Computer-Based Therapy Effective Treatment For Substance Use Disorder

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Computer-Based Therapy Effective Treatment For Substance Use Disorder

A recent study, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, found that using web-based therapy as a component of substance use disorder treatment is more effective than medication management alone. Critically, this was true even among those with an extensive history of relapses and multiple courses of addiction treatment.

This is especially beneficial since many people who are treated for substance use disorder (SUD) suffer from multiple relapse episodes, and thus, need ongoing, additional treatment.

Researchers noted that technology-based therapy has been shown effective in “a growing line of research,” but “little is known about the effectiveness of technology-based SUD interventions for persons who already had numerous prior SUD treatments.”

The treatment used in the study was a web-based program called the Therapeutic Education System, used as an intervention to treat substance use disorders. It consists of numerous self-directed modules, which include skills training and problem solving, interactive exercises, and homework.

About the Study

Researchers conducted an analysis during a year-long trial with patients who had entered methadone maintenance treatment. Patients were given either standard methadone treatment or the Therapeutic Education System. They used the following treatment history factors:

  • Number of lifetime treatment episodes for SUD
  • Detoxification episodes
  • Inpatient and outpatient episodes

Patients underwent urine testing for the presence of opioids and cocaine over a course of 12 months.

Results showed that standard methadone treatment, in addition to computer-based therapy, produced significantly better opioid abstinence than standard treatment alone. That is, among those who had a moderate-high frequency of lifetime treatment episodes, and those with low-high levels of detox and inpatient/outpatient treatment episodes.

Also, those who used computer-based therapy in addition to methadone treatment revealed greater cocaine abstinence compared to standard treatment alone. That is, among those with high-moderate frequency of lifetime treatment episodes, a high level of detox episodes, and moderate-high level of inpatient treatment history.


According to researchers, anywhere from 40-60% of people discharged from substance abuse treatment programs fully relapse with 12 months. This high number indicates that substance abuse is a chronic illness, and should be treated as such.

There is no magic bullet for curing substance abuse. It requires an integrated, comprehensive approach that includes both medicinal therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Addiction is multi-faceted, but two of the the most critical components fall under chemical addiction (changes in the brain), and psychological addiction (thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are manifestations of the need to self-medicate.)

Therefore, it logically follows that using medicine-based therapy in conjunction with evidence-based technological therapy is more effective than medication alone.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

Primary Source:

Can persons with a history of multiple addiction treatment episodes benefit from technology delivered behavior therapy? A moderating role of treatment history at baseline. Addictive Behaviors (2016) 18-23.

Related: Five Truly Enlightening Quotes About Addiction

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