Online Substance Abuse Counseling: Benefits, Drawbacks & How to Get Started

October 17, 2022

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The COVID-19 pandemic impacted health care in a variety of ways, driving more and more counseling services to online and digital platforms. In March 2020, the number of telehealth visits increased 154%.[1] The American Psychological Association (APA) states that teletherapy and online counseling are “here to stay”. [2] 

Online therapy can make it easier and quicker to receive care, offering convenience and flexibility as well as similar positive outcomes to in-person services. Online substance abuse treatment programs can include Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) as well as counseling services and virtual support groups. 

How Online Addiction Counseling or Teletherapy Works

There are a variety of options for online addiction counseling or teletherapy that can range in structure and intensity. 

Basically, online addiction treatment involves any use of an internet-connected device to receive services. This can include live contact with a therapist through text messaging, phone calls, or video conferencing as well as written communications via email or messenger platforms and pre-recorded programs that you work through at your own pace.

There are different types of treatment options depending on what you are looking for and what level of care is best for you. 

In the most intensive form, online addiction counseling is done in real time with a trained professional counselor or therapist who will meet with you through a video conference. Here, you will connect with a therapist or counselor for a designated amount of time on a specific day, much in the same way that you would for in-person services. You can use your smartphone, tablet, or computer, and you never have to leave your home for sessions. 

Teletherapy services for addiction treatment can include the following:

  • Individual and group sessions
  • Support group meetings
  • Written communications, such as text messages or email
  • Prescription medications

Best Online Substance Abuse Treatment Program Options

There are many programs that offer online substance abuse counseling and addiction treatment in a variety of forms. Here are some options:

  • Talkspace: This online counseling service matches you with a licensed professional depending on your therapy needs, which can include substance abuse counseling.[3] 
  • Online-Therapy.com: This service offers an online therapy toolbox with live sessions, message support, an activity plan, yoga, worksheets, and a journal to help keep you on track. It provides evidence-based therapy models such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).[4]
  • iRecovery USA: This service offers telemedicine addiction treatment services via both individual and group sessions through an online platform.[5]
  • Bicycle Health: We provide online access to MAT and Suboxone therapy for opioid use disorder, helping to support you in treatment and ongoing recovery.[6]

Benefits of Online Counseling

Online counseling can offer a host of advantages when compared to in-person services. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Privacy and confidentiality: With online counseling, you can expect a high level of privacy as online therapy platforms are HIPAA compliant. Since you attend sessions from the safety of your own home, this can be more discreet than going to a treatment center or office.
  • Flexibility and convenience: With online counseling, you do not have to factor in commute time, and it can be easier to fit sessions in when they will work best for you, offering a high level of convenience. You can attend sessions right from home at times that work best for you.
  • Better access to care: One of the main barriers to care for addiction treatment is often proximity to services. With teletherapy, you can receive services from treatment providers that could even be across state lines, offering you better access to more varied care. This can be especially helpful if you are in a rural area or need specialized services that are not offered near you.
  • Comprehensive and effective treatment methods and support: Online counseling uses many of the same evidence-based treatment models and can be just as effective as in-person services for most people. Online options often offer text, email, and messaging support as well as online resources that can be quickly and easily accessed for ongoing support.

Things to Consider About Online Treatment

Online substance use treatment can provide a host of benefits over in-person treatment, and may be ideal for some individuals. [7] 

Potential drawbacks can include difficulties with Wi-Fi or internet services and ensuring you have a quiet and private location to have your sessions. On the other hand, if you need more intensive medical support or have a co-occurring medical or mental health condition, in-person services may be the optimal choice. 

Talk to your doctor about what your specific needs are to determine if online counseling services will be right for you.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic – United States, January-March 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6943a3.htm/. October 2020. Accessed September 2022.
  2. Online Therapy Is Here to Stay. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/01/trends-online-therapy. January 2021. Accessed September 2022.
  3. Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/online-therapy/. Accessed September 2022.
  4. Online-Therapy.com. Online-Therapy.com. https://www.online-therapy.com/. Accessed September 2022.
  5. Online Drug Counseling. iRecovery USA. https://www.online-therapy.com/. 2022. Accessed September 2022.
  6. Bicycle Health. https://www.bicyclehealth.com/. 2021. Accessed September 2022.
  7. The Provision of Counseling to Patients Receiving Medications for Opioid Use Disorder: Telehealth Innovations and Challenges in the Age of COVID-19. Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7545305/. January 2021. Accessed September 2022.

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