Treatment tips

Is therapy necessary during OUD treatment?

Discover the importance of therapy during opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment. Learn about types of therapy, benefits, and how it complements medication.

By:
Ophelia team
Therapy and OUD treatment
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Fact checked by
Ashley Mazei, NP

In the United States alone, tens of millions of people experience a substance use disorder of some kind. Among these people, opioid use disorder (OUD) is one of the most common, and seeking help for it isn’t always easy. These disorders are stigmatized in many social spheres, and that stigma extends to the laws governing the help that exists and the funding that goes toward it.

The stigma also makes seeking opioid counseling even harder, and the associated shame may even stop some people from seeking help at all. Mental health disorders in general are highly stigmatized in the US, and getting treatment for them isn’t easy either, but the fact is that many patients with OUD can benefit greatly from concurrent opioid counseling, mental health treatment, and behavioral therapy. 

Do I need to be in therapy during OUD treatment?

While it may be highly beneficial, enrolling in behavioral treatment is not strictly required for admission into most OUD treatment programs. Patients who wish to take medication for addiction treatment may do so without enrolling in behavioral therapy.

However, because opioid use disorder and mental health issues have a high likelihood of co-occurrence, your opioid treatment specialist may recommend recovery counseling in addition to standard treatment.

3 types of therapy for opioid users

1. Family therapy

Addictions of all types are often destructive to a person’s social life, starting with the relationships within one’s family. But the inverse is also true: One of the best predictors of long-term success in kicking addiction is the strength of an individual’s social connections and support system.

Family therapy incorporates an OUD patient’s family members and loved ones into the therapy process to help mend relationships and rebuild a strong, dedicated support system. Family therapy also helps family members become educated about OUD and its effects, allowing them to better understand how to provide support. Another focus of family therapy is to help all parties earn and rebuild trust, which is often lost when a patient is experiencing active addiction.

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy

Also known as CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common therapy methods for patients with OUD. Cognitive behavioral therapy has a wide range of other applications thanks to its ability to help patients work through many issues. Every addiction has both cognitive and behavioral impacts, changing the way a person thinks and behaves in specific situations. Additionally, addiction can be spurred by a person’s history, especially in those who experience high levels of stress and pain. 

CBT helps patients in opioid counseling examine how their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes impact their everyday behaviors. By identifying these influences, you can challenge negative thoughts and feelings when they arise and change any resulting behavior. This often involves developing individual coping strategies to help deal with negative thought patterns. This action-oriented type of therapy helps the patient take an active role in their treatment, and it has shown lots of potential in treating OUD.

3. Group therapy

Group therapy combines elements from both family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to allow multiple people with substance use disorders to seek therapy together at the same time. In group therapy sessions, patients with OUD gather with others in similar circumstances to share their experiences, struggles, and hopes.

These sessions are coordinated by a trained group leader who can help patients talk through their experiences, relate to those around them, and build community together, all while providing professional, actionable advice for how to move forward. 

One of the biggest benefits of group therapy is its power to build community in a time of need. Group sessions are intimate meetings that require a lot of empathy and trust. These meetings aid patients in building self-esteem and confidence by showing them that they’re not alone, that the feelings of isolation are surmountable.

How behavioral support can help opioid counseling

Therapy and behavioral support are not strictly necessary when seeking treatment for OUD, and there may be some cases where a clinician won’t recommend a patient undergo both OUD treatment and therapy. However, it’s much more common for addiction treatment professionals to recommend behavioral support.

One reason simultaneous treatment is frequently recommended is that addiction and mental health issues have a high rate of comorbidity. That means that people with mental health issues are far more likely to end up misusing drugs like opioids, and conversely, people experiencing a substance use disorder are far more likely to have underlying mental health problems—such as anxiety or PTSD—exacerbating their addiction.

While it’s true that opioid users often see mental health benefits when starting opioid treatment medications like Suboxone®, these drugs are not proper substitutes for therapy (important safety information).

  • Behavioral support helps patients:
  • Diagnose any underlying mental health disorders
  • Seek treatment for existing mental health issues
  • Safely balance OUD and mental health medications
  • Build behaviors to better support opioid counseling

Good therapy will also aid in diffusing the shame and stigma associated with drug use, break the feeling of isolation so many patients experience, and develop ongoing goals.

Over time, opioids affect many brain functions, including memory, planning, and attentiveness. Since Suboxone blocks opioid receptors and reduces cravings to reduce the risk of overdose, it takes away the potency and appeal of drugs. This can make it easier for patients to work through underlying mental health factors that might have contributed to their opioid use.

While patients who also experience or have experienced trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other conditions are likely to benefit the most from behavioral support, therapy can aid in the recovery process for all different types of patients. Therapy provides an outlet for patients to express themselves, build connections, and engage in more authentic and meaningful activities. This can be grounding for many, and it may help OUD medications be more effective in the long term. 

Ophelia’s OUD treatment model

At Ophelia, our clinicians primarily prescribe Suboxone (and its generic form) for the treatment of OUD, but we are also able to prescribe medication for the symptoms of withdrawal, as well as the depression, anxiety, and insomnia that often accompany it.

While we do not currently offer in-house therapy, we encourage all patients to seek behavioral support to help improve their addiction treatment journey. We are happy to make the necessary accommodations for patients with co-occurring mental health conditions for any patient in need. Our goal is to provide highly personalized care that removes barriers and makes sense for every aspect of a patient’s life. Find out if you’re a candidate for our telehealth services and a Suboxone prescription.

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