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Using Telehealth Services for Addiction Therapy: 4 Vital Expert Insights

By Jennifer Daluro
Telemedicine can be used to successfully access addiction mental health services. But what do the experts say about this form of addiction medicine?

As the demand for telehealth services grows, you may be wondering about emerging telemedicine options for addiction treatment and therapy. Some people doubt the effectiveness of telehealth services for addiction therapy or dual diagnosis treatment. But online addiction counseling is an effective choice for many patients. Discover 4 expert insights about online substance abuse counseling.

1.Telemedicine allows you to take the first steps in getting help.

Many people with substance use disorder find it difficult to talk about their experiences with substance abuse. If you're one of them, telemedicine could make it easier for you to reach out to counselors.

“It may benefit folks who struggle to process emotions or struggle with emotional intimacy. Telemedicine gives them distance and a sense of safety to work through difficult topics,” Sabrina Romanoff, clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University, shares with WebMD Connect to Care.

Romanoff also says that telemedicine gives individuals the opportunity to try out addiction therapy and then seek in-person services when they are willing or able to do so.

2. Telemedicine helps ease the stigma of drug counseling.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the stigma surrounding substance use disorder prevents many people from seeking treatment. Telemedicine, in a way, can help ease this stigma and make you feel more comfortable seeking help.

“I have observed that first-time therapy clients may even be more comfortable because of the stigma of coming to an office or clinic. The American Psychological Association has assessed teletherapy and has found clients to be as engaged online as they would be in the office setting. Some are even more comfortable, primarily if they have grown up in the technological world,” Ana Moreno, LMHC, MCAP, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“I have found what is most important is the individual’s willingness to engage in the therapy process. There are also fewer cancellations and no-shows,” Moreno says.

3. Telemedicine could help you fit addiction treatment into a busy life.

Many factors can stop you from attending therapy sessions or receiving drug treatment. These include a busy work schedule, costs associated with therapy, the unavailability of transportation, and full-time school or family caretaking duties. In such cases, online drug abuse therapy offers clear advantages.

Jacqueline Connors, a licensed clinical therapist and former County Administrator for Drug and Alcohol, tells WebMD Connect to Care, “The surge in accessibility—that pushed telehealth to the forefront of treatment delivery as a result of the pandemic—is very beneficial for people recovering from addiction. Telehealth can help individuals who don't have access to transportation due to the result of their addiction or when the distance to a facility is so great that it defeats any modicum of motivation to get there.

“Telehealth also provides easy access to group or individual therapy from the person's place of choosing (home, car, outdoors) which reduces barriers of time or distance. It also reduces anxiety of having to go to an unfamiliar place,” Connors adds.

4. There is evidence that telemedicine is as effective as in-person treatment.

A 2021 study published in Psychiatric Services found that using telemedicine for addiction treatment is as effective as in-person treatment, especially when it comes to individual counseling. It is, however, worth noting that the study’s authors were not as confident about the efficacy of using telemedicine for medication management. 

“While studies comparing telehealth to in-person treatment of substance use disorders have been limited, they show telehealth is at least equally effective as in-person treatment and has the added benefit of being more cost-effective and accessible. The adoption of telehealth for continuing care following the completion of treatment for addictions has also been shown to increase abstinence,” Loren Martin, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology and chief science officer at Alter Health Group, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“Undoubtedly, the rapid shift to telehealth in response to the pandemic has not been the smoothest transition for many treatment providers, but the development of best practices, in time, will help to improve upon this mode of treatment delivery and thereby increase its efficacy,” Martin continues.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.