Addiction Therapy: Options, Details & What to Look For

If you find yourself relying on a problematic substance or behavior as a coping mechanism, you may have wondered whether you have an addiction.

If you’re considering seeking treatment for addiction but don’t know where to start, read on to find out more about treatment options, how effective they are, and how to find the right help for your needs.

What are addictions?

Addictions refer to a broad group of conditions in which an individual is regularly involved with a substance or activity in a compulsive way that's hard to control, and often has harmful consequences.

Addictions are most often defined by using a substance like drugs or alcohol (commonly called substance-use disorders). A wide range of substances can be addictive, including cocaine, opioids, marijuana, and e-cigarettes like Juul. Some definitions of addiction also include compulsive engagement in behaviors, such as sex, gambling, or shopping.

Many people engage in substance use or potentially addictive behaviors without these habits becoming addictions. For example, looking forward to getting a drink at happy hour doesn’t mean you’re addicted to alcohol, and one evening at a casino doesn’t equal a gambling addiction.

However, when you frequently seek out a substance or behavior in a way that feels difficult to cut back, control, or disengage from even when it interferes with your day-to-day life, it may be worth considering whether you’re struggling with an addiction.

Addiction is sometimes connected to other mental health disorders, medical issues, and/or life circumstances. Accordingly, effective treatment for addiction often includes a blend of therapeutic approaches designed to support long-term recovery.

Does therapy for addiction work?

Yes, research indicates that different kinds of therapy can be effective in treating addictions.

(There is somewhat less research available on the effectiveness of therapy for behavioral addictions, such as gambling and shopping. However, some studies do suggest that similar therapies may be helpful for treating behavioral addictions.)

For more details on types of therapy for addiction, read the next section below.

Find therapists for addiction near you:

Best therapy types for addiction recovery

There are several different treatment approaches available for addiction recovery. Your therapist may also incorporate aspects of different approaches in your treatment. Here are four of the most prominent forms of therapy for addictions:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for addiction

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you learn to break the mental habits that support addiction. It involves learning to gain perspective on your own thoughts and recognize the links between thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

CBT is skill-based, and often involves homework and/or structured activities within sessions.

Find a CBT therapist near you:

2. Motivational Interviewing for addiction

Motivational Interviewing is a short-term form of psychotherapy that focuses on helping you clarify your goals and change addiction-related behaviors.

In Motivational Interviewing, the therapist supports you in finding internal motivation for change. It is solution-focused and geared toward concrete changes, rather than deep analysis of past experiences or feelings.

Find a therapist specializing in motivational interviewing near you:

3. Mindfulness Practices for addiction

Mindfulness practices focus on reducing stress, gaining self-awareness, and cultivating a nonjudgmental view of the world.

Because addiction is so often a coping mechanism to deal with pain and stress, mindfulness practices can be a great way to learn other, healthier ways to cope.

Find a therapist who uses mindful practices near you:

4. Art therapy for addiction

Art therapy provides a way to express your emotions in a safe, creative way. It can help you process painful experiences, reduce stress, and build self-esteem.

Art therapy can be a helpful strategy for finding healthier coping mechanisms and dealing with the underlying causes of addiction.

Find an art therapist near you:

Harm reduction vs. abstinence

Harm reduction and abstinence are two different approaches to addiction treatment:

Most people facing addictions can benefit from a combination of both approaches. Be sure to talk with potential therapists about how they approach this distinction and can tailor treatment to your needs.

Other addiction treatment options

For many people, treatment for addictions goes beyond individual psychotherapy. Therapists for addiction should always be prepared to collaborate with other practitioners and should be able to provide you with information about resources that they regularly refer clients to.

A few treatment options that you might consider with your therapist’s support include:

Medications that help with addiction recovery

There are medication options that have been shown to help with some forms of addictions. In particular, alcohol and opiate addictions are often treated using a pharmaceutical component.

It can be hard to find providers who are well-versed in this area, but all addiction specialists should know about options for medications and be able to offer referrals so you can explore these options further.

How therapy helps with addiction recovery

If you’re dealing with an addiction, therapy can help you in a number of ways:

  1. Understanding your behavior on a deeper level. Therapy can help you gain perspective on how you developed your addiction and understand the role it plays in your life.
  2. Developing higher self-esteem. Your therapist can work with you to process painful experiences and stressors to build your self-esteem in the face of challenges.
  3. Coping with stress and difficult emotions more effectively. Many people facing addictions use substances or behaviors to deal with pain or stress. Your therapist can help you develop other, healthier coping mechanisms.
  4. Addressing any related mental health concerns. Therapy can be a way to uncover and treat mental health conditions that may contribute to your addiction, such as anxiety, depression, and trauma.
  5. Connecting you with medical specialists. If you therapist thinks you could benefit from medical or pharmaceutical treatment for your addiction, they can connect you to resources and help coordinate your overall treatment.

How to find an addiction specialist

If you’re interested in finding a therapist for addiction treatment, follow these simple steps to find the right specialist for you:

  1. Check the therapist’s credentials and licensure. Addiction specialists may be psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or other licensed mental health professionals. Your therapist should have advanced training in treating addictions, and be licensed to practice in the state where you live.
  2. Ask about the therapist’s specific experience. You’ll want to make sure that your therapist has worked with other clients dealing with addictions like yours.
  3. Assess affordability. Does the therapist take your insurance? Or alternatively, do they offer a sliding-scale payment option? You’ll want to make sure the cost of therapy is manageable for you before scheduling the first session.  
  4. Ask about scheduling. Does the therapist offer treatment at a location that is convenient for you and at times that work with your schedule?
  5. Schedule an initial call. Talking to a therapist for an initial call can be a great way to learn more about their practice and whether they might be the right fit for you.

Finally, ask yourself: Do you feel comfortable talking to this therapist and sense that you have the potential to develop a therapeutic alliance? More than anything else, this factor may determine how successful your treatment ultimately is.

How to find an addiction specialist near me

Find therapists who treat alcohol use disorder and alcoholism on Zencare. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!

New to therapy? Learn more about how to find a therapist here.