Treatment Approaches for Substance Use Disorders

Read on to learn about how Continuum Outpatient Center provides expert substance use disorder treatments for your needs.

What Is a Substance Use Disorder?

A substance use disorder (SUD) happens when the use of alcohol or drugs causes significant distress and impairment.

These disorders are characterized by an array of behavioral and physical symptoms, including:

  • A strong desire to use the substance
  • Difficulties in controlling its use
  • Persisting in the use despite harmful consequences
  • Giving a higher priority to drug use than to other activities and obligations 
  • Increased tolerance
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms
Effective substance use disorder treatments not only aim to reduce or stop substance use – they also help individuals regain their ability to function in daily life. Without treatment, an SUD can lead to long-term health problems and psychological issues.
Substance Use Disorder Treatments

Receiving Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

Depending on the needs of the individual, the severity of their addiction, and other factors, the treatment they receive will vary. An initial assessment from a healthcare professional can help determine what type of treatment or help the individual needs.

Evidence-Based Substance Use Disorder Treatments

Substance use disorder treatments often use a combination of evidence-based approaches to address the complex nature of addiction. While each approach differs in effectiveness and suitability, some of the main evidence-based treatments include:

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

This is mostly used for opioid and alcohol addiction. For substance use disorder treatments, MAT combines medications with counseling and behavioral therapies.

The medications for MAT include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone
  • Disulfiram
  • Acamprosate
MAT helps with withdrawal and cravings, and it also helps reduce illegal drug use.1 The use of MAT as one of the substance use disorder treatments can be effective in keeping people engaged in treatment.

Behavioral Therapies

Some common types of therapies used in substance use disorder treatments include:
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Contingency management (CM)
  • Motivational interviewing (MI)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
These approaches are used for all types of addictions. They focus on changing unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns. They also work to enhance motivation and improve coping skills.2

12-Step Facilitation Therapy

Many treatments for substance use disorder follow a 12-step approach. This approach is inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The 12-steps focus on accepting, surrendering to a higher power, and engaging in recovery steps.
12-step facilitation can be used to treat all types of addiction. It encourages long-term recovery through social support and spiritual engagement.

Harm Reduction

Many substance use disorder treatments include harm reduction. This approach is used for individuals not ready or willing to abstain completely.
It focuses on reducing the negative consequences of substance use, such as:
  • Needle exchange programs
  • Safe consumption spaces
  • Overdose prevention education
Harm reduction reduces the harm from drug use, hopefully before it starts.

The Role of Medication-Assisted Treatment in Substance Use Disorder Treatments

Medication-assisted treatment often plays a crucial role in addressing substance use disorders. MAT combines medication interventions with behavioral therapies to provide a “whole-patient” approach. The key medications used in MAT each work to support recovery and sobriety.


Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist. It activates the same opioid receptors in the brain as drugs such as heroin and prescription painkillers. However, it does not produce the same euphoric effects as those drugs. It also helps ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.3
Methadone helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for many individuals to engage in therapy. This medication is often dispensed in specialized clinics.
Methadone maintenance has been shown to:4
  • Increase treatment retention
  • Reduce illicit opioid use
  • Lower the risk of overdose


Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It binds to opioid receptors but activates them less strongly than full agonists like heroin or methadone. This action reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms without producing a significant high.
Buprenorphine has helped people stay in treatment and use fewer illegal opioids. It’s also used in combination with naloxone (Suboxone) to decrease the potential for misuse.


Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. It blocks opioid receptors in the brain. This prevents opioid drugs from producing pleasurable effects. Naltrexone is also used for alcohol dependence. It reduces the craving for alcohol and the pleasure derived from drinking.5
Naltrexone has been shown to reduce the rate of relapse in opioid and alcohol dependence, further enhancing substance use disorder treatments.
It also:
  • Normalizes brain chemistry
  • Blocks the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids
  • Relieves physiological cravings
  • Normalizes body functions without the negative and euphoric effects of the substance used
This approach allows individuals to regain a more stable state of mind. MAT’s effectiveness is enhanced when combined with counseling and behavioral therapies.

How Do Evidence-Based Substance Use Disorder Treatments Address Psychological Aspects of Addiction?

