Addiction to stimulant drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamines, is a widespread problem in the United States. Although cocaine use has remained stable in recent years, stimulant drug addiction is still a serious issue. Millions of people abuse cocaine, methamphetamines, and prescription stimulants every year.

In the 1980s, when cocaine use was at an all-time high, a group of addiction experts got together to create a treatment program called the “Matrix Model.” It’s still used today, and it could be helpful for you if you’re battling a cocaine or meth addiction. In this guide, we’ll give you the information you need on what the Matrix Model program entails, what it’s used to treat, and how to figure out whether you’d be a good candidate for this treatment.

What is the Matrix Model of Addiction Treatment?

Some treatments for substance use disorder are widely applicable to a range of different drug and alcohol addictions, and even other mental illnesses. Others, like the Matrix Model of addiction treatment, are highly tailored to target a very specific population.

The Matrix Model of addiction treatment is a structured, 16-week intensive treatment method that helps people struggling with an addiction to stimulant drugs, like cocaine or methamphetamines. It combines group psychoeducational (skills-based) sessions with family education sessions and individual therapy to teach people the skills they need to recover from stimulant addiction.

The History of the Matrix Model

Back in the 1980s, the United States was facing a cocaine epidemic. Especially in Southern California, middle and upper-class people were using cocaine in numbers that were never-before-seen. It was a crisis, and treatment providers needed to act quickly.

Addiction specialists got together to create an intervention that was specifically designed to help people with cocaine addiction. They realized that people who were addicted to cocaine (and other amphetamines) were different from other addicted populations (like people suffering from alcohol addiction) in many ways. Alcohol is a depressant drug, and can have the opposite effect of stimulants like cocaine and meth.

These addiction experts founded the Matrix Institute of Addictions in the 1980s —a non-profit organization based in California. The Matrix Institute created the Matrix Model of addiction treatment. Although at first, only Matrix Institute locations provided this treatment intervention, the Matrix Model is now widely used in both private and public addiction treatment facilities across the nation.

The Matrix Institute joined the CLARE Institute, highly-regarded addiction foundation, in 2018. And now the new organization (named CLARE | MATRIX) provides evidence-based treatment and training in the addiction field.

Main Concepts of the Matrix Model

The Matrix Model is an integrative treatment approach, which means it uses a combination of different types of theories and interventions to help people recover from addiction. This can be seen in the delivery setting of the Matrix Model (individual, group, and family) as well as the specific interventions that are used (therapeutic interventions, as well as drug testing).

The Matrix Model was designed as an outpatient treatment, and is usually delivered within an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or partial hospitalization program (PHP) setting. However, some inpatient treatment programs may use the Matrix Model, as well.

There are a few core principles or goals that the Matrix Model is formed around. These are:

  • The therapeutic relationship between the therapist and client is critical.
  • The counselor should teach clients how to manage their time to live a healthy and happy life.
  • The client learns about the science of addiction, including the effects of withdrawal, in an easily digestible way.
  • The clients are given opportunities to practice early recovery and relapse prevention skills.
  • Families and partners should be included in treatment.
  • Clients are encouraged to participate in community-based support groups (like 12-Step groups)
  • Clients are subject to random drug tests.

In terms of structure, the Matrix Model is divided into four components: individual sessions, group sessions, family education sessions, and drug testing.

Individual/Conjoint Sessions

During their participation in the Matrix Model program, each client receives three sessions of individual therapy. Individual therapy sessions usually last around an hour. With only three sessions, individual therapy obviously isn’t the focus of treatment in the Matrix program, but meeting individually with the therapist helps participants to stay engaged in the process and develop some sense of therapeutic rapport.

Individual therapists in the Matrix Model use an integrative, eclectic approach that combines many different therapy techniques. Some of the main therapeutic interventions that are used in individual sessions include Motivational Interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Group Sessions

Group therapy and psychoeducational sessions make up the bulk of Matrix Model interventions. Group sessions are split up between early recovery sessions, relapse prevention sessions, and social support groups. Something unique about Matrix Model groups is that they are co-facilitated by the therapist and a person who has been successful in their recovery.

The group sessions last for 16 weeks, and groups usually meet three times a week. There is both a Client Handbook and a Counselor’s Handbook available for the Matrix Model, and participants are provided with handouts and worksheets that they are required to spend time studying and completing.

Early recovery groups help participants learn skills when they’re first starting on the path of recovery. These groups are more focused on learning and practicing concrete recovery skills than on therapeutic support. Some skills that are taught in early recovery groups include how to deal with internal and external triggers, managing your time, learning about common challenges in early recovery, and being introduced to 12-Step philosophies.

Relapse prevention sessions are held at the end of each week. Unfortunately, relapse is a common part of the recovery process, and around half of people going through addiction treatment relapse when they stop using their recovery skills. In these groups, participants learn 32 set skills designed to prevent relapse, while also sharing strategies with one another.

