Specialized Addiction Treatment: Why it is Important

No single addiction treatment works for everyone.1 Brain and body chemistry, as well as community upbringing, add unique variables to who you are. Substance use disorders (SUDs) can complicate these biological and environmental factors. Particular substances as well as co-occurring mental health conditions influence which type of treatment best fits the user.1 Thus, if you have an addiction, you need treatment settings, interventions, and services matched to your constellation of needs and issues.1 Specialized addiction treatment exists to address this need.

In this article:

What is Specialized Addiction Treatment?

Specialized addiction treatment caters to specific groups of people to address and treat their substance use. Comprehensive care often includes specialized treatment. This helps to treat the whole person, accounting for their culture, daily life challenges, and relationships.

At their core, specialized interventions are designed for unique communities, families, children, or circumstances. Examples include:

  • Families living in poverty
  • Homeless persons
  • Victims of interpersonal violence or who have personal trauma
  • Children of depressed or substance-using parents
  • Children with impeded social skills
  • Persons with mental health disorders who misuse drugs

These persons may encounter certain difficulties that increase their chances of developing SUDs.

The goal of specialized addiction treatment is to reduce these risk factors, increase protective factors, or both. The American Psychological Association (APA) noted that youth populations with SUDs tend to respond well when family or support systems are involved in their treatment. This is one kind of specialized approach. Expanding further, the APA notes how housing programs for homeless persons who have an SUD help establish stable housing to address substance misuse.2, 3

Often, SUDs accompany other difficulties or mental health disorders, leading to a dual diagnosis. Psychologists note that specialization addresses dual diagnoses better than general approaches.3

An advantage of these specialized programs is a focused effort that distributes resources to those at high risk of developing behavioral health issues. Specialized treatment can impact workforce expansion and training positively. In turn, persons who receive specialized addiction treatment may have improved economic outcomes.2

Types of Specialized Addiction Treatment

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) illustrates numerous types of specialties that exist when trying to treat SUDs. They note facilities may cater to:3, 4

  • Persons with co-occurring mental health issues in addition to SUDs
  • Those who have eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, bulimia, or anorexia
  • Particular religious and faith-based communities
  • Persons who have experienced sexual trauma or abuse
  • Criminal justice populations
  • LGBTQ+ communities
  • Gender-specific populations (i.e., exclusively men or women)
  • Specific age ranges (e.g., youth, adolescents, or older persons)
  • Pregnant or nursing parents
  • Persons with behavioral addictions, such as gambling or internet addiction
  • Those who have trouble managing pain
  • Veterans
  • Luxury or private treatment requests
  • Diversion programs instituted by courts
  • Legal professionals
  • Specialized treatment modalities (12-step, harm reduction, holistic or alternative therapies)
  • Medically assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Specific substance users (e.g., opioids, hypnotics, prescription medications)

These specialized facilities do numerous things; here are but a few. Sociocultural models in some of these facilities engage patients in supportive social networks. They stress how physical or social environments are inadequate for stable living and demonstrate how to change said environments. This can be accomplished through spiritual activities and engagement, or in self-help fellowships. Often, these are led by persons in active recovery whose experience is valued. This value can be generated by being a member of the specific group (e.g., LGBTQ+ persons, ethnic or racial minorities, or religious communities).4

What to Expect in Specialized Addiction Treatment

Broadly speaking, substance use treatment can be broken down into inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare programs. However, specialized addiction treatment also addresses specific types of substance use disorders.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

For example, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is tailored to suit specific substance use disorders. Not many MATs used to treat alcohol use disorder are used for opioid misuse. In the case of stimulants, no MAT is approved by the FDA, and so each symptom is addressed as it arises. If your substance of choice is, say, Norco, then you may receive MAT for detox and treatment in the form of one of the following:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naloxone
  • Naltrexone
  • Suboxone

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies are used in conjunction with MAT in all these facilities and are easily adapted for individual therapy or group therapy settings. Some therapies you may come across in a substance use treatment facility may include:12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) focuses on better understanding the interplay between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how these interactions create maladaptive patterns of functioning and distress
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a good treatment option for those who have developed or have a long-standing history of pervasive mood dysregulation and hyper-reactivity and teaches problem-solving strategies
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based approach that focuses on utilizing your value sets to increase cognitive flexibility to change your relationship to life events
  • Trauma therapy such as CBT with exposure, eye-movement desensitization (EMDR), or cognitive processing therapy (CPT), often used to help those with trauma histories create a more linear narrative of their traumatic experiences so that they can understand what happened to them and learning how to apply coping skills in real-time when triggered by upsetting emotions or thoughts
  • Art therapy, which is particularly useful for those who have either have an impoverished emotional vocabulary, have a hard time verbally expressing themselves, or need a nonverbal strategy for communication and promotes symptom management and personal growth by decreasing shame, guilt, and denial; reducing resistance to treatment, motivating movement towards change, and facilitating discussions
  • Group therapy is curative because certain benefits such as getting corrective feedback from peers (e.g., support, peer confrontation, and affiliation) happens in real-time in a quasi-social setting, whereas in individual therapy, it is just the therapist and you in the room
  • Family therapy focuses on the family unit as an interrelated system that responds to, changes with, and adapts to changes within this system, of which, some alterations may or may not be helpful, despite being based on self-preservation
  • Holistic therapy, which is a catch-all term for nontraditional treatments for your whole body and mental wellness vis-a-vis art, meditation, music, equine therapy, yoga, nutrition, massage, acupuncture, and mindfulness training

Call 800-914-7089 (Info iconWho Answers?) to find a facility for specialized addiction treatment near you. You can talk to a specialist to discuss available specialized addiction treatment options.

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  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Effective Treatment.
  2. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.
  3. American Psychological Association. (2019). “Whole Person Approach” Needed to Solve Opioid Epidemic, says APA.
  4. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services & Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (1997). A Guide to Substance Abuse Services for Primary Care Physicians.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (3rd Ed.).
  6. Psychiatric Research Institute. (2022). What is Methadone?
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  15. Oren, E. and Solomon, R.M. (2012). EMDR Therapy: An Overview of its Development and Mechanisms of Action. European Review of Applied Psychology, 62(4), 197-203.
  16. National Center for PTSD. (2014). Cognitive Processing Therapy: Veteran/Military Version: Therapist and Patient Materials Manual.
  17. Aletraris, L., Paino, M., Edmond, M.B., Roman, P.M., & Bride, B.E. (2014). The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. Journal of Addictions Nursing, 25(4), 190-196.
  18. Coco, G.L., Melchiori, F.M., Oieni, V. & Infurna, M.R.. (2019).Group Treatment for Substance Use Disorder in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized-Controlled Trials. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 99, 104-116.
  19. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2020). Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Family Therapy.
  20. Kern-Godal, A., Brenna, A.H., Arnevik, E.A., & Ravndal, E. (2016). More than Just a Break in Treatment: How Substance Use Disorder Patients Experience the Stable Environment in Horse-Assisted Therapy. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 10, 99-108.
  21. Adeoyin, A.C., Burns, N., Jackson, H.M., & Franklin, S. (2014). Revisiting Holistic Interventions in Substance Abuse Treatment. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 24(5), 538-546.
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