The widespread adoption of telehealth services in the United States has been a remarkable advancement, significantly enhancing the accessibility of treatment services throughout the nation. While telehealth has long been a burgeoning area for expansion, the Covid-19 pandemic also served to rapidly increase the access and delivery of online-based care: a study published in 2022—comprised of 36 million working-age individuals in the US—demonstrated that telehealth encounters increased 766% in the first 3 months of the pandemic and that telehealth encounters went from 0.3% of all treatment interactions in mid-2019 to 23.6% of all interactions by mid-2020.
While the growing accessibility of online-based health services has been beneficial for many, particularly those in need of mental health support, the recent rise of online addiction treatment programs has sparked significant debate within the healthcare community. The convenience and accessibility of virtual treatment sessions tailored for addiction issues may seem appealing. Still, these services often lack several of the variables associated with successful outcomes and the best chances for long-term recovery.
In today’s article, Clear Behavioral Health will shed light on the inherent challenges of taking part in virtual outpatient addiction treatment (particularly in the vital, early stages of recovery), which can lead to high rates of relapse and a less successful outcome on your recovery journey.
In-Person Vs. Online Addiction Treatment Programs
In traditional, face-to-face addiction treatment settings, individuals benefit from a robust support system of health care providers, licensed therapists, prescribers, support groups, and peers. The richness of in-person interactions helps to cultivate a profound sense of community, fostering new responsibility and commitment to your recovery. These supportive networks offer more than just therapy—they provide a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, receive encouragement, and engage in personalized therapeutic activities promoting healing and personal growth.
Conversely, online addiction treatment lacks the immediacy and accountability that in-person settings offer. The absence of physical presence and real-time support can lead to a lack of vigilance, making it easier for individuals to revert to old habits in their unmonitored moments, heightening the risk of relapse. A virtual program will generally consist of video conferencing for a few hours throughout the day, leaving a lot of time between group and individual therapy sessions. Inpatient and outpatient programs are well supervised throughout the day, even in between group sessions, providing essential support and accountability. Building new skills within a nurturing, face-to-face community, whether in an inpatient or outpatient setting, can be fundamental for constructing a successful, sustainable long-term recovery.
A Thorough Assessment of Your Needs
One of the key benefits of in-person addiction treatment involves the ability to conduct comprehensive assessments in real-time. Trained professionals can meticulously evaluate the potential and severity of any withdrawal symptoms, tailoring the appropriate intervention and withdrawal management to your specific needs. Additionally, face-to-face assessments can provide valuable insight regarding mental health disorders. Proper treatment for co-occurring disorders plays a significant role in the overall effectiveness of each treatment plan. Such in-person assessments help to guide the overall course of treatment and provide a crucial understanding of the individual’s physical and mental state, both at the time of their admission and throughout the process.
With regard to withdrawal management, onsite treatment professionals can promptly and effectively manage the complexities of any complications, administering necessary medications and monitoring your vital signs closely. The immediacy of in-person care also allows for rapid adjustments in the treatment plan, ensuring that individuals receive the appropriate interventions precisely when they need them. Such a hands-on approach can enhance the safety and efficacy of the treatment process, particularly during the early stages.
The Ability To Structure Individualized Treatment
Addiction is a multifaceted and individualized condition that demands a comprehensive understanding of the specific variables and triggers contributing to each person’s addictive tendencies. In traditional treatment settings, clinicians have the opportunity to observe patients in various contexts, enabling them to adapt their strategies accordingly. This personalized approach ensures that interventions are finely tuned to the unique challenges faced by individuals in their recovery journey, fostering a more effective and empathetic therapeutic process.
Online treatment, on the other hand, can lack such immediacy and real-time information, restricting the treatment team’s capacity to thoroughly address any changes that are necessary. This limited understanding can impede the overall effectiveness of the treatment plan, leaving essential facets of the substance use disorder unexamined and unresolved.
Typically, individuals struggling with addiction start with some form of inpatient treatment whether that be withdrawal management or inpatient rehab, and then step down to an intensive outpatient program. This process allows individuals to begin building a solid foundation in recovery. Online therapy for substance abuse could be beneficial once an in-person treatment plan is completed, however, virtual addiction treatment as a standalone solution fails to provide the same level of engagement and clinical support which correlates to successful treatment outcomes.
Getting Involved (and Staying Involved) With Community Support
Feeling a sense of community support plays a pivotal role in the addiction recovery process. Building connections with others who have shared experiences fosters a sense of belonging and understanding, and in-person support groups and therapy sessions provide a safe space for individuals to share their struggles, receive empathy, and learn from others’ experiences. Creating the same level of community is inherently challenging in an online setting, where the absence of physical presence can hinder genuine connections, making it difficult for individuals to form the deep bonds necessary for a strong support system.
It’s not to say that a sense of community can’t be present in other kinds of telehealth-based treatments—such as engaging in treatment for other conditions or engaging in group therapy—but addiction treatment is often a time in which a person is extremely vulnerable to relapse and the challenges of early sobriety, making it all the more important to have access to an in-person community of peers, professionals, and supports, both in the early stages of treatment and having such supports accessible on an ongoing basis as the inpatient phase comes to a close.
But Aren’t Telehealth Services Proven To Be Effective?
The advent of online support services has undeniably opened new and beneficial avenues for individuals seeking help. The digital landscape offers accessibility and convenience, providing instant access to counseling and treatment resources, regardless of your physical location.
However, despite the evident benefits, it’s important to recognize the limitations of online support for addiction treatment. Telehealth engagement for addiction-based services lacks the tangible, real-world presence that is fundamental to the healing process, particularly during the initial phases of recovery. While online-based support and online therapy sessions can serve as a wonderful supplementary resource—especially for maintenance and ongoing support—the tangible, real-world connections and structure of traditional treatment settings provide a level of support and accountability that is vital for long-term success, offering individuals the best possible foundation for their path to recovery.
Access High-Quality, In-Person Addiction Treatment
It’s true that online addiction treatment can offer convenience and accessibility—but it can also compromise the accountability, individualized treatment, and community support that are so vital to the process. Addiction recovery is a delicate and multifaceted process that requires a holistic, considered approach to treatment services, and telehealth-based services can often struggle to provide this to those who are most in need.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Clear Behavioral Health’s comprehensive approach empowers you with the tools and community support necessary to build a fulfilling, substance-free future. We understand the delicate and multifaceted nature of substance use disorders and recovery, which is why we offer tailored inpatient and outpatient services designed to address the unique needs of each individual.
With several unique programs available for mental health conditions, substance use, and co-occurring disorders, Clear Behavioral Health has an expert team committed to providing compassionate, evidence-based care. We offer a continuum of supportive services and an ongoing sense of community, ensuring you receive the help you need at every stage of your recovery.
Your path to recovery starts here—give us a call to learn more about our addiction treatment programs and start your recovery journey today.