Brief therapy in addictive behaviors

The profile of patients who come to specific treatment centers is constantly evolving. The figure of the drug addict with a long history of poly-consumption, with associated diseases, without cultural level, without employment and marginal occupation, is no longer a majority. Our patients have more varied profiles and often one of the requirements is that they be offered quick and effective care. However, this demand cannot always be offered to them, either because of their clinical situation, or because of the excess demand for care. In any case, there will be a group of patients in which a brief intervention may be appropriate and it is our obligation to offer it to our clients.

Brief interventions can be defined as those practices aimed at investigating a potential problem and motivating an individual to start doing something about substance abuse. It is not a substitute for those with a high level of dependence. The ultimate goal is to reduce the damage that may result from the continued use of substances. The duration is from 1 to 40 sessions, with the typical therapy between 6 and 20 sessions. The goal is to provide patients with tools to change basic attitudes and handle a variety of underlying problems. It differs from long-term therapy in that the focus is on the present, emphasizes the use of therapeutic tools in a shorter time and focuses on a more specific behavior change, rather than a large-scale or deeper change.

The content of the interventions will vary depending on the type of substance, the severity of the problem and the desired outcome. Since short therapies are less expensive, they may be available to a greater number of people and can be adapted to the needs of clients. They can be used to provide immediate attention to clients who are on waiting lists to enter specialized programs, as an initial treatment for risk users and as a complement to the more extensive treatment for dependent people.

Below we present a set of intervention strategies in a brief therapy format that can help our patients solve their problems related to substance abuse and are recommended by the Center Substance Abuse Treatment.


Brief cognitive behavioral therapy

It represents the integration of the principles derived from behavioral theory, social learning theory and cognitive therapy. It is the most comprehensive approach to dealing with problems arising from substance use and consists in the development of strategies aimed at increasing the personal control that the client has over himself. The philosophy of the intervention is based on the client’s consideration as a scientist, in the sense that he is encouraged to resort to the scientific method to empirically contrast his ideas or beliefs. In its application to addictive behaviors, relapse prevention therapy has been the most widely used, which in principle was developed for the treatment of drinking problems 6and subsequently adapted for cocaine addicts. In it, patients are helped to recognize situations in which they are likely to use substances, find ways to avoid situations, and develop strategies to solve behavior forms and affects related to substance use. Through functional analysis, the antecedents and consequences of substance use behavior are identified. Patients’ abilities are strengthened and developed to successfully face risk situations and they are trained in relapse prevention. The analysis of the cognitions and beliefs involved in addictive behavior is included. Research has shown that individuals who learn skills through relapse prevention therapy maintain what they learned in treatment after one year of follow-up.


Brief Interactional-Strategic Therapy

In this type of therapy, attempts are made to identify the client’s strengths and create personal and environmental situations where withdrawal can be achieved. The focus is on the patient’s abilities rather than on the pathology and they come from the work of Milton Erikson, who coined the term strategic therapy to describe an approach in which the therapist takes responsibility for finding effective strategies to help patients in distress disorders.


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