Telehealth Addiction Treatment
Addiction treatment has come a long way in recent years. In the years following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many things that were once done in person are now being done virtually, both over the phone and online. One such area that has seen tremendous growth since the COVID-19 pandemic is the use of telehealth and telemedicine in addition treatment.
Telehealth is a general term that refers to both clinical and non-clinical applications of technology, like scheduling appointments online. Telemedicine refers specifically to clinical uses of long-distance technology, like diagnosing a patient over the phone.
Telehealth is more than just online therapy. While this is certainly a large part of addiction treatment telemedicine, these services have expanded greatly in recent years. Now, telehealth addiction treatment encompasses everything from simple text message reminders for appointments to virtual support group meetings to help maintain sobriety.
Featured Treatment Centers Offering Telehealth
Many individuals who develop substance use disorders (SUD) are also diagnosed with mental health disorders. In fact, multiple national surveys have found that as many as 50% of people who are diagnosed with a mental health disorder will also develop a SUD and vice versa.
Mental health and telehealth harmonize well. Telehealth allows counselors to hold sessions virtually and telephonically rather than in person. Some addiction rehab facilities are leveraging behavioral telehealth in the treatment of SUDs. Where in-person treatment may not be accessible to some people because of disabilities, limited travel capability, and childcare issues, online or phone options give them an opportunity to get help while maintaining vital life activities like work or family care.
Seemingly minute services like text message appointment reminders reduce dropout rates in rehab programs. Clinicians can use these features not only to perform mundane yet important tasks like appointment reminders but also to further interact with their clients. Reaching out to support someone in their recovery efforts helps keep them accountable and on track; they otherwise may return to maladaptive behaviors that could lead to a return to substance use.
How COVID-19 Changed Telemedicine For Addiction Treatment
The “new normal” that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic has brought along many changes to everyday life. Remote work, social distancing, and heightened awareness of viral diseases were all things many people had never thought of before 2020.
Not all of these new norms are bad, however. In fact, one of these new norms has changed the way many people think about healthcare, especially when it comes to mental health care and addiction treatment: telehealth and telemedicine.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine and telehealth for treating substance use disorders was simple and had many limitations. These types of treatments typically involved things like text messaging reminders for treatments and appointments or basic computer screenings and were used as more of a “motivational” tool.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic came an unprecedented need for virtual meetings and remote work, especially for those who were struggling with substance use disorders or mental health issues. Platforms such as Zoom became a regular meeting space for families, students, businesses, and medical practitioners, which revolutionized the way we use telehealth for substance abuse and addiction treatment.
SUDs and dependencies thrive on the kind of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection and accountability that people experienced during quarantine. When in recovery, isolation and spotty scheduling can interrupt the plans put in place to stop addictive tendencies. Many facilities began offering telehealth addiction treatment at the start of the pandemic, and many support groups and organizations have also made the shift to online spaces.
Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have long supported virtual meeting opportunities all over the world. For people post-treatment or who are entering long-term recovery, addiction telehealth and similar resources are vital in their recovery efforts.
What Does Telehealth For Addiction Treatment Look Like?
There are many ways treatment professionals use telemedicine for addiction and mental health treatment. Typically, telehealth addiction treatment starts with computerized assessments and text messaging to help a patient connect with a treatment center or licensed therapist.
Once someone has been connected with a treatment center, there several different programs and treatment options available. Some of the most common uses of telehealth in addiction medicine include:
• Text message contact
• Computer screenings
• Video conferencing
• Mobile apps
• Web-based treatment
• Telephone-based therapy
• Online support groups
These implementations of technology in the addiction treatment and rehabilitation process significantly increase the amount of “face-to-face” time possible between clients and counselors.
Online therapy, also known as telepsychology or teletherapy, is a type of therapy conducted over the phone, online, or by text or email with a professional counselor. This type of therapy is a major part of telehealth and telemedicine addiction treatment.
Like in-person therapy, online therapy is almost completely talk-based. This means that most of the counseling is done by direct conversation between the counselor and client. Sessions typically take place on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, or a frequency that the counselor deems appropriate.
Online therapy sessions usually involve video calls, which allows for a more in-person feel. Due to the flexible nature of online therapy, there are numerous organizations that offer a combination of services, including matching individuals with a therapist, 24/7 access to therapy via messaging, and remote therapy sessions.
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Using Telehealth To Quit Smoking
Addiction telehealth for smoking cessation is both effective and popular. The ubiquity of cigarettes compared to illegal drugs can tempt long-time smokers back into their Nicotine addiction when living out their day to day lives. Having an online resource can keep people with an addiction to Nicotine cigarette free, accountable, and working with care professionals in order to succeed in their recovery journey.
Benefits Of Addiction Telemedicine
Rather than someone missing or avoiding a therapy appointment, they can receive a text that motivates them to attend, or a calendar reminder that helps them keep track of appointments. Addiction telemedicine also allows for patients to receive treatment from facilities that they may have otherwise not had access to due to their location or transportation limitations. Virtual or online treatment may also help those who may be struggling with co-occuring mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, which may make reaching out for help difficult.
For treatment providers, telehealth has provided opportunities for better, more specialized care for those outside of their treatment centers. Instead of counselors spending time collecting demographic data and other information, patients can fill out computer screening applications beforehand and be matched with a treatment professional that best fits their needs. In the aftercare department, telehealth rehab has become an increasingly popular way for treatment professionals to stay in touch with patients once they have completed detox.
Limitations Of Addiction Telemedicine
While telehealth and telemedicine services help bridge some gaps, it’s important to remember that, like all treatment options, it is not without its limitations. Some useful functionalities like video conferencing or integrating mobile apps into treatment programs require specific software and hardware that some rehabs or patients simply don’t have access to.
Telehealth substance abuse treatment may also not be a fit for some people battling addiction. For many, the in-person aspect of traditional treatment may help them stay on track and refrain from using. In-person treatment may also be more effective for those who may be in situations or locations that may cause them to feel the urge to use.
Also, not everyone has regular and reliable access to a computer or phone, especially if they’re in a dire situation regarding addiction. Making sure both the healthcare provider and recipient are able to access telehealth services is crucial in a successful interaction.
If you’re here researching options in order to help yourself or a loved one, contact a therapist today for further information and assistance. Waiting only worsens addiction. Don’t let your health or the health of someone you love deteriorate further.
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Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience