Evidence Based Addiction Treatment Approaches

Over the past several decades, countless studies have been conducted and millions of dollars invested in establishing evidence-based addiction treatment approaches. These are the therapies that are most effective for treating addiction.  These therapies are referred to as "evidence-based treatment" or "evidence-based therapies," because they are supported by evidence from research studies.

Seeking out these evidence-based treatments is the best way of ensuring that your time and money is well spent on an approach that has been proven to be effective. While every person is different, and what works for one will not necessarily work for another, you are much safer trying one of the treatments below than an unsubstantiated treatment, or one that is based in approaches such as confrontation or humiliation of the person with the addiction. Such approaches have been found not only to be ineffective, but to be counter-productive, often damaging relationships and belief in the benefits of treatment, and making future efforts more challenging.


Motivational Interviewing

Model poses as young woman in counseling
Motivational Interviewing is a supportive approach to addiction counseling. Clark and Company / Getty Images

Motivational Interviewing is a non-confrontational, collaborative therapeutic technique for helping people make changes in their lives, focused ​on drawing out the individual's ideas, rather the therapist imposing their ideas; and autonomy of the person with the addiction, rather than the therapist having authority over them.  Many people find motivational interviewing a gentler and more affirming approach than other techniques, and feel supported in finding their own way out of their addictive behaviors.


Supportive-Expressive Therapy

Man talking to therapist in therapy
Supportive expressive therapy can you help overcome addiction. Tom M Johnson/Blend Images/Getty Images

Supportive-expressive therapy is a psychodynamic psychotherapy that is effective in treating more severe substance use disorders.  Supportive-Expressive therapy draws from the psychodynamic orientation based on the idea that psychological problems, including addictions, originate in conflicts, traumas and relationship patterns which are established in early childhood. By becoming more aware of, bearing with and working through these unhelpful patterns in relationships, these problems can be overcome.


Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

A picture of a CBT therapy session.
Models pose as therapist and client in a Cogntive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Session. Image © David Buffington / Getty Images

According to the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach, addictive behaviors, such as drinking, drug use, problem gambling, compulsive shopping, video game addiction, food addiction, and other types of harmful excessive behavior, are the result of inaccurate thoughts and subsequent negative feelings. By changing your thinking patterns, through CBT, you can change the way you both feel and behave. CBT has an excellent track record, with numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness in treating depression, anxiety and other conditions, including addiction.


Family Therapy

A family therapy session with an addicted teen
Models pose as a family in a family therapy session addressing a teen's addiction problems. JodiJacobson/Getty Images

Family therapy is considered to be the "gold standard" for treating substance use disorders in adolescents, and now a large body of research supports the same for adult substance use disorder. There are several different approaches to family therapy, including Structural Family Therapy, Behavioral Family Counseling (BFC), and Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) for Adolescents.


Couples Counseling

Couple in addiction counseling session
Couples counseling can help address addiction problems. Peter Cade/Getty Images

Couples counseling, sometimes called couples therapy, focuses on the relationship between partners as the source and the solution for problems related to addiction, and other issues.  By supporting the relationship and drawing on the support within the relationship, couples therapy can be extremely effective in overcoming addiction problems.  It has also been shown to be effective​ in LGBT couples.


Social Behavior and Network Therapy (SBNT)

A social network and behaviour therapy group
Social Network Behaviour Therapy uses the support of friends and family. vgajic / Getty Images

Social behavior and network therapy draw heavily from a number of other evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Relapse Prevention, Community Reinforcement Approach, Behavioral Couples Therapy and Behavioral Family Therapy. Social Behavior and Network Therapy is based on the notion that social networks can strongly influence individuals with severe substance use disorder treatment progression.

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Article Sources
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