In 2016, 63,632 Americans died of a drug overdose. It’s an overdose epidemic, and it’s spreading across geographic and demographic groups like wildfire.

Helping a loved one through addiction is a frightening time. And although it’s an uphill battle, it’s not one your loved one can afford to fight alone.

The fight gets easier if you have the right treatment program to support the process. Here, we’ll break down several different types of treatment programs and therapies to help you find the best fit.

Types of Treatment Programs

Before we talk about specific therapies, let’s talk about the types of treatment programs offering them.

Most people have only heard of rehab through celebrity gossip magazines. But the truth is, there are many options available to help ordinary people beat addiction.

Most treatment programs start with a medically-supervised detox and withdrawal. The patient then goes to the next stage, which involves learning to live a sober life.

Long-Term Residential

One of the best-known programs is long-term residential treatment. It’s also the most immersive treatment option available.

Long-term residential treatment provides 24-hour care in a non-hospital setting. This is usually a treatment facility using a therapeutic community model. The patient will stay at the facility for a predetermined length of time – usually 6 to 12 months.

The focus of these programs is resocialization of the individual into a community. It utilizes every aspect of the community as a therapeutic component.

Addiction is viewed in social and psychological terms. Treatment develops personal accountability and responsibility, teaching patients how to lead productive lives.

The important difference here is long-term inpatient treatment as opposed to outpatient care. The period after detox is riskiest, and because of this, supervision is vital to the patient’s success and resilience.

Short-Term Residential

Short-term residential treatment is a lot like long-term but smaller.

Long-term residential treatment removes the patient from their old routines. Short-term residential operates on a modified 12-stop model, usually lasting between three to six weeks.

The original model consisted of intensive three to six-week in-hospital treatment followed by extended outpatient care and participation in a self-help group.

The key to success with programs like this is the patient’s ongoing commitment to outpatient care. Long-term residential programs use a supervised environment to keep patients honest. Short-term programs demand more conscious choice on the part of the patient.

This can make them feel riskier than long-term inpatient. However, they are often more affordable than long-term care. They may be more accessible to those with work or family commitments.

Outpatient Treatment

The next step on the ladder is outpatient treatment.

There’s some debate as to the efficiency of inpatient vs. outpatient care. Both options are intensive and demand equal commitment from the patient–they just focus on different things.

The specific content of outpatient care depends on the provider in question. These services tend to be less expensive than residential care. They may be more suitable for those with job commitments or an extensive social support network.

12-Step Program

The most famous of all the treatment types is the 12-step program, created by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today, there are 12-step programs for many different types of substance abuse.

As the name implies, 12-step programs take each individual through the 12 steps of recovery. This is done with guidance from fellow recovering addicts and focuses on community support and accountability.

There are two main drawbacks to 12-step programs.

First, these programs are often faith-based, and so may not be as accessible to non-Christians and atheists. Second, these programs are most successful for European-American men, as they tend to focus on volunteering to speak up.

The 12-step program has also inspired several similar programs. One is the SMART recovery system, which treats both addiction and behavioral disorders. Where 12-step emphasizes powerlessness over addiction, SMART focuses on self-empowerment to change behavior.

Detox Centers

Finally, there are detox centers.

Detox centers tend to be more of a stepping stone, as many patients pass through detox centers on their way to a different kind of treatment.

Detox centers are facilities offering 24-hour medical supervision to patients undergoing drug detox. This ensures that the patient goes through withdrawal safely to prevent relapse.

Types of Therapy

There are several different types of therapies which treatment programs use.

The specific therapies depend on the treatment center and their recovery philosophy. It’s important to research what would benefit your loved one and what treatment centers in your area offer the appropriate therapies.

There are many more therapies than the types listed here, but these are among the most widely available.

Individual vs. Group

The two best-known types of therapy are individual and group therapy. The basic difference can be summarized as one-on-one meetings with a therapist or a therapist running a meeting with a group of patients.

However, the techniques vary depending on whether you’re receiving individual or group therapy. In fact, many of the techniques listed below can be used as part of individual or group therapy.

The key is to figure out which form your loved one would benefit from the most. Would they talk one-on-one about their problems with a therapist? Or would they empathize with other individuals who share their struggles better?

Some people are more comfortable with the idea of group therapy. Others are uncomfortable speaking about their issues in front of strangers. Sometimes people do both or switch back and forth. It depends on what the specific patient needs and wants most.


Biofeedback therapy is a type of therapy designed to help addicts regain control of their minds and bodies during treatment.

During biofeedback, electronic sensors are wired to the patient’s skin. These sensors are wired to a special medical device giving the doctor feedback on biological signals. These include:

  • Heart rate
  • Breathing rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Skin temperature
  • Sweating
  • Muscle contraction

The idea behind this is simple. Addiction and withdrawal cause heightened physical stress and involuntary responses. By reading signals as cues, biofeedback helps the patient regain control of their own body.

