Substance Abuse Counseling Techniques That Work

When you’re struggling with substance abuse, life can become extremely challenging. You may feel emotions like shame or frustration for not being able to stop abusing alcohol or drugs no matter how hard you try. One factor that can offer hope is the fact that counseling about substance abuse can help you overcome addiction and get your life back.

No longer do you have to feel as if you’re all alone trying to overcome addiction. Treatment professionals are trained in various counseling techniques that can help you learn more about the root causes of addiction, as well as recovery principles.

The Root Causes of Addiction

Addiction occurs for various reasons.  Factors such as dysfunctional environmental conditions, genetics, trauma, chronic stress, mental illness, neglect, abuse, and more can increase the likelihood of substance abuse. Addiction often becomes the cause mental or emotional problems.

While detox focuses on helping people recover from the physical addiction to alcohol or drugs, it’s therapy that contends with the emotional and mental issues. The detox process may only take a week or two, but counseling may be necessary long-term. This happens because it takes a long time to address the root causes of addiction. When you can understand and work through the root causes, you’re less likely to relapse.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies are quite common for substance abuse disorders. Essentially, they focus on modifying behavior using various techniques. They help clients understand the high-risk addictive behavior and learn how to implement certain tools in order to change it.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a popular substance abuse counseling technique that helps clients become more aware of the thoughts and beliefs that underlie their behavior. It’s not uncommon for negative thoughts and belief patterns to go under the radar, so to speak, causing the person to act in negative or harmful ways.

In CBT, clients will learn what triggers them, as well as effective coping skills. They’ll also learn more about the root causes of addictive behaviors, so they can address those issues at the core.  Once they’re able to do this, they’ll be one step closer to changing their behavior. CBT, or talk therapy, is one of the leading types of counseling techniques used by addiction counselors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of therapy that builds off CBT, taking it further to address the more emotional aspects of addiction. Initially, it was designed to treat those with bipolar disorder, but has been found to treat addiction quite well. Whereas CBT focuses more on thoughts, DBT focuses more on emotions. Clients are encouraged to face, feel, and heal the underlying emotions that may have led them to substance abuse in the first place. The experiential technique helps them accept those behaviors and decreases the chances of relapse.

Motivational Therapies

Motivational therapies are successful in treating substance abuse as well. Essentially, these therapies help clients discover their inner motivation to stop the addictive behavior and make other positive changes in their lives.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy uses interviewing to help clients learn how they can use motivation to learn new behaviors. Typically, it’s a short-term treatment with two to four sessions, followed by CBT.

“Several studies have investigated the combination of CBT and MI for various drugs of abuse, including amphetamines, cocaine, methamphetamines, and marijuana. Although the findings have been mixed with respect to additive effects on drug use outcomes, there is some evidence to suggest that adding motivational enhancement to the early stages of CBT can be effective at increasing motivation and improving retention in treatment.”

Carroll, K. M., & Kiluk, B. D. (2017). Cognitive behavioral interventions for alcohol and drug use disorders: Through the stage model and back again. Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 31(8), 847–861.
Available from

Contingency Management and Motivational Incentives

Contingency Management (CM) operates on operant conditioning, rewarding positive behaviors and withholding privileges for negative behaviors. For example, a clean drug test may be followed by a motivational incentive, such as extra free time in the recreation room. CM is oftentimes combined with other substance abuse counseling techniques.

Substance Abuse Counseling Techniques That Work Lifestyle Updated 7

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing is a counseling technique that helps clients discover their internal motivation to make positive changes. For substance abuse, a therapist will use questions to help the individual become more motivated to overcome the addictive behavior and create new, positive goals. This type of nonconfrontational therapy helps clients see the negative consequences of their addictive behavior, and this inspires them to make a positive transformation. When they can truly become aware of the negatives, they’re more apt or motivated to want to start creating positive change.

Doing The Inner Healing Work

These are brief summaries of some of the more common substance abuse counseling techniques. Each counselor will use an individualized approach toward recovery depending on the individual and various factors.

Substance abuse counseling techniques are used in a variety of treatment settings, such as residential rehabs, outpatient treatment centers, sober living homes, support groups, and individual therapy sessions. The number of sessions needed will vary from client to client. Some may require counseling for a few months, while others will benefit most from a year or more. As many experts’ state, counseling isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, but it has been found to increase the likelihood of sobriety long-term.

What's your opinion?

  • (will not be published)

Please note: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. Certain content that appears on this site comes from AMAZON SERVICES LLC. This content is provided ‘AS IS’ and is subject to change or removal at any time.