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Updated on September 14, 2023
4 min read

Psychotherapy for Addiction

Key Takeaways

  • Psychotherapy is a form of therapy that can be used in treating addictions to drugs and alcohol.
  • Psychotherapy does not cure addiction.
  • While psychotherapy is not for everyone, it’s worth exploring amongst other addiction treatment options.

What Is Psychotherapy in Addiction Treatment?

Psychotherapy, sometimes called therapy, is the long-term treatment of mental health issues. A qualified mental health professional, like a psychologist or psychiatrist, can perform psychotherapy on people. 

How Does Psychotherapy Work?

Psychotherapy is rooted in supportive dialogue. A psychologist or psychiatrist creates a safe space for you to be vulnerable and talk openly about your issues.

Therapists offer their unbiased ears and don’t judge.You can be sure that what you share with a psychologist or psychiatrist is confidential.6

There are various types of psychotherapy for addiction treatment. Psychotherapy has helped many people overcome addiction and achieve sobriety in life.

Does Psychotherapy Cure Addiction?

Psychotherapy does not cure addiction. Instead, it can treat some of the symptoms of substance abuse. Substance abuse can lead to drug or alcohol addiction.

More than 20 million people ages 12 and up struggled with substance use disorders in 2019.4 Of them, 8.3 million were coping with illegal drug use disorders, excluding alcohol.4

Not every type of psychotherapy will work for everyone with an alcohol or drug addiction. It’s worth exploring the different kinds of psychotherapy and alternative treatments to overcome substance abuse and addiction.

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How Does Psychotherapy Help in Addiction Recovery?

Often, psychotherapy is used in conjunction with other treatment modalities to aid addiction recovery.3 Different types of psychotherapy are available that work in different ways:1

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Family therapy
  • Couples therapy
  • Group therapy

These types of psychotherapy can help in various ways:

1. Setting Sobriety Goals

Some types of therapy might focus on setting sobriety goals with regular check-ins to track progress. A therapist might use motivational enhancement and motivational interviewing techniques.

2. Identifying Triggers

Other therapies might focus on triggers that drive people to use or abuse drugs or alcohol. These triggers can be people, places, things, or events.

Once these triggers are identified, therapists will help people find healthier coping mechanisms. These allow people to manage themselves when they’re triggered.

3. Providing a Solid Support System

Some therapies allow people with similar experiences to come together. They can also give loved ones a chance to understand what a person with addiction is going through.

Loved ones may be part of the problem (driving people to abuse), or they might only be there for support. Ultimately, these therapies help a person build a solid support system.

Does Therapy Cure Addiction?

Psychotherapy doesn’t cure addiction. However, it can help to treat and reduce some symptoms.

About 75 percent of people who undergo psychotherapy improve their condition from it. Some studies have even shown chemical changes in people’s brains after therapy.6

People may suppress negative emotions when using substances to self-medicate. Therapy can help them to identify and process those emotions healthily.2

Therapy can also help reduce the symptoms of co-occurring mental illnesses that tend to go hand in hand with alcohol or drug abuse. These include the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia 
  • Eating disorders

You can also pair therapy with another substance abuse treatment to fight addiction. When combined with another form of ongoing treatment, therapy can help. 

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Psychotherapy for Addiction - Pros & Cons

As with all types of treatment options, psychotherapy also has its pros and cons.

Pros of Addiction Therapy

Some pros of psychotherapy include the following:

  • Identify toxic patterns
  • Recognize triggers
  • Find healthier coping mechanisms
  • Work through feelings or emotions surrounding triggers
  • Recognize behaviors related to substance use
  • Change views on substance use
  • Address other co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Boost self-esteem and confidence
  • Maintain motivation
  • Hold themselves accountable by showing up for support

Cons of Addiction Therapy

Some cons of psychotherapy include the following:

  • Not all insurance plans will cover psychotherapy
  • Therapy can get expensive over time
  • Treatment doesn’t cure addiction
  • Psychotherapy can feel mentally exhausting or draining for some people.
  • Confronting your behaviors in behavioral therapies can feel uncomfortable at first
  • Overcoming addiction takes time, and many people go to treatment for their lifetime
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How to Find a Therapist

Are you looking for a therapist? Here are some quick tips to help you find someone who works for you.

  • Search your local area first: In-person therapy can help hold you accountable.
  • Try online therapy: If you can’t find someone nearby, you can work with many online therapists, too. Remote therapy opens you up to endless options.
  • Be sure to give it an honest effort: You may have to try out a few different therapists before you find a good one.

Alternative Addiction Treatments

While psychotherapy can be very helpful in treating substance addiction, it’s not for everyone. It’s also not the only treatment option available. Here are some alternative addiction treatments:

  • Holistic treatment programs
  • Support groups
  • Inpatient rehabilitation
  • Outpatient rehabilitation 

Many options exist for treating a substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental illness. You shouldn’t navigate the road to recovery alone.

Updated on September 14, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on September 14, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Apa - Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Substance Abuse.” Appi.org.
  2. Feingold, Daniel, and Dana Tzur Bitan. “Addiction Psychotherapy: Going beyond Self-Medication.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, Frontiers.
  3. Psychotherapies.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  4. SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 
  5. Understanding Psychotherapy and How It Works.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association.
  6. What Is Psychotherapy?” Psychiatry.org - What Is Psychotherapy?
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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