According to theNational Institute on Drug Abuse, there are over 15,000 different alcohol and drug rehab habilitation treatment centers in the United States, and these centers specialize in different approaches to treatment. When attempting to find a specific treatment center online, whether it be a local treatment center, one in a different part of the country, or an online treatment program, one first needs to determine what type of intervention they are looking for (e.g., inpatient or residential treatment, care for co-occurring disorders, etc.).

The best overall treatment programs are most often able to handle the entire spectrum of issues that can present with individuals attempting to recover from a substance use disorder. Others may specialize in specific types of treatments or specific interventions (e.g., inpatient withdrawal management, outpatient therapy, etc.).

The Process of Finding Recovery Online

Things to Consider When Investigating Treatment Programs Online

No matter what type of specific program one is attempting to become involved in, there are some general principles that are associated with the effectiveness of treatment for substance use disorders that one should consider when attempting to choose a recovery program. According to NIDA and other sources that define the principles of effective treatment for substance use disorders, one should consider all of the following:

  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Substance use disorder treatment will vary depending on the type of the drug the individual has used/abused and the characteristics of the individual. It is critical that the individual matches the treatment program to their specific needs. When investigating a particular treatment program online, look to see how the program advertises its interventions and how they fit one’s specific needs. When contacting a program, ask both general questions regarding the interventions, length of stay in the program, cost, insurance coverage issues, etc., and include very specific questions regarding individual needs and how the program addresses them.
  • When you are ready to enter treatment, it should be immediately available. It is extremely important that the treatment be available to the individual when they are ready to enter it. If the individual wants to enter a treatment program that day, they should be able to do so. Waiting for days, weeks, or months to get into what one considers to be an “ideal program” can lead to significant issues with continuing drug or alcohol abuse, potential health problems, overdose issues, legal issues, etc. Make sure you can get into the treatment program today or the day that you are ready to enter it.
  • The first step of any treatment program should be a thorough physical, psychological, intellectual, and social assessment performed by licensed mental health professionals. Effective treatment programs attend to the multiple needs of their clients. Often, individuals entering into substance use disorder treatment are not fully aware of the exact issues that may need to be addressed in addition to their substance use disorder. Research consistently shows that individuals who have co-occurring psychological disorders, significant physical problems, issues with family, or lingering cognitive issues need to have treatment address these issues along with the treatment for their substance abuse problem. Simply treating the substance abuse issue and ignoring these other issues is a strategy that is doomed to fail.

    The purpose of a thorough assessment is to identify issues that need to be addressed, make them part of the overall treatment plan, and address them effectively. In addition, even though the first step of becoming involved in a substance use disorder treatment program is undergoing a thorough assessment, the assessment process should continue throughout the individual’s treatment to monitor their progress, assess any unmet needs, and make changes to the program that would benefit the individual’s recovery. Inquire as to how the specific treatment center manages to do this while the individual is in their recovery program.

  • The core component of substance use disorder treatment is substance abuse psychotherapy. Despite many programs advertising certain “breakthrough” or “new” approaches to treating substance use disorders, the research has consistently supported the notion that the core component of addressing a substance use disorder is being involved in substance use disorder therapy. The therapy can be individual therapy or group therapy (e.g., therapy in groups with other individuals in recovery or family therapy with family members), or it can combine both individual and group therapy sessions into the overall program.

    Other forms of treatment, such as medical management, support group involvement, complementary treatments like art therapy, etc., can help to enhance the effectiveness of the overall treatment program; however, the core component for any substance use disorder treatment program should be substance use disorder psychotherapy. Most sources, including NIDA, state that the preferred form of psychotherapy for treating substance use disorders is some form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Be sure to inquire about the type of therapy that the treatment program uses and how it is delivered.

