The Use of Psychology in Addiction Treatment and Recovery

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A loved one’s behavior and thought patterns often change after abusing drugs or alcohol. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (1) says that drugs interfere with the way that the brain communicates and floods the brain’s reward system with dopamine.

Although the physical reactions to the substance contribute to an addiction, the psychological aspects of an addiction also play a role in the recovery process. During treatment, a loved one must address the emotional and psychological dependence that develops during an addiction. This is why the use of psychology in addiction treatment and recovery is often very effective.

Psychological Treatments Used in Addiction Recovery

The field of psychology offers several treatment options. The best solutions for any individual’s specific needs or goals will vary. In general, addiction recovery focuses on specific types of psychological treatments.

Common psychological treatments used in addiction recovery include:

According to Psychology Today (2), positive psychology is a growing field within addiction treatment because it focuses on helping individuals recognize their personal strengths and focus on recovery from a positive stand point.

Essentially, the treatment recognizes the science behind addiction and the factors that contribute to substance abuse, but also assists individuals in making long-term changes to their behavior so the risk of relapse is limited. Counseling and psychoanalytic treatments focus on helping individuals recognize the triggers that make drugs or alcohol tempting.

It also identifies the underlying causes of an addiction so that a treatment program addresses these possible complications. Cognitive-behavioral therapies recognize the potential for thought processes to influence a loved one’s behavior and then works on changing the behavior by adjusting the individual’s way of thinking.

Advantages of Using Psychology in Addiction Treatment and Recovery

According to the American Psychological Association (3), individual treatment for addiction allows a person to focus on their personal goals and needs. Psychological treatments handle a loved one’s specific concerns by addressing the causes on an individual basis.

During psychological treatment, a loved one talks directly to a psychologist in a private setting. It allows a professional to identify the causes of an addiction and then create a personalized treatment plan for long-term recovery goals.

Benefits of psychological addiction treatments include:

  • Identifying factors that contribute to an addiction, such as a traumatic experience, a mental health disorder, or an accident that resulted in physical injuries
  • Creating a safe environment for a loved one
  • Working on changing behavioral patterns based on a loved one’s specific thought processes
  • One-on-one conversations and treatments with a psychologist
  • Addressing addiction triggers

Psychology plays an essential role in recovery because it addresses the emotional and mental health factors that contribute to substance abuse. The treatment recognizes that drugs or alcohol change the way a loved one thinks and behaves, so it specifically addresses the root cause of an addiction.

Obtaining Recovery Goals

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (4) reports that an effective treatment plan incorporates several solutions, including cognitive or behavioral therapies and counseling programs. Treating addiction with a psychological program allows a loved one to make positive changes and focus on personal strengths.

Recovering from an addiction requires the right combination of treatment solutions. Psychology plays an essential role because it helps a loved one find realistic ways to cope with temptations and solutions for negative thought patterns.

It also helps a loved one adjust personal behavior and recognize when a situation might trigger cravings or temptations for a substance. It teaches the person how to avoid drugs or alcohol and reach long-term goals.


  1. Drugs and the Brain, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2014,
  2. Constance Scharff, Ph.D., The Use of Positive Psychology in Addiction Treatment, Psychology Today, July 23, 2014,
  3. Tori DeAngelis, Substance Abuse Treatment: An Untapped Opportunity for Practitioners, The American Psychological Association, June 2001,
  4. DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, September 2009,

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