Individualized Drug Counseling

Individualized drug counseling is in place to help people address the symptoms of their addiction. Additionally, it looks at how the addiction has impaired the functioning of patients. Furthermore, it helps patients to develop a recovery program that works for them. During these sessions, counselors will attempt to:

  • Enable the patient to come to terms with the fact that they are addicted
  • Show which signs and symptoms point to them having an addiction
  • Teach patients how to respond differently to triggers so they don’t return to drug use
  • Motivate and encourage patients to become and remain abstinent
  • Monitor abstinence by putting measurements in place such as drug tests
  • Make the patients accountable for their episodes of drug use to discourage return to use
  • Help their patients identify how they use drugs to solve problems and show them how this strategy is counter-effective
  • Help the patients to develop different strategies to solve problems
  • Show the 12 step philosophy to the patients, referring them to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Ensure that the patients understand that recovery is a lifelong process
  • Enable the patients to recognize which behaviors and attitudes could lead to relapse and help them to develop different behaviors and attitudes
  • Encourage the patients to develop a greater sense of self-esteem by learning and applying new skills and strategies

Individualized drug counseling is usually highly structured. However, the content of the session depends on the individual. Every addiction is unique and should be treated as such. That said, there are certain commonalities that counselors are aware of, in particular that addictions usually follow specific patterns.

Treatment Stages

Individualized drug counseling goes through different stages:

  1. Initiation of treatment
  2. Starting with abstinence
  3. Maintaining abstinence
  4. Advanced recovery

This is a model of addiction, and individuals go through the different stages at a pace that is suitable for them. There is also an overlap between the different stages, and it is common for people to slip back to an earlier stage from time to time.

Exactly how to treat somebody for an addiction can be very different, and the needs of patients also change throughout recovery. Addiction counselors know that treatment has to be progressive at all times. Hence, they monitor the changing needs of the patients, addressing new topics as and when they become relevant. Different intervention types are also used, and patients are held accountable for different issues at different times.

Individualized Drug Counseling Sessions

Before each session, a counselor will perform a urine test and check the results. They will then discuss the major issues and themes that were raised during the past session. They will then introduce the topics that will be discussed during that session.

Start of the Session

Once the session starts, the counselor will ask the recovering patients how they have done since the last session, and whether they used any substances. If so, these should be noted. If there has been a relapse, then this should be analyzed in an effort to determine what caused it. This will then help them to develop alternative behaviors. Generally, if there has been a relapse, the entire session and perhaps further sessions, will be targeted at that.

When Patients Have Urgent Issues

Patients may also present with urgent issues relating to their addiction, such as a financial or family difficult. If these problems are present, they should be addressed first, emphasizing how this relates to the addiction. The goal here is for the recovering patients to create strategies that help them cope with situations without turning to drugs. While attention to problems is given during sessions, the ultimate goal is to promote recovery, and not to resolve the problems that may precipitate a relapse.

Giving Patients Feedback on the Results of Drug Screening Tests

During the session, counselors will provide the patient with feedback about the results of their most recent drug screening. If there was a positive result for substances, the patient should be confronted about this, even if they have already admitted to having used. This will reassure them that the counselor is actually monitoring them. Some patients may deny using drugs, which is usually caused by shame. For cases where the patients are in denial, the counselor will attempt to address this as a theme in the session.

When Patients Deny Using Drugs

One common approach during counseling for people in denial is to discuss “what if” scenarios, such as asking what it would mean if they were to use, and what it would feel like. If the addicted person continues to be in denial, then counselors will generally drop the subject rather than being more confrontational, as this could damage the therapist-patient relationship. Counselors will also sometimes offer to have a different test performed to ensure that the urine test results were not in error.

If there are no urgent matters to discuss during the session, it will focus instead of topics that relate to the addiction and that are most relevant to the recovering patient’s needs at this stage of recovery. Counseling sessions should never address more than two new topics, as this could be overwhelming. However, existing or past topics can be reviewed as much as is necessary.

End of the Session

At the end of the session, a counselor will generally recap the things that have been discussed. They will then agree on a time and date for the next session. If applicable, the counselor may also give the patient homework to bring to the next session.


Individualized drug counseling is all about the addicted patients, and not so much their role within peer groups or family units. It is an opportunity for them to explore the traumas they have experienced in their lives and how these have contributed to their drug abuse. Depending on the treatment facility that someone attends, individualized drug counseling may also include cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT. During CBT, patients are coached to identify the root of their problem, and to determine how they respond to that problem, which will be drug use. Then, they are counseled into developing different responses to those problems so that they no longer turn to an addictive behavior.

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