenient and effective way for individuals to handle the recovery process. These solutions are often used to enhance the addiction recovery process rather than replacing all forms of more conventional treatment methods, such as group therapy. A few examples of technology solutions used for addiction treatment include the following:

Addiction Recovery Apps

Addiction recovery apps offer a simple way to receive treatment virtually. Some of these apps guide people through treatment using a specific approach, such as a 12-step approach, while others allow individuals to interact with other people who are in addiction recovery. Some apps make it easy for people to keep track of their sobriety, such as how many days they’ve been sober, and allow them to share this information with supportive family and friends or an accountability partner. Other apps focus more on stress management and motivation through meditation and other techniques.


Telemedicine provides people with a way to access addiction treatment services virtually. Instead of meeting with a counselor in person, they can have counseling sessions online. This solution can provide a convenient way to make sure individuals receive the care they need when they are unable to go through counseling sessions or other treatment in person. Telemedicine makes it possible for individuals to talk to addiction professionals online and receive guidance for recovery.

Using Virtual Reality to Overcome Addiction

Virtual reality (VR) can be an effective part of an addiction treatment plan. This solution involves having individuals wear a headset that immerses them in a virtual environment or world. VR can provide a distraction for those who are going through withdrawal or experiencing cravings. VR can also be used to help people practice interacting with others who might tempt them to go back to drugs or alcohol. VR headsets can provide a way to help individuals relax and manage stress during recovery or receive personalized therapy.

With the right training and education, you can be part of the shift toward more effective addiction treatment and counseling. Please contact the University of Minnesota College of Continuing and Professional Studies (UMN CCAPS) for more information on our Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Behavioral Health or the Master of Professional Studies in Addictions Counseling programs. With courses like Multicultural Foundations of Behavioral Health, you can learn the skills needed for providing compassionate and effective addiction recovery services.