Behavioral therapies also play a pivotal role in treating SUD. These methods focus on the mental side of addiction. They assist people in altering harmful thoughts and behaviors.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT helps identify and change harmful thoughts that lead to substance use. It helps individuals:6
  • Recognize situations in which they are most likely to use substances.
  • Avoid these situations when appropriate.
  • Learn to handle problems and behaviors related to substance abuse more effectively.
People can improve their coping and decision-making skills by changing their thoughts and actions. This can lead to a decrease in substance use and improved ability to manage risks and cravings.
CBT is highly effective in substance use disorder treatments. It helps prevent relapse and treat other conditions, like depression and anxiety.

Contingency Management (CM)

CM uses a system of incentives to reinforce abstinence and other treatment goals. Individuals get incentives such as gift cards or money as rewards for positive behaviors. This might include attending therapy sessions or testing negative for drug use.7
This positive reinforcement approach increases motivation and encourages adherence to treatment objectives. It’s based on the principle that the behavior that is rewarded is more likely to be repeated.
CM has been very successful in increasing retention and promoting abstinence in substance use disorder treatments. Research shows that people who received CM were 49% more likely to finish treatment compared to those who didn’t take part in CM.8

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)

MET is a client-centered approach aimed at eliciting internally motivated change. MET helps people who are unsure about their addiction and guides them to make a commitment to change.9
MET involves assessment and feedback, followed by motivational interviewing techniques. Therapists help individuals:
  • Explore their ambivalence
  • Enhance their motivation to change
  • Build a plan for change
MET works well for people who are resistant to treatment or lack motivation. This method treats alcohol abuse and works well with other therapies for different substance use disorders.

How is Harm Reduction Used in Substance Use Disorder Treatments?

Harm reduction is a practical approach to substance use disorders. The main focus is on reducing the negative effects of substance use, instead of only promoting abstinence.
While the goal is to stop substance use, this approach recognizes that there are other healthier behaviors to pursue. The key principles and strategies of harm reduction include:10

Non-Judgmental Stance

Harm reduction approaches meet individuals where they are at in their substance use without judgment. This approach helps people who might avoid treatment because they fear judgment or punishment.

Focus on Safety and Health

The main aim is to decrease the harmful effects of drug use on health, society, and the economy. This is done without requiring complete abstinence before receiving help.

Individualized Approach

Harm reduction understands that people and situations may need different strategies. Taking small steps to reduce harm is important.
Strategies in harm reduction in substance use disorder treatments include:
  • Needle and Syringe Programs: These programs give people who use drugs clean needles and syringes to prevent diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C from spreading.
  • Safe Consumption Spaces: Safe consumption spaces are supervised facilities. Individuals can use substances there under trained staff supervision. This helps to reduce the risks of overdose and provide access to emergency care.
  • Education and Outreach: This includes offering information on using drugs safely, recognizing and responding to overdoses, and accessing treatment and support services.
  • Testing Services: This is providing drug checking services to find dangerous substances in street drugs.
These programs focus on immediate health and safety. Also, according to the CDC, overdose deaths increased by 14% between 2020 and 2021. Harm reduction methods can reduce overdose deaths and improve public health outcomes.11

What is the Role of Inpatient Treatment and How Does it Differ from Outpatient Care?

Inpatient substance use disorder treatments play a vital role in treating individuals with severe or complex conditions. These programs provide a structured and supportive place for people who need intensive support.
Inpatient programs provide a highly structured environment. These often include 24-hour supervision and care. This structure is crucial for individuals who might struggle with significant substance cravings or withdrawal symptoms.

Services Offered in Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient programs offer a range of services, including:
  • Medical care
  • Detox support
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Case management
  • Life skills education

Benefits of Inpatient Treatment

It is very important for people with severe symptoms to have constant medical monitoring during detox. They also need support for their mental health. A controlled environment lowers the chance of relapse in treatment, especially in the difficult early stages of recovery.

Differences from Outpatient Programs

Inpatient programs are more intense. Outpatient programs have therapy for a few hours, multiple days a week. In inpatient treatment, individuals live at the treatment facility. Outpatient programs allow people to live at home and maintain their daily routines.
Inpatient treatment is usually best for people with severe addictions or little support at home. For people with less serious addictions and good support, outpatient treatment might work well.
The choice between inpatient and outpatient treatment should be based on the severity of the addiction and the individual’s physical and mental health needs.

What Do Outpatient Substance Use Disorder Treatments Offer?

