alcohol and drug abuse

Brief Therapy for Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Minimal Interventions can Work for Moderate Substance Users

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Those with risky consumption patterns can be helped by problem-specific approaches. Self-directed change in substance abuse behaviors can occur.

Brief therapy investigates a problem and develops a solution in consultation with the client. Research and anecdotal evidence support the efficacy of brief therapy in the treatment of substance abuse.

What Are Brief Intervention and Therapy?

Brevity and lower cost make brief therapy and intervention ideal mechanisms to treat moderate or at-risk substance abusers who have not experienced, or are just beginning to experience, related workplace problems, marital problems and DWI to car accidents and injuries. Interventions that raise awareness in clients can be as short as five minutes and can be provided by nurses, physician assistants, social workers and drug and alcohol counselors with minimal education and training in the use of brief interventions. Therapy, on the other hand, requires certification after years of study. Brief therapy generally includes one hour sessions for as many as six times.

The Goal is Reduced Harm

Brief, systematic, well planned interventions work to help clients reduce or stop substance abuse. The goal of brief interventions is to reduce the risk of harm that will occur with continued substance abuse. This includes harm to the client, his family, and the community.

Brief intervention and therapy are not a care substitute for high level substance abuse. They can serve as a first step when clients are resistant to more extensive treatment or when such treatment is not accessible. Brief intervention can serve the needs of developmentally or physiologically impaired individuals who cannot benefit from inpatient treatment. Those who gain the most from brief interventions and therapy are the very large numbers of mid-range substance abusers. For them, an increase in positive outcomes is likely in a variety of settings for a variety of problems from at-risk use to dependence. As a method to change specific behaviors before or during other modes of treatment, brief interventions are also effective.

A Non-confrontational Approach Works

Brief interventions and therapy are not shorter versions of longer treatment. They are brief because they are focused on current concerns and stressors, not past trauma. The client identifies their problem and is helped to gain awareness of related substance abuse patterns that need to change. The client’s strengths are used to build solutions, because he chooses from a menu of options and takes responsibility for working on changes. With professional encouragement that is warm and empathic rather than confrontational, the client is helped to monitor his own progress.

Brief Intervention Comes From a Background of Inpatient Treatment

The basis for brief intervention and therapy comes from a history of substance abuse treatment that initially served only the most impaired individuals. As perspective shifted to include DWI intervention and other community-based referrals, providers noted that less dysfunctional clients were able to achieve greater success. As treatment became more holistic, addressing specific medical, legal, family, vocational and financial problems related to substance abuse, it was recognized that many clients benefited from such a focused approach.

Brief interventions and therapy can serve to solve problems associated with substance abuse by raising awareness and using client-led solutions to change destructive patterns of behavior. This approach came out of case management methods used in more extensive treatment.