Types of Therapy at an Addiction or Alcohol Rehab Program

Many addicts and alcoholics fear reaching out for help because they simply don’t know what to expect at a drug treatment center. Most people know that the first stage is detox and the accompanying Acute Withdrawal, followed by a drug rehab program that lasts for about 30 days. However, most people who are struggling with a substance abuse or drinking problem aren’t aware of what actually takes place during those thirty days. And while it may be frightening to not know what will happen on a day-to-day basis to the addict who enrolls in such a program, what is really at question here is this: How does rehab make people clean? It’s not just a matter of housing people in a supervised environment for a month until their drug cravings have passed. Understanding what types of therapies are employed at an inpatient treatment or alcohol rehab center is critical to help drug addicts and alcoholics help themselves.

It should be noted right away that there is a significant difference between traditional types of addiction therapy in a clinical setting, and adventure or relaxation therapies in a clinical setting. Adventure and relaxation therapies include surf therapy, art therapy, yoga, massage, equine therapy, psychodrama and more. While these types of activities may provide relaxation and entertainment for some people, they do not address addiction issues directly and therefore should not be confused with bona fide drug addiction treatment therapies. Instead, traditional therapies that are extremely effective and have proven success rates include:

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is the backbone of an effective substance abuse treatment plan. According to Debbie Davis of the Florida drug rehab center Recovery First; “In drug treatment centers where success rates are the highest, the fundamental element of most individualized treatment plans is individual therapy; and it is precisely this type of therapy that helps people to dramatically reshape their lives.” (1)

This consists of one-on-one counseling sessions between the addict or alcoholic and an addiction counselor. These sessions allow the patient to explore their drug use and the reasons behind it, their character, their level of denial and their goals for the future. During these sessions co-occurring conditions like bipolar or depression are diagnosed and treated when appropriate.

Group Therapy

Group therapy usually occurs in a residential inpatient treatment facility or in an outpatient treatment program. This type of therapy is facilitated by a clinician, counselor or other therapist and is focused on exploring issues in a setting where addicts can hear the stories, wisdom, heartache and best practices of other people who are all suffering from the same disease of addiction.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is a critical need for most recovering addicts or alcoholics. Because close family members like a spouse or a parent are so influential to the addict, including them in the form of family therapy sessions is a vital part of treatment. Some close family members may have been co-users at one time, they could have been an enabler, or they could have been trying to get the addict to treatment for years. Whatever the case may be, the National Center for Biotechnology Information writes that the goal of family therapy is to bring about change:

“In family therapy, the goal of treatment is to meet the needs of all family members. Family therapy addresses the interdependent nature of family relationships and how these relationships serve the and other family members for good or ill. The focus of family therapy treatment is to intervene in these complex relational patterns and to alter them in ways that bring about productive change for the entire family.” (2)

However, it is important to note that family therapy is not a requirement. In some cases the only surviving family relationships are so broken or dysfunctional that integrating these people into the treatment program would be detrimental to the health of the patient. In cases the like this addicted individual will be provided with the opportunity to connect with other people that are meaningful to them if it will further their treatment goals.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps addicts and alcoholics to identify what behaviors, actions, emotions, environments and people are threats to their recovery. Once identified, people in recovery are taught that they have two choices:

  1. To avoid the person, place or thing causing the risk when avoidance is possible and reasonable
  2. To develop the appropriate coping skills for cases where the person, place or thing is unavoidable

In an overview of cognitive behavioral therapy, the National Institute on Drug Abuse writes:

“The underlying assumption is that learning processes play an important role in the development and continuation of cocaine abuse and dependence. These same learning processes can be used to help individuals reduce their drug use.”

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Symptom Management

Few people realize that the biggest single threat to recovery is PAWS or Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. PAWS symptoms begin immediately after detox and acute withdrawal and can last for months or even years. In an article on the symptoms of post acute withdrawal syndrome, Jim Davis asserts that there are 6 primary symptoms of PAWS:

  1. Inability to Process & Organize Thoughts
  2. Issues with Memory
  3. Emotional Incapacitation
  4. Sleep Disorders
  5. Lack of Physical Coordination (dry drunk)
  6. Inability to Cope with Stress (3)

Learning how to recognize and cope with the symptoms of PAWS is critical for the success of any long-term recovery program.


Although it may not be ideal for some people, medication may be required as part of therapy. This could mean medication during detox to manage and ease the discomfort of acute withdrawal syndrome, or it could mean pharmaceutical treatment of underlying co-occurring conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, mania, anxiety and other mental or emotional disorders.

An inpatient treatment center isn’t just about warehousing a person away from drugs and alcohol for 30 days. It’s hard work to get clean and even harder work to stay clean, but getting the right treatment at the right time can help save even the most severely addicted individual.

If you or someone you know needs these therapies in order to break free from an addiction, it’s important that you call the number at the top of your screen right now. We have addiction experts standing by 24 hours per day, and we’ll be happy to talk with you confidentially and free of charge. Why wait?


(1) Davis, Debbie Addiction Treatment: What’s Individual Therapy all About?
(2) National Center for Biotechnology Information Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy
(3) Davis, Jim The Symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Recovery First

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More