Outpatient substance use disorder treatments are for people with less severe symptoms or those leaving a residential program. These programs help people who have daily responsibilities and still need treatment.
The benefits of outpatient substance use disorder treatments often include:

Flexibility and Accessibility

Outpatient programs often offer flexible scheduling. This allows individuals to attend treatment activities around their other obligations.

Range of Services

Outpatient treatment provides individual sessions, group therapy, and family therapy. The support of family members in the recovery process can help to repair relationships and improve the home environment.

Outpatient services also include educational workshops. These might cover topics like:

  • The effects of drugs and alcohol on the body and mind
  • The process of addiction
  • Strategies for maintaining sobriety

Intensity Levels

Standard outpatient typically involves 1 to 2 hours of therapy per week, while an intensive outpatient program (IOP) is more comprehensive. These programs provide treatment between 3 to 5 hours per day, for up to 5 days a week.

partial hospitalization program (PHP)is the most intensive form of outpatient treatment. These programs are like inpatient care, with the same intensity and services, but individuals can go home each day.

Outpatient treatment is best for people with a stable living situation and less severe substance use problems. The success of outpatient treatment relies on the person’s dedication and their support system.

The Importance of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis is when an individual has both a substance use and mental health disorder at the same time. Treating dual diagnosis is necessary because both conditions simultaneously impact each other.
Mental health disorders can often lead individuals towards using substances as a form of self-medication. Substance use can also worsen or even cause mental health disorders. This creates a cycle that’s hard to break.12

In treatment, it’s crucial to address both the mental health and substance use disorder at the same time. This is because neglecting one can undermine the treatment of the other. This generally includes a mix of therapy techniques and medication management.

Challenges of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

However, there are challenges in dual diagnosis treatment. Individuals with dual diagnoses often have higher rates of relapse. Research shows that those with dual diagnosis have around a 40% higher chance of relapsing than those without dual diagnosis.13
This means that having dual diagnosis requires more intensive and prolonged treatment.

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Despite the challenges, the benefits of integrated treatment are significant. Integrated treatment has been shown to:
  • Improve outcomes
  • Reduce the severity of mental health symptoms
  • Decrease substance use
  • Enhances quality of life
  • Leads to better relationships

Dual diagnosis treatment understands that mental health and substance use disorders are complex. Treating both conditions together is a better path to recovery and improved well-being.

The Role of Peer Support in Substance Use Disorder Treatments

Peer support and recovery communities are vital in substance use disorder treatments. These support systems are based on the experiences of people who have had SUD. They provide empathy and connection that stem from personal knowledge.
Peer support groups offer a safe space for emotional and social support. This allows individuals to share experiences, challenges, and successes. Social support helps to reduce feelings of isolation and stigma.
One of the key aspects of these communities is the accountability and encouragement they offer. For many in recovery, it’s necessary to distance themselves from previous social networks connected to substance use. Recovery communities offer a healthy social alternative.

Support Groups

Peer support and recovery communities come in different forms, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These groups offer a structured approach to recovery alongside peer support. There are also non-12-step groups such as SMART Recovery.
The impact of these communities on long-term recovery is profound. As individuals recover, they can continue to learn and grow throughout their lives. Substance use disorder treatments often encourage people to join support groups.

Substance Use Disorder Treatments with Continuum Outpatient Center

Continuum Outpatient Center offers outpatient substance use disorder treatments in San Antonio, Texas. Our program provides a range of outpatient services, such as IOP and PHP.
Our programs include individual and group therapy, family counseling, medication-assisted treatment, and more. We can cater to the specific needs of each individual and believe in treating the whole person, not only the addiction.

Reach Out to Our Team Today

Continuum Outpatient Center is dedicated to using both evidence-based and holistic methods so that our clients get the best treatment possible.
We also include peer support groups and holistic wellness to enhance the recovery experience. Our clients learn to create a supportive network that fosters long-term recovery, and our team is here to help work with our clients every step of the way.

Continuum Outpatient Center is here to provide you with the tools and support needed to overcome addiction and rebuild your life. Contact us today.

Questions About Treatment?

Reach out to our knowledgeable and compassionate Continuum Outpatient Center team for the guidance and support you need for sustainable recovery. We’re here to help you build a foundation for long-term happiness, wellness, and healing.