Sober Living: Brief Counseling Works for Alcohol, Not for Drugs

Sober Living: Brief Counseling Works for Alcohol Addiction But Not for Drugs | Transcend Recovery Community

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) requires that physicians screen their patients for alcohol or drug use. Of those patients that appear to be using, physicians are required to refer them to sober living facilities where they might be able to participate in drug counseling and withdrawal.

However, research indicates that sober living services that are brief in nature are beneficial for alcohol addiction but not for drug addiction. Specifically, brief counseling appears to be a sober living service that might have an effect on an individual’s use of alcohol and may potentially influence them to end their addiction. Whereas with drug addiction, brief counseling may not have the same effect.

Typically, if an addict decides to get sober, he or she will attend a treatment center and then a sober living transitional home. However, the encouragement to begin this process might need to happen in therapy. Brief therapy is the use of specific therapeutic concepts and principles in a focused, purposeful way. It defines problems as temporary and changeable. Although the causes of problems may be complex, the therapeutic focus is on what can change in order to facilitate the resolution of the problem. The focus of Brief Therapy is on the client’s strengths and the possibilities for change. Therapy is solution oriented, using time wisely and efficiently.

Certainly, Brief Therapy might include traditional methods of individual therapy in order to facilitate change. For instance, various treatment methods, such as Motivational Interviewing or principles from the 12-step method or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Essentially, there are two major groups of therapy. Those that promote insight or revelation regarding thought pattern, history, behavior, or life choices are called insight therapies. They are typically concerned with the causes of behavior and choices. On the other hand, those therapies that focus on how a disorder manifests in your life and aim to teach new forms of behavior, decision making, or thought patterns are called learning-based or cognitive therapies. These therapies are not so concerned with causes as they are with making change to patterns of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Brief therapy utilizes more of the latter in order to facilitate solutions quickly and support an individual in healing his or her addiction and finding sober living opportunities.

Researchers have found, however, that brief  therapy does not reduce the use of marijuana, cocaine, or opioids. The study that revealed this information pointed to the fact that clinicians should look beyond screening and sober living services, brief therapy for illicit drug use. Instead, for drug use, more complex services are required, perhaps those that are longer in length and include care management services. “Brief counseling can work for a lot of things, but we found no evidence to support the widespread implementation of universal screening and brief intervention for illicit drug use or prescription drug misuse,” Saitz said, lead researcher in the investigation of the impact of Brief Therapy on various forms of addiction.

On the other hand, to facilitate sobriety in those addicted to alcohol, brief therapy appeared to have a positive influence. Perhaps one reason is that risky alcohol use is socially sanctioned and for that reason, individuals might be more prone to admitting that they have a problem and open to acquiring help for it. However, with illicit drug use, there are more complicated presenting issues that brief therapy and other sober living services might not be able to address right away.

Furthermore, the intrinsic motivation, which is the internal drive to change, may be stronger in those who are addicted to alcohol rather than addicted to illicit drugs. Of course, each situation varies; however, intrinsic motivation is a significant factor in one’s ability to agree to sober living services. Once an individual recognizes and admits his or her need to change, he or she is more likely to begin the road to recovery.


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