For example, if during biofeedback the doctor saw that the patient had an elevated heart rate, they could then cue the patient to do stress-relieving techniques like mindfulness meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. By practicing these techniques, the patient can see their heart rate going down.

Cognitive Behavioral

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a popular therapeutic method founded in the 1980s.

CBT shows that many of the harmful actions of addiction are not logical or rational. A cognitive behavioral therapist works with a patient to identify the negative automatic thoughts behind these behaviors, based in impulse and arising from internalized feelings of fear, anger, or self-doubt.

By identifying and working to dismiss these harmful thought patterns while replacing them with healthier thought patterns and self-help tools to improve mood and communicate more effectively, CBT works to uproot the harmful patterns of addiction by stopping a negative spiral before it begins.


About 7.9 million people in the U.S. experience a co-occurring substance abuse disorder and mental illness. Dialectical behavior therapy is designed to address both problems at once.

Originally used on patients with borderline personality disorder and suicidal thoughts, dialectical behavior therapy focuses on helping patients build the coping skills and confidence to handle stressful situations in a healthy, productive manner. Commonly emphasized skills include:

  • Distress tolerance
  • Mindfulness
  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal effectiveness
  • Emotional regulation
  • Self-image empowerment

This is typically achieved through a combination of skills training, individual therapy, team consultation, and support groups.


Whereas many therapeutic methods involve sitting back and talking with a therapist to puzzle out the heart of a problem, experiential therapy is much more hands-on.

One of the more nontraditional therapy methods in the therapist’s roster, experiential therapy focuses less on talk therapy and more on putting a patient in an environment where they feel comfortable expressing themselves and addressing issues. Common experiential therapies include:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Recreation therapy
  • Rock climbing
  • Ropes courses
  • Sculpting
  • Wilderness therapy

This may be a good option for patients who aren’t comfortable sitting in an office to talk to a therapist. It’s not just fun and games though. It’s about helping those in recovery develop a stronger sense of self in order to address past traumas and deal with difficult situations without turning to drugs.


For recovering addicts who consider themselves religious, getting clean isn’t just a process of learning to live without drugs. Many people struggle with their faith in relation to their addiction, questioning what their addiction means for their spirituality and their belief in God.

Faith-based rehabilitation addresses both physical and spiritual concerns – the difficulty of getting sober and the difficulty of wrestling what that addiction means for their faith.

Faith-based therapy provides all of the same medical services and therapies offered by other therapies. But it offers them with spirituality as the bedrock, which can be comforting for individuals who have spent their lives with religion as a foundational support system.

Many of the therapies listed here may also be considered faith-based if they are provided with a faith-based foundation by a treatment center with a focus on faith and spiritual healing.

Finding the Right Substance Abuse Program

On one hand, knowing that there are so many potential treatment options out there can be a great comfort. On the other hand, it can also make the whole process more confusing if you don’t know where to begin.

The trick to finding a good addiction recovery program is not to find the best possible one, but rather to find the best possible option for your loved one.

For example, it won’t do much good for your loved one to go to a Christian faith-based treatment program if they’re an atheist or non-Christian.

Steps to Finding a Treatment Program

There are a few simple steps you can follow to find the right program for your loved one.

For starters, you should do your research and know your loved one. Are they more of a rational, hard logic-type, or are they more spiritual? Are they the type of person who’s good at talking through their thoughts when prompted, or do they work through problems by using their hands?

Once you have a handle on what your loved one would best respond to, do some research on treatment options in your area relative to what you can afford and what option is most realistic for your loved one in terms of work, family, life, recovery balance. Bring the family in on it to help.

After you’ve narrowed down a few options, don’t be shy. Start calling each individual program with a list of questions about their treatment options, what type of substance abuse recovery they specialize in, and their treatment philosophy.

If at all possible, you should visit treatment facilities, especially detox centers or inpatient treatment centers. Take a tour of the facilities and get a realistic assessment of what you see.

For example, is the staff helpful and engaged? Can they readily answer your questions about treatment, day-to-day routines, and patient care? Are they attentive to patients? Do the patients there seem happy to be there? Can you talk to one of the doctors who might treat your loved one?

If your loved one is receptive, bring them in on the process. They know themselves best and will be able to help choose the right treatment center for them. If they’re not comfortable with a certain treatment facility, it’s not the right fit for them. This is also an opportunity to help them conquer myths and fears surrounding therapy and mental health treatment.

Do You Need to Find Treatment Programs?

We know that you and your family are going through a difficult time. Addressing your loved one’s addiction at all is a huge first step towards helping your loved one, and your family, begin the healing process.

It’s a scary process and it may take time, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

If your loved one is fighting addiction, we’re here to help you explore your treatment options. Use our search tool to find a treatment program in your area, or get in touch with us 24/7 for a confidential consultation.