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The Different Evidence-Based Treatment Approaches for Addiction 

evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders

Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a category of healthcare that applies research findings and scientific evidence to the care of patients. It enables clinicians to make informed, evidence-based decisions for treatment, which in turn leads to better patient outcomes and a higher quality of care.  

For those treating or even struggling with drug addiction, evidence-based treatment involves the use of therapies and/or medications that have proven to be effective in managing substance use disorders (SUDs). This treatment integrates the best available research with clinical knowledge and expertise, while also taking into consideration the unique needs of each individual client. Evidence-based treatment for addiction is highly recommended, though the exact approach will vary case by case. 

There are different approaches to evidence-based addiction treatment, and different modalities that providers can use to help treat or manage substance use disorders. The evidence-based therapy method used by a provider is dictated based on a client’s drug of choice, the severity of SUD, symptoms and situation, as well as any other, co-occurring mental health disorders. Not one, single type of treatment is effective for everyone. Each individual is unique, and their recovery plan must be customized to meet their needs at that time. However, there are therapies that evidence shows work particularly well for alcohol and drug use disorders. We outline some examples of evidence-based approaches below. 

Recommended Approaches to Evidence-Based Addiction Treatment 

Before diving into the specific approaches to evidence-based addiction treatment, it is important to remember that these are not one-size-fits-all. Different treatment methods are recommended for different drug dependencies and are founded on different evidence. For example, there is evidence supporting the effectiveness of medication and motivational incentives in treating opioid addiction. These same methods, however, may not apply to someone addicted to cocaine. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) categorizes evidence-based addiction treatment into two main categories: pharmacotherapies and behavioral therapies. Pharmacotherapies are medications that have been found successful in alleviating specific substance use disorders. They are recommended in combination with behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapies do not rely on medication, but rather, are designed to get clients engaged in their treatment and recovery. Behavioral therapies may help to modify clients’ attitudes and behaviors, provide incentives for sobriety, and cope with stress or triggers. 

Examples of Evidence-Based Pharmacotherapies for Addiction  

  • Methadone:  

Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist medication. It has been found to be effective in mitigating the early, difficult withdrawal symptoms associated with an opioid use disorder, as well as reducing cravings for opioid drugs. According to the NIDA, research shows methadone maintenance is most effective in combination with behavioral treatments like counseling and group therapy. However, it can only be administered by a licensed clinical professional. 

  • Naltrexone

Naltrexone is another evidence-based, medication-assisted treatment that has been found effective in treating alcohol use disorders. The medication is designed to block opioid receptors, which in turn helps to reduce cravings and the chance of relapse.  

Examples of Evidence-Based Behavioral Therapies for Addiction 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment approach for those struggling with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and/or methamphetamine addictions. This methodology teaches clients how to identify problematic thought patterns/behaviors, as well as apply skills to correct them. CBT is all about developing effective coping strategies to manage cravings, triggers, and high-risk situations in a healthy way. Evidence supports its effectiveness, especially in combination with other therapy methods. 

  • Contingency Management (CM): 

Contingency Management (CM) is an evidence-based treatment method that involves reinforcing good behaviors with tangible rewards. For example, clients who remain abstinent from drugs might be given prizes for each sober milestone. According to the NIDA, “Studies conducted in both methadone programs and psychosocial counseling treatment programs demonstrate that incentive-based interventions are highly effective in increasing treatment retention and promoting abstinence from drugs.” 

  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): 

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) has been found successful in treating alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine addictions. At its core, MET is a counseling approach that aims to engage clients in the treatment process and motivate them to stop using drugs. It consists of one-to-one sessions with a therapist, in which clients are motivated to build a plan for change and commit to sober living. 

  • 12-Step Facilitation: 

The 12-Step Facilitation model is another evidence-based treatment method that helps engage clients in the recovery process. Clients attend regular, 12-Step meetings – where they are surrounded by others in recovery – and become a part of a community that holds one another accountable. The 12-Step program itself is designed to help clients accept their addiction as a disease, surrender to and accept the fellowship of others, and become actively involved in recovery activities. The NIDA reports 12-Step Facilitation has been found highly effective in treating alcohol abuse, but also shows promising results for drug use disorders like stimulant and opiate addiction

  • Family Behavior Therapy (FBT): 

Family Behavior Therapy (FBT) is an evidence-based treatment method that combines behavioral counseling, contingency management, and family involvement. In FBT, a counselor will work with the client and their family members, such as parents, to improve their home environment. This might involve developing new skills to adopt at home, applying behavioral therapies to further relationships, and setting goals for treatment and recovery. FBT has been found extremely effective in helping adolescents and young people overcome substance use disorders. It is primarily used in cases where adolescents struggle with multiple co-occurring issues, such as substance abuse, depression, conduct disorders, family disarray, childhood trauma, and more. 

Evidence-Based Treatment for Adolescents with Addiction 

Due to their stage of development and maturity, adolescents and young adults have unique needs in addiction treatment. They benefit from different approaches to counseling and respond to incentives and interventions differently than adults. In fact, the NIDA explains, “Research has shown that treatments designed for and tested in adult populations often need to be modified to be effective in adolescents.” Specific treatment approaches for addicted adolescents, that evidence supports, include: 

  • Family Behavior Therapy and Family Involvement: 

As suggested above, family therapy is particularly important for youth struggling with addiction, as it empowers them to improve and maintain relationships in the home setting. Specifically, Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is recommended for adolescents and their family members. MDFT involves various layers: An adolescent and therapist will work together to develop skills to use at home, such as problem-solving, decision-making, negotiation, and communication. Then, the therapist will work with the family member(s) in parallel to ensure they can set up an environment for sober success. Other forms of family therapy recommended for adolescents include Functional Family Therapy and Brief Strategic Family Therapy, which you can learn about here.  

  • Community Reinforcement Approach: 

Community reinforcement has been found effective for adolescents battling a substance use disorder. It also involves the family, in combination with other social and educational reinforcers. With a community reinforcement approach, therapists encourage the adolescent to actively participate in positive social and recreational activities, which can help to deliver a sense of purpose. 

  • Multisystemic Therapy: 

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based practice for adolescents who struggle not only with substance abuse, but also with serious antisocial behavior. As cited by national sources, MST can significantly reduce adolescent drug use during treatment and six months following treatment. It can also prevent juvenile incarceration. 

Why Evidence-Based Treatment for Addiction? 

Evidence-based treatment involves therapies that have been studied, proved successful, and later replicated by clinicians to treat specific disorders. It is validated and supported by medically-researched findings and results. The main goal of the evidence-based addiction treatment model is to make treatment as successful and informed as possible for those in recovery. With this in mind, it is a highly recommended approach to SUD care. If you are seeking a treatment provider and researching your options, always consider looking for a facility that is well-versed in – and actively using – evidence-based treatment methods.  

Turnbridge is a recognized mental health and addiction treatment provider, with an array of evidence-based treatment modalities used within our programs. To learn about Turnbridge’s programs for young men, women, and adolescents, please do not hesitate to reach out. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.