Psychological Approaches to Drug and Alcohol Addictions

There are a variety of psychological approaches that can help you recover from your drug and/or alcohol addiction and maintain your sobriety. The one thing that all of these approaches share in common is the concept that you achieve abstinence if you acknowledge your addiction, accept your role in the addiction, identify and avoid your triggers and make a conscious effort to change your behavior. Psychological approaches that can successfully you achieve and maintain sobriety include: cognitive-behavior approach, relapse prevention therapy, matrix model therapy, motivational therapy, multidimensional family therapy and the 12-Step Facilitation Approach.

Cognitive-Behavioral Approach

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) follows the theory that emotional and behavioral responses are learned and that an individual can learn new ways of reacting and behaving. Originally cognitive-behavioral therapy was developed to treat alcohol addictions, but later the treatment was adapted to also aid in the treatment of cocaine and narcotic addictions.

During cognitive-behavioral therapy, you learn how to identify personal “cues” or “triggers” or people, situations and/or feelings that can lead to alcohol and/or drug abuse. The triggers vary depending on the individual and the situation, but they tend to be either internal (a reaction to stress) or external (a reaction to seeing old “drug” friends or acquaintances).

Cognitive-behavior therapy not only teaches you new ways of coping with stressful situations, it also provides you with the tools that you need to effectively counteract those overwhelming urges to abuse drugs and/or alcohol. This approach focuses on teaching you the skills that help you recognize the signs of a relapse, reduce your risk of relapsing, maintain your sobriety during stressful times and strengthen your ability to solve your own issues without the aid of drugs and/or alcohol.

The CBT approach helps you resist the urge to indulge in drugs and/or alcohol by teaching you how to identify triggers, providing you with recovery-oriented strategies, enhancing your problem-solving skills through “high risk” role playing activities and improving your self-confidence and self-esteem through positive thinking exercises.

Relapse Prevention Therapy

One form of CBT therapy that is especially beneficial for recovering drug and/or alcohol abusers is relapse prevention therapy. This approach embraces several cognitive-behavioral strategies that not only encourage abstinence, but also provide support if you relapse.

The main goal of relapse prevention therapy is to teach you how to cope with stressful situations and develop effective coping strategies. The relapse prevention approach to drug and/or alcohol treatment consists of a variety of CBT strategies aimed at promoting self-control. Specific techniques include: exploring the positive and negative consequences of continued drug and/or alcohol abuse, learning how to recognize triggers and high-risk situations that can incite the urge to use or abuse drugs and/or alcohol, developing strategies to prevent drug and/or alcohol relapse.

Matrix Model Therapy

The Matrix Model Therapy (MMT) also provides a safe and positive environment for drug and/or alcohol abusers to receive treatment for their addictions. This therapy approach teaches you how to identify triggers and situations that can lead to addictions and/or relapses, guides you through the recovery process with the help and support of a trained psychotherapist, introduces you to self-help programs and monitors your progress by frequently testing your urine and breath for illegal substances. This MMT approach consists of relapse-prevention groups, educating the addict, family and friends on the dynamics of drug and/or alcohol addictions and providing support groups, family-based counseling and individual counseling. The role of the psychotherapist is to function as a teacher, guide and mentor, encouraging a positive, collaborative relationship to reinforce positive behavioral changes.

Motivational Therapy

Motivational Therapy (MT) is a client-centered counseling approach that helps you frame your drug and/alcohol abuse in a negative light so you will have the desire to change that behavior. This approach uses a variety of strategies to motivate change within, instead of guiding you step-by-step through the rehabilitation process. Motivational therapy consists of a preliminary assessment of your mental health and thought process, followed by three or four treatment sessions with a psychotherapist. During your initial treatment session, you and your psychotherapist discuss the results of your initial assessment and how it relates to your substance abuse. Your psychotherapist then teaches you how to motivate yourself with positive statements when you feel the urge to use or abuse drugs and/or alcohol.

Motivational therapy is designed to change your addictive behavior and help you develop an aftercare plan that you can follow indefinitely. The MT approach teaches you how to successfully cope with stressful and/or risky situations so you do not feel the need to turn to drugs and/or alcohol. The main purpose of the psychotherapist is to monitor your behavioral change, introduce you to strategies that can help you stop the drug and/or alcohol abuse and encourage you to make a lifelong commitment to changing destructive behaviors and maintaining your sobriety.

Multidimensional Family Therapy

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is an outpatient family-based therapy for adolescent drug and/or alcohol abusers. This approach views adolescent drug and/or alcohol abuse in terms of an interdependent network of influences (adolescents, parents, siblings, peers, community, extended family and familial interactional patterns) and suggests that in order to reduce destructive behaviors such as drug and/or alcohol abuse and encourage more positive behaviors, you and your family therapist must examine the situation from a family, not individual perspective.

Treatment typically consists of individual and family sessions with everyone who is present in your life. This could include you parents, siblings, extended family, friends, teachers, mentors, pastor, babysitter, etc. During the sessions, your family therapist helps you work on your decision-making, communication and problem-solving skills. Once you understand these skills, you gain a better understanding on what makes you turn to drugs and/or alcohol. You also learn how to voice how you feel without fear of ridicule or judgment. The combination of the skills helps you deal with life stressors and high-risk situations.

12-Step Facilitation Approach

The 12-Step facilitation approach originates from the concept of 12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These programs follow the psychological principal that alcoholism and drug abuse is primarily a progressive disease that involves a combination of spiritual, genetic and psychological elements. This approach helps you understand AA and/or NA principles, successfully work through the 12 Steps, achieve sobriety and play an active role in community-based 12-Step programs such as AA and NA. These programs encourage you to view your drug and/or alcohol addiction as the inability to control what happens in your life. The goals of the 12-step facilitation approach are to accept the disease, assume answerability for the recovery process, acknowledge your role in the addiction, look towards the future, establish trust with the facilitators and others in your group, change your self-destructive behaviors, practice self-disclosure, understand your own behaviors and apologize to the people you have hurt and disappointed.


Glidden-Tracey, C. E. (2005). Counseling and therapy with clients who abuse alcohol or other drugs: An integrative approach. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Kouimtsidis, C., Reynolds, M., Drummond, C., Davis, P. & Tarrier, N. (2007). Cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of addiction: A treatment planner for clinicians. England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

McMurran, M. (1994). The psychology of addiction. Pennsylvania: Psychology Press. Ltd.


I NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE NOWI NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE NOW888-647-0051Response time about 1 min | Response rate 100%
Who Answers?

Where do calls go?

Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Calls to any general helpline will be answered or returned by one of the treatment providers listed, each of which is a paid advertiser.

By calling the helpline you agree to the terms of use. We do not receive any commission or fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a caller chooses. There is no obligation to enter treatment.