Substance Use Disorder Treatment Programs and Options

Substance use disorder treatment programs and plans work well. 

The most common substance abuse disorder treatment programs and options include psychotherapy and medication. In some cases, a combination of the two is appropriate and is shown to be more effective than either treatment option alone. Additional options are available for more severe forms of substance use disorder. Following an initial assessment, your provider can help determine the most appropriate substance abuse disorder treatment programs and plan for you.

Getting the right treatment

Is substance use disorder the root cause — or are substances being used to mask something else?

The causes of substance use disorder are often complex. Traumatic experiences or undiagnosed psychiatric conditions may lead people to seek out both legal and illegal ways to self-medicate. Substance use disorders can also be part of or exist alongside other mental health conditions. For this reason, careful assessment and accurate diagnosis is important. 

If you have tried many methods of treating your substance use disorder and feel like nothing is working — or if there is uncertainty about your diagnosis — consider speaking to your provider about reevaluating your diagnosis or treatment plan. It may also be helpful to get a second opinion or seek additional assessment.


Psychotherapy or “talk therapy,” involves working with a trained professional to gain new skills, insight, and support to overcome substance use disorder and other mental health conditions. As described below, there are different types of psychotherapy available, including (1) general psychotherapy or counseling and (2) specific evidence-based psychotherapies (EBPs) that involve learning new skills for changing thoughts, behaviors, and/or patterns of social interaction that contribute to mental health conditions. This is not a complete list of psychotherapeutic approaches but includes some of the most common and effective psychological treatments.

General Psychotherapy

General Psychotherapy involves working with a trained professional in a supportive relationship. The focus of treatment is usually non-specific and addresses general problems or challenges and lifestyle goals.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT helps individuals learn new ways of thinking and reacting to situations so that they have more balanced and helpful thoughts about themselves, others and the future. It also involves teaching new skills for getting more pleasure and meaning out of life. It helps people take an active, problem-solving approach to cope with the many challenges associated with substance use disorders, including recognizing and avoiding situations in which they are most likely to use substances.

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT)

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is designed for adolescents with substance use disorders and aims to improve overall family functioning.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Motivational Interviewing (MI) can be used to help people examine and work out conflicts related to changing their patterns of substance use. It is based on collaboration and compassion and helps people increase awareness of their reasons for changing behaviors and strengthen their commitment to healthier choices.

Contingency Management (CM)

Contingency management (CM) uses vouchers or rewards to encourage recovery behaviors, such as abstinence, often verified through urine drug screens. Incentives increase in size with consistent performance of recovery behaviors, such as consistent negative screens.


Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help with withdrawal symptoms (like reducing cravings), relapse prevention, and treatment of co-occurring conditions.

Support groups

Professionally-led psychotherapy-based support groups can be helpful in creating connection, overcoming challenges, fostering accountability, and developing coping skills. They are often part of a more comprehensive treatment program.

Rehabilitation centers/inpatient treatment

In some instances, the substance type and duration of use (e.g., alcohol, opioid) requires detoxification under professional supervision. This is usually carried out in an inpatient or rehabilitation setting. These substance use disorder treatment programs can also provide much-needed space from triggers, as well as the opportunity to improve coping skills, begin treatment of co-occurring mental health conditions (e.g., depression), and establish a relapse prevention plan. The latter is an important part of recovery and typically serves as a guide for ongoing treatment after the person leaves the inpatient portion of their program.

Intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment

Intensive Outpatient (IOP) Treatment offers intensive services to individuals stepping down from inpatient or rehabilitation centers or to individuals stepping up from outpatient treatment when inpatient management of withdrawal symptoms is not needed. IOP programs typically involve several therapeutic contacts per week, usually consisting of individual psychotherapy and professionally-led therapy groups as well as treatment with a psychiatrist or addiction medicine physician if needed.

How to help a loved one with substance use

How to help a loved one with substance use

Learn more about how to help a loved one with a substance use disorder.

Learn more about how to help a loved one with a substance use disorder.