Public Description of the Psychological Treatment of Alcohol and Other Psychoactive Substance Use Disorders

Psychological methods of treatment and prevention of alcohol and other drug problems can be used with both adults and youth. Prevention focuses on thwarting problem development and reducing the odds that problems will develop. Treatment usually focuses on stopping, reducing or lessening the impact of problems from substance use.

To do this work, psychologists apply knowledge about specific types of alcohol and drug problems, their origins and effects, how these problems change over time, how they are distinct from or may overlap with other conditions and how they may interact with biological, social, behavioral and other cultural issues.

Key skills focus on prevention, screening, assessment, diagnosis and clinical treatment of substance use and related problems. Differential diagnosis procedures, or being able to differentiate between conditions that may look the same, are also extremely important.

Psychologists assess the types of substances used, where, how and with whom the substances are used, specific problems resulting from use, how severe those problems are, and other problems that may be occurring or have occurred. They treat individual people, couples and whole families, and may sometimes provide treatments to people brought together as a group or in a community.

They also may integrate more biological approaches, such as the use of medications, with social and behavioral treatments, work to motivate people to engage in the process of change, maintain long-term changes and even prevent the development of alcohol and drug problems in the first place.