  • Medical management interventions should be available, if needed. While psychotherapy is the core component of any substance use disorder recovery program, therapeutic interventions can be greatly enhanced by the use of medical management techniques, such as the use of specific medicines to control cravings, issues with withdrawal, and assist in the treatment of any co-occurring disorders. It is important to inquire about the availability of medically assisted treatment in addition to any psychotherapy interventions and social support group interventions the program offers.
  • The treatment program should be of sufficient duration and have sufficient long-term aftercare capabilities. Individuals entering withdrawal management programs (medical detox programs) need to be aware that once the individual has negotiated the withdrawal symptoms associated with their drug of abuse, they are only in the beginning stages of their recovery. Simply undergoing withdrawal management without follow-up treatment is not sufficient.

    Substance use disorder treatment programs should be of significant duration; therapy can often last for several months to years, and support group participation should be ongoing. Research indicates that the length of time an individual remains in treatment is related to the probability that the recovery program will be successful, with individuals remaining in some form of treatment-related activity for longer periods of time demonstrating more positive outcomes. Inquire as to the length of the particular program, any aftercare programs that are available, and any long-term programs the treatment center offers.

  • Objective measures should be used to test for compliance. Many readers may not like this one, but effective substance use disorder treatment programs use some objective measure periodically to ensure that an individual is remaining abstinent from drugs or alcohol, such as urine tests or other objective clinical measures. It is important to ask if the program uses these types of measures. As uncomfortable as it may sound, when individuals in a substance use disorder treatment program are held accountable for their behavior, they tend to experience more success.

Online Programs

There are numerous online substance use disorder treatment programs available to individuals who are able to benefit from this type of treatment. For instance, many popular 12-Step groups offer online meetings, including:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous: AA offers numerous online meetings. A list of online meetings can be found at aa-intergroup.org . There is also a link that can be used to listen to different speakers from around the world discussing various issues related to AA and recovery from substance use disorders.
  • Narcotics Anonymous: The site na-recovery.org is not formally affiliated with NA, but it does help members connect with one another online for extra support.
  • Marijuana Anonymous: MA offers online meetings.
  • Social media: Numerous online supports can be found on popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

It is important to note that many of the above online 12-Step group meetings may not satisfy the particular requirements of the legal system or of one’s occupation if a person is required to attend these groups. Anyone who is required to attend these types of meetings by some outside organization should make sure that a particular online intervention will satisfy the requirements of the court, their employer, or whatever organization is requiring them to attend the meetings.

There are numerous non-12-Step-based programs for substance use disorder treatment available online. Some of the more established programs include:

  • Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART): SMART is a self-empowered program designed to assist individuals with different substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. SMART utilizes a four-point program to increase and maintain motivation, deal with cravings and urges, manage irrational thoughts, manage emotions, and manage behaviors by living a balanced life. Members in the program can access daily online meetings and message boards as well as chat rooms that are available around the clock.
  • Life Process Program: This program is available online and offers recovery services, tailored exercises, and tools for learning about addiction and becoming sober. The program focuses on long-term recovery.
  • Video conferencing programs: Some larger addiction treatment centers offer videoconferencing programs that can be completed online.
  • Commercial rehabilitation programs: Many of the larger commercial substance use disorder rehabilitation programs offer online treatment including therapy and other support resources. These may be covered by insurance in some instances.

Other online resources exist, including numerous addiction chat rooms, online drug classes (some may be court-approved), and other group meetings that take place online. When investigating these sources, be sure to review the points listed above regarding the basic tenets of effective substance use disorder treatment.

Research regarding the effectiveness of these online-only interventions is mixed; however, there is sufficient research evidence to indicate that they can be effective for some individuals in recovery. Again, it is important to ensure that the treatment program meets the specifications of what has been empirically designated as an effective treatment practice and that the individual engages in the program and accepts responsibility for their behavior.

For most individuals, engaging in online-only treatment interventions will most likely not be sufficient to help them recover from their substance use disorder. Instead, online resources, such as support group meetings, various recovery plans, and chat rooms, can be a useful adjunctive intervention to an overall recovery plan.