Holistic addiction treatment is when you combine traditional treatment modalities, like the 12 steps, with other types of treatment, like trauma therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Addiction is a chronic disease that affects your brain and behavior — it’s that second part that’s most important when it comes to therapy.
Because your behavior has been so modified for so long, simply getting sober often isn’t enough to stay sober because you’re still stuck in old behaviors that eventually lead you back to using or drinking.
When you’re using even in the face of negative consequences, it’s a clear indication that you’re going to need to retrain your mind if you want to stay sober. Addiction can be challenging to overcome, but therapy can make a profound difference, especially when combined with other treatment modalities, like the 12 Steps.
If you’re getting sober and willing to do whatever you can to increase your chances of staying that way, therapy is something you should definitely consider.
Addiction is a complex disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause physical, emotional, and social problems and can lead to severe consequences that are too numerous to list.
So much goes into each person’s addiction that it’s very hard to say what caused it, but we know that genetics, environment, and mental health all play a role. While it’s true that some people seem to be “born” alcoholics or addicts, for many others, it took a long time before their substance abuse got out of hand.
For others, substance abuse was the only way they found to treat their mental health issues, like depression or anxiety. Still others grew up in an environment where everyone around them was using or drinking heavily, so it just seemed normal to them.
The reason therapy is one of the most effective treatments for addiction is that your therapist can pinpoint which of these issues (and many others) apply to you and work with you to focus on that particular cause of your addiction.
You simply talk with a trained professional to explore and address mental health issues and behavioral patterns that contribute to your addiction, issues and patterns unique to you. Therapy can help you to develop coping skills and strategies to manage life without drugs or alcohol and lead a healthy, fulfilling life.
Because your brain has been altered by the substances you abused and because your behavior has been so problematic for so many years or decades, and because you have deeply ingrained thought patterns that are causing you harm, it will take a while for therapy to be effective.
It’s very important that you have patience and trust the process. You don’t change decades of habit overnight.
Your therapist’s job is to create a safe and supportive environment where you can discuss your thoughts and feelings, which at first might be just about addiction but which will rapidly go on to cover every area of your life that’s problematic.
The therapist works with you to identify the underlying causes of your addiction and develop a personalized treatment plan. Therapy can be conducted in individual or group settings, depending on your preferences, needs, and budget.
There are various types of therapy used in addiction treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and motivational interviewing, among many others.
These therapies aim to help you understand your addiction and develop skills to manage your triggers, cravings, and negative thought patterns, but there’s often much more to it. For example, many people in recovery have experienced serious trauma in their life. Dealing with that trauma is critical to recovery.
Many people in recovery suffer from mental health issues that need to be treated. Some of them can be treated with medication, like bipolar disorders or depression, but for others, the medications that work best are often narcotics, like for ADHD or anxiety.
If you suffer from these illnesses, the only real treatment available to you might be therapy, where you work on strategies to deal with your mental health issues when medication isn’t an option, or where the medications you actually can take have minimal effect.
Therapy can provide numerous benefits beyond simply keeping you sober (although that is a very important benefit).
Therapy can help you to understand the root causes of your addiction, such as trauma, stress, or mental health issues, which then gives you the opportunity to develop healthier coping mechanisms and reduce your risk of relapse.
For example, if anxiety is one of your big triggers, you and your therapist might work on breathing and mindfulness techniques to help you calm down when you’re overwhelmed. Your therapist might encourage you to take more mental health days at work, or change your schedule, or see if your boss will agree to more breaks.
Maybe your therapist will have you talk to your family or friends about things they could do to help you when you’re having a panic attack, or they could help you build up the courage to have a difficult conversation with your spouse about things they do that cause you anxiety.
People who don’t go to therapy often end up continuing the same negative thought and behavior patterns that got them in trouble in the first place. Relapse is the result.
Addiction can strain relationships and lead to social isolation. Therapy can help you develop healthier communication and interpersonal skills, which can improve your relationships with family and friends.
This is also hugely beneficial in your work life. For many addicts and alcoholics, work is a huge stressor and trigger. Learning how to deal with problematic people at work can relieve that stress to a degree, and sometimes eliminate it altogether. The same can be said for problems with family or friends.
There are various types of therapy used in addiction treatment, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. These are some of the most common types of therapy.
CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors of all types. It’s just as helpful for “normal” people as for addicts and alcoholics as many people have these negative thought patterns that hold them back in life.
