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What are Evidence-Based Therapies?

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that must be managed long-term to achieve sobriety. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 48.7 million people had a substance use disorder in 2022.[1]

Specialists have found specific therapeutic modalities that are effective in helping people manage substance abuse issues. Known as evidence-based therapies, these counseling models help reduce addictive tendencies, instill proper coping mechanisms, address the root causes of one’s addiction, and help people change negative patterns of behavior.

If you attend an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment center, you will participate in several evidence-based therapies.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What evidence-based therapies are
  • Why an evidence-based approach is important in substance abuse treatment
  • Types of evidence-based therapies used for addiction treatment
  • How each type of therapy works

What are Evidence-Based Therapies in Addiction Treatment?

When something is evidence-based, that means it has been studied and is clinically proven as an effective treatment modality. Therapies that are considered evidence-based undergo extensive testing to ensure that they meet certain criteria, including:

  • Empirical data – Evidence-based therapy relies on research literature that demonstrates the effectiveness of specific therapeutic interventions. This empirical support ensures that the therapy has been rigorously tested and shown to produce positive outcomes for individuals with particular concerns.
  • Therapist expertise – In addition to evidence from research, the therapist’s clinical expertise plays a significant role in evidence-based therapy. Therapists are trained professionals who use their knowledge, skills, and experience to tailor interventions to meet the unique needs of each client. This expertise involves not only implementing standardized techniques but also tailoring them to fit the individual client’s circumstances, strengths, challenges, and treatment goals.
  • Individual needs and preferences – Lastly, evidence-based therapy recognizes the importance of considering the individual client’s needs, preferences, and cultural background. Therapy is most effective when it is personalized and tailored to the specific goals, values, and circumstances of the client. Therapists must collaborate with clients to develop treatment plans that align with their preferences and priorities for positive treatment outcomes.

Evidence-based treatments for substance use disorders include:[2]

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational interviewing (MI)
  • Contingency management (CM)
  • The matrix model
  • 12-step facilitation therapy
  • Family behavior therapy

Types of evidence-based therapy used in addiction treatment are:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely used therapies for addiction. It is also used for a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. This counseling model focuses on altering negative patterns of thinking and behavior while instilling healthy coping mechanisms.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), CBT helps clients:[3]

  • Recognize distortions in thinking that are leading to issues in one’s life
  • Gain a better understanding of the behavior and motivations of others
  • Use problem-solving skills to cope with hard situations
  • Learn to develop greater self-confidence in one’s abilities
  • Face one’s fears instead of avoiding them
  • Use role-playing to prepare for problematic interactions with others
  • Learn to self-regulate one’s emotions

This therapy is helpful for those with addiction because substance abuse stems from patterns of negative thinking and an inability to control one’s own emotions. When you can change your patterns of thought into something positive and regulate your own feelings, you are less likely to engage in drug or alcohol misuse.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Motivational interviewing (MI) is an evidence-based therapy for addiction and substance abuse. When someone is in early recovery from addiction, they tend to have ambivalent feelings towards drugs and alcohol. While they want to recover, they also rely on substances to feel better.

MI focuses on resolving your ambivalence towards recovery.[4] By motivating you to create change in your life and helping you commit to positive changes, your feelings about recovery will begin to shift. Instead of having mixed feelings about staying sober, you will begin to recognize that drugs and alcohol are the culprits for the issues in your life and that life is better when you’re clean.

Contingency Management (CM)

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine (NLM), “Contingency management refers to a type of behavioral therapy in which individuals are ‘reinforced’, or rewarded, for evidence of positive behavioral change.”[5]

Contingency management (CM) is an approach to treating addiction that uses rewards for motivation. For example, many people engaging in CM receive personalized rewards for every 30 days that they remain sober. When they meet other milestones in recovery such as completing the 12 steps or speaking in a meeting for the first time, they might receive an award as well.

By rewarding milestones and achievements in recovery, clients begin to work harder to progress. Over time, their brains will associate recovery achievements with emotional rewards, lessening the need for material prizes.

The Matrix Model

The Matrix Model is a type of therapeutic approach intended to treat stimulant abuse. It was created in the 1980s when stimulant addiction hit an all-time high. This treatment program is widely used in outpatient settings, as it is a direct and nonconfrontational approach to positive behavior change.[6]

The Matrix Model uses several types of services and support to foster recovery from addiction, including:

  • Relapse prevention groups
  • Educational groups on addiction
  • Social support groups
  • Individual therapy
  • Randomized drug and alcohol testing

12-Step Facilitation Therapy

Addiction treatment programs often incorporate the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous into their treatment plans. When this is done, it is known as 12-step facilitation therapy. Using the 12 steps to help clients recover offers a form of structure that is incredibly beneficial in the recovery from addiction.

During 12-step facilitation therapy, the therapist will take the role of the “sponsor.” This means the therapist is guiding their clients through the steps. The 12 steps include:[7]

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Decided to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Became entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Family Behavior Therapy

Lastly, family therapy is a clinically proven practice for addiction recovery. This therapeutic model is designed to address any broken relationships among the family, educate the family on addiction, and gather more support for the client recovering from addiction.

Family behavior therapy makes it easier for the client to recover, as they will develop healthier relationships with their family members. They will also gain support by having their family members play active roles in their substance abuse recovery journey.

Begin Evidence-Based Therapy for Substance Abuse Today

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction, it’s time to seek help. Addiction treatment programs like Mandala Healing Center use evidence-based approaches to treat substance use disorders.

At Mandala Healing Center, clients are taken on a journey of healing through complete immersion into evidence-based clinical modalities, multifaceted alternative therapies, and expert medical management, allowing them to fully detox and recover from drug and alcohol addictions. Through a program of care designed to encourage change, a foundation is created that allows clients to find their higher purpose and reclaim their lives.

Contact us today to learn about our treatment programs or get started with a confidential, risk-free assessment.


  1. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): HHS, SAMHSA Release 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Data
  2. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Evidence-based practices for substance use disorders
  3. The American Psychological Association (APA): What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
  4. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Motivational Interviewing as a Counseling Style
  5. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Contingency management: what it is and why psychiatrists should want to use it
  6. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): The matrix model of outpatient stimulant abuse treatment: history and description
  7. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): TWELVE STEP FACILITATION THERAPY MANUAL