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The Role of Telehealth for Addiction Treatment

6 minute read

For some people, telehealth may be a completely foreign concept. While there is nothing wrong with this, one must still do all they can to understand which treatment options work best for them. Telehealth is when technologies like video calling, texting, apps, and web-based live chats are used to treat someone who is outside the realm of the convenience of a doctor’s office or rehab center. However, distinctions should be made between telehealth and telemedicine, although more recently they have been regarded as interchangeable. 

What Telehealth Options are Available for Substance Use Disorders?

There are many telehealth options available to help individuals in addiction treatment. Some of these include the following:

  • Phone-centered Care
  • Video Calling
  • Virtual Reality
  • Texting
  • Mobile Apps
  • Web-centered Care

Phone-Centered Care

Phone-Centered Care in the realm of addiction treatment is one of the oldest ways of providing telehealth services. Patients are able to talk on the phone with their doctor or medical specialist and interact in real-time with only their voices. Some studies have shown that phone-centered care proves itself to be more effective than traditional methods. 

Video Calling

Video Calling is best described as real-time conference calls on personal laptops, computers, tablets, or any other device that has a camera for the use of live conference calls. With this method of telehealth, patients are able to not only hear their doctor or medical specialist in real-time, but they’re to see them as well. This is good for people who rely on body-language in conversation. Some studies have shown that patients are just as satisfied with a video call as they are with treatment handled in-person. 

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is a platform in which users immerse themselves in a pre-recorded, 360-degree world in order to simulate a real-life environment. Individuals are able to interact with others as well as the environment surrounding them. This technology has the potential to simulate familiar environments to help people who are struggling with addiction. It is worth mentioning that this sort of technology has not been tested extensively. 


Being that there are options for video calling and virtual reality, it’s no surprise that texting is another real-time telehealth option. Transfering short messages over a text thread have been known to yield positive results especially in the arena of interventions. Not only that, but this method of communication is relatively inexpensive, and for someone who can do so it makes treatment easily accessible.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are software applications on one’s phone made with the purpose of accessing its functions easily. Apps are also available on tablets. While its convenience cannot be overstated, early analyses have been done and concluded that it is too early to determine whether or not this method is effective. It is worth mentioning however that the more time someone spends using the app the more likely they are to abstain from alcohol, even more than usual care. Research has shown to prove that these apps have resulted in a decrease in drinks per day and in hazardous drinking altogether.

Web-Centered Care

The good thing about web-centered care is that it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, these applications are able to be accessed on the patient’s own time. These services are accessed over connections to networks. There are many different kinds of web-centered care which makes it so dynamic; all of these different forms of web-centered care have proven themselves to be quite effective when it comes to diminishing alcohol abuse. 

As far as the different kinds of care on the web are concerned, they are listed as follows:

  • Drinker’s Check-Up (DCU)
  • Therapeutic Education System (TES)
  • Computer-Based Treatment for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT4CBT)

When it comes to alcohol screening, brief intervention, or assessments, DCU has proven itself useful in their clinical trials. TES is different in that it is a community reinforcement approach to substance abuse treatment. This method is module-based and has 65 modules in total for this approach. Not only that but in terms of success, TES has been recognized as comparable to community reinforced approaches delivered by in-person clinicians. 

The last approach for web-centered treatment is CBT4CBT (computer-based treatment for cognitive behavioral therapy). This type of treatment aims to answer the question of why people act the way that they do. There have been studies done regarding the effectiveness of this type of web-centered care, and the studies concluded that the outcomes for CBT4CBT have been largely positive compared to that of in-person treatment. 

Telehealth and Behavioral Health

Some studies have suggested that the interest in and use of telehealth applications in a few hundred (363) US treatment organizations found that the top three applications being used were as follows:

  • Web-centered screening/assessments – 44.6%
  • Phone-centered support – 29.5%
  • Phone-centered therapy – 28.37%

There is an important distinction to remember, however: the difference between interest and actual use. From the times where people seeking help actually followed through the key difference makers were appointment reminders via text, mobile apps for recovery after treatment, and recovery support chats.

Some other studies were conducted to understand how telehealth is used by behavioral health providers. Data was gathered from 329 organizations for behavioral health. In this survey, all 50 states within the US were represented. 

The consensus? Somewhere close to half of those who responded stated their use of telehealth for behavioral health care. It will come as no surprise that psychiatrists use telehealth the most, as well as mental health therapists. The most widely used method was video calling.

What’s Good About Telehealth?

Addiction treatment is done best when doctors and patients have an established relationship that extends over a long period of time. By participating in telehealth, the method may be more subtle. This is good because it removes any stigma of negativity towards addiction treatment. 

Most often, psychiatrists are the authorized behavioral health provider when it comes to telehealth. Others who are also authorized include social workers and psychologists. Ironically, addiction counselors have the least amount of authorization. 

Just because an addiction counselor has less authorization doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified or good at their job; this actually has to do with licensing in that particular area of the field. There are licenses and tracks that are required in each state. 

While some may believe telehealth serves its function in the addiction treatment community, others may believe that this method of treatment is vastly underused. Telehealth is a great, effective option when it comes to substance abuse recovery. Although there are potential barriers including financial barriers, privacy, or legal issues, this method of addiction treatment has proven itself successful in the cases of many. 

Other Methods of Treatment

Despite the fact that telehealth is a very convenient method of addiction recovery, some may still want to seek other options for treatment. Some of these include the following:

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is a method of care in which patients are able to live at a treatment facility while fulfilling their recovery needs. Lasting anywhere from 28 days to six months, inpatient treatment is meant for more severe cases of addiction. Patients who participate in this treatment option are given 24-hour access to professional medical personnel and weekly access to professional therapists and psychiatrists. 

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is meant for those who suffer from a mild case of addiction or those who are trying to make the transition from treatment to the world outside rehab. Lasting anywhere from 3 months to over a year, this method allows patients to recover while living in the comfort of their own homes. Patients who utilize this method of treatment are given anywhere between 10-12 hours of access to professional therapists and psychiatrists. 

Detox Treatment

Drug withdrawal is extremely difficult. The symptoms may sometimes seem impossible to overcome, but with the right treatment, anything is possible. Medically assisted treatment (MAT) provides patients with medicine that helps them curb their withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. This way, those who suffer from addiction are able to come off of drugs comfortably and successfully. 

Start Your Recovery Journey Today

There is no one-size-fits-all addiction treatment method. If that were the case, there would be a lot of people who still needed help. One method of treatment that works for one person may not work for the other, and that’s why telehealth may be worth looking into for anyone who is on the path to recovery.

At Footprints, our goal is to show people who are struggling with addiction that they’re not any less of a person because of their addiction. We believe that meeting patients where they are in their recovery journey is the best way to combat their substance use disorder. Each person who walks through our doors is an individual, not a number. We are passionate to see each and every one of these individuals through to the end of their recovery journey so that they can pursue a life of sobriety and stability. 

If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction and would like to learn more about telehealth options, you can contact us here.

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