DBT focuses on mindfulness, emotional regulation, and interpersonal skills. It can be beneficial if you struggle with intense emotions and impulsive behaviors, as most addicts and alcoholics do.
Motivational interviewing helps you enhance your motivation to change your behavior. It’s almost like having a personal coach whose job is to help you do things you really do want to do.
If you’re ambivalent about your addiction and not yet ready to commit to treatment, this can be a way of doing something about the problem by working with a therapist to find the courage to do what you already know you need to do.
Finding the right therapist is crucial for successful recovery because, frankly, not every therapist is going to be a good fit. It’s kind of like finding a new friend — your personalities have to fit together right or it won’t work.
However, there are other things you need to look for besides someone you feel like you can trust and get along with. It’s essential to choose a therapist who specializes in addiction treatment and has experience working with people who have similar challenges.
If you have serious trauma, you need a therapist who has experience helping people with trauma. If you have depression, you need a therapist experienced with that mental health issue, etc.
When looking for a therapist, consider the following factors.
No matter what state you live in, therapists are going to have some licensing and education requirements just to practice. Though checking those is important, it’s more important to make sure they specialize in your issues and have at least a few years of experience helping people with those issues.
Choose a therapist who uses a treatment approach that aligns with your needs and preferences. Research the different types of therapy used in addiction treatment to determine which one may be most helpful for you.
Consider the cost of therapy and whether your insurance covers the type of therapy you want to get. Some therapists offer sliding-scale fees or payment plans, so be sure to ask about these options if insurance isn’t willing to cover the therapist you want.
Possibly the most important thing to look for is that your therapist’s personality and yours align, and that you both have the same outlook on what treatment should look like. If you feel like your therapist is abrasive in any way, you’re going to be less likely to trust them, which means you’ll hold things back or ignore their advice.
This will hurt your treatment profoundly. The same goes for treatment ideology. If you and your therapist disagree on what treatment should look like or how best to go about it, you’re not going to listen to what they have to say.
No matter how hard you might try to shield them from it, addiction will affect your family members negatively, sometimes so badly that moving forward without some form of therapy is impossible.
Here are some of the benefits of family therapy.
Family therapy can help your family members to understand what it’s like for you, what addiction is and how it works, and how they can help. It also validates their feelings and helps them to see what is and isn’t their fault.
Addiction destroys relationships and shatters communication. Therapy can help you rebuild broken relationships in some cases, improve communication where little exists, and improve your family dynamic.
Healthy boundaries and coping mechanisms are often non-existent in families where addiction is present. It’s possible your family members have problems too, like narcissism, mental illness, or their own addictions.
Family therapy can help you all set healthy boundaries to keep your family members’ issues from affecting your recovery, and it can help you and them develop healthy coping mechanisms when disagreement arises.
Many people who are unfamiliar with therapy have some common misconceptions that keep them from getting this effective treatment.
Therapy can be beneficial at any stage of addiction. It can help you to manage your addiction and prevent it from worsening.
Therapy is a sign of strength and courage. It takes bravery to acknowledge and address addiction and seek help.
Therapy can be affordable, and some therapists offer sliding-scale fees or payment plans.
Recovery is a challenging journey that requires support from family, friends, and a community. A supportive community can provide you with encouragement, accountability, and a sense of belonging.
There are various ways to build a supportive community.
Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, provide you with a supportive community of individuals who are going through similar challenges. For many, the only way to stop drinking or using is by going through the 12 steps in addition to therapy.
Building or strengthening relationships with supportive friends and family members can provide you with a sense of connection and support. Because you may have destroyed these relationships through your addiction, rebuilding them can fill a huge hole in your life.
Engaging in sober activities, such as exercise classes, art classes, or volunteer work, especially if you’re not working or are out of work, can give you a sense of purpose and connection that you’d be missing otherwise.
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Cristal Clark, LPC-S, is the Medical Reviewer for ASIC Recovery Services. She reviews all website content for quality and medical accuracy. She is a master’s level Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and graduated from Liberty University in 2011. She has worked in the behavioral and mental health field for over 12 years and has a passion for helping others. She has been clinical director and CEO of a 200 plus bed facility, PHP, and IOP, with experience managing a team of counselors, individual/group/and family therapy, and coordinating continuum of care. Cristal is trained in EMDR and certified in non-violent intervention. She is a member of American Counseling Association and American Association of Christian Counselors.