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Christy Matta, M.A.Christy Matta, M.A.
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Treating Addiction: What Works?

Christy Matta, M.A. Updated: Jun 6th 2013

When you're looking for treatment for addiction, you want to find one that works.

stop addiction signChanging addictive behaviors can be extremely challenging. So, if you or a loved one are seeking treatment or have entered treatment for addiction, you would typically want to find one that has the best success rates.

We know that there are no treatments that have perfect success rates. But, in the last 15 years, there has been a growing movement in psychology to seek evidence that shows which treatments are more effective for treating various mental health issues.

Research studies designed to determine whether a particular treatment achieves what it intended have aided in our ability to understand which treatments are more likely to be successful for which problem.

No research study is faultless, however, as a body of research about a treatment grows with well-designed studies that reproduce results, independently of each other, a treatment may be considered "evidence-based." That is, such treatments have a certain amount of research that suggests they work in the treatment of a particular problem.

When it comes to treating addiction, there are a number of evidence-based treatments, particularly for substance abuse.

According to a recent article in Monitor on Psychology, some of the most strongly supported treatments for addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and contingency management (

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): CBT helps people to recognize and avoid or change destructive thinking. A CBT approach with addictive behaviors might focus on recognizing triggers to addictive behavior and changing or managing those triggers, according to The Monitor. This might include changing problematic beliefs about addictive substances, helping patients not choose substances, even when they have cravings and addressing co-occurring problems, such as depression or anxiety whose symptoms often trigger addictive behaviors.

Motivational Interviewing: Motivational interviewing focuses on exploring motivation and ambivalence towards changing addictive behaviors. It does not impose change, but rather supports change as congruent with the persons own values and concerns. In the treatment of addiction, using motivational interviewing techniques a therapist would collaborate with a client and discover and strengthen that persons own motivation and commitment to making changes. The therapist will help the client see the mismatch between their current behavior and their values and goals and will then help the client commit to change and take action.

Contingency Management: Contingency management is designed to reinforce even the smallest steps towards changing addictive behaviors. Treatment providers provide positive consequences to encourage positive behavior and negative consequences for undesirable behavior. In the treatment of addiction, this might mean receiving tangible rewards, such as transportation vouchers, gift certificates and praise, for attending individual or group therapy sessions in order to increase consistent attendance. Missing therapy is a common problem in the treatment of addiction and can stall or end the treatment process. One study found that contingency management improves the ability of clients to remain abstinent, which enabled them to take fuller advantage of the full range of treatment offered (;jsessionid=D447C775FF78FF506430FC07452AC8F7.d01t01?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false).

Different methods or treatment may be more effective with different people. And the research is continually evolving and informing our understanding of what works best, especially as treatments continue to evolve and emerge. However, when you're seeking treatment for a specific problem, it is helpful to know which treatments the evidence suggests are most effective.


Christy Matta, M.A.

Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free You from Needless Anxiety, Worry, Anger, and Other Symptoms of Stress.” She is intensively trained in DBT and has designed and provided clinical supervision to treatment programs, including a winner of the American Psychiatric Association Gold Award. Matta has a Master of Arts in counseling psychology from Boston College. For more on her consultation and trainings visit her web site For more tips and mindfulness tips and strategies visit her blog

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