Some of the 32 skills or topics that are taught in the relapse prevention groups are:

  • Dealing with guilt and shame
  • Boredom
  • Staying busy
  • Sex and recovery
  • Defining spirituality
  • Managing money
  • Taking care of yourself
  • Emotional triggers
  • Relapse justification
  • Stress reduction
  • Managing anger
  • Making new friends

Again, these are only some of a total of 32 skills that are taught in these groups. The topics cover every area of the recovery process, and help people to deal with triggers that lead to relapse.

Note that the relapse prevention sessions that are used in the Matrix model are unique, and are not the same intervention as Relapse Prevention therapy (RP), a type of cognitive behavioral therapy used for treating addiction.

Social support groups are held towards the end of the 16-week program, when participants have learned and used the necessary skills to stay sober. These sessions focus on helping people find social support as they continue on in their journey of recovery, and place a special emphasis in finding and engaging in 12-Step groups in their communities.

Family Education Groups

One of the Matrix Model’s core beliefs is that recovery is more likely to be successful when the whole family is involved. Family education groups focus on teaching each participant’s family the skills that they need to cope with their loved one’s addiction.

These groups are mostly psychoeducation-based, and provide each family member with important information about what addiction is and how it affects both the person suffering from it and their family. When families are equipped with this type of knowledge, they are better able to both cope with their loved one’s addiction and support their loved one through recovery.

Drug Testing

Lastly, drug testing (through urine analysis) is a big component of the Matrix Model program. This ensures that participants are not relapsing, and provides a sense of accountability. The urine tests are random, and conducted on a weekly basis.

What is the Matrix Model Used for?

Although most addiction treatments are designed for any type of drug or alcohol addiction, the Matrix Model is unique in that it’s primarily used to treat stimulant addiction. Stimulant drugs include cocaine, methamphetamines, and prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin (which are typically prescribed for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or “ADHD”).

People who use stimulant drugs are seeking a “high” in the most literal sense. Unlike other drugs like hallucinogens or alcohol, stimulants give the drug user more energy, focus, and even a sense of euphoria. They’re often colloquially referred to as “uppers.”

The Matrix Model is a highly structured, 16-week drug counseling program that’s specifically designed to help people battling a stimulant addiction. Although it can be and has been used to treat other types of addiction, most of the research that exists has measured its effectiveness for treating cocaine and methamphetamine (meth) addiction.

Unlike some other treatment models (like cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy), which were first designed to treat mental health disorders and then applied to treat substance use, the Matrix Model was originally created to treat substance use disorder. It is not used to treat any other mental health disorder besides addiction.

How Effective is the Matrix Model for Addiction?

Again, almost all of the clinical trials that have been conducted to measure the effectiveness of the Matrix Model have studied its use for cocaine and methamphetamine addiction. The 1985 pilot study on the Matrix Model found that this treatment was more effective for reducing cocaine use both during a 28-day inpatient stay or while participating in 12-Step groups.

Studies have found that the Matrix Model is effective in helping people to recover from addiction to stimulant drugs. However, how effective it is depends greatly on certain factors.

First of all, the type of drug is a factor: people are more likely to recover from substance use disorder with the Matrix Model if their drug-of-choice is cocaine or meth. This makes sense, as these drugs are what the Matrix Model was designed for.

Additionally, the longer someone stays in the Matrix Model, the more likely they are to become and stay abstinent from drugs. For those who complete the entire 16-week course, they are the most likely to stay recovered. However, researchers found that it was difficult to keep certain people, especially people with lower financial resources, in the entire 16-week program. Especially because the treatment is usually delivered on an outpatient basis, it can be difficult to keep people engaged in the program.

Is the Matrix Model for Me?

You may be wondering if you should choose the Matrix Model for treatment, instead of other treatment programs that are available. Your therapist or social worker can help you figure out which of all available addiction treatment programs might be the best fit for your situation. The Matrix Model might be the best choice for you if you:

Have a Stimulant Drug Addiction

The Matrix Model was designed to treat stimulant addiction. Obviously, this means that you are a particularly good fit for this type of treatment if you’re addicted to a stimulant drug, including cocaine or meth. However, the Matrix Model may be helpful for other drug addictions, as well; you aren’t disqualified if you are battling an addiction to another drug.

Are Looking for Outpatient Treatment

One of the biggest benefits of the Matrix Model is that it is delivered on an outpatient basis. While it’s common for rehab programs to require an inpatient stay of a month or more, not many people are able to take a month off from the rest of their responsibilities. If you’re looking for an evidence-based, effective outpatient rehab program, then the Matrix Model may be for you.

Are Willing to Put in the Time to Learn Skills

Research has found that the longer someone participates in the 16-week Matrix Model program, the more effective it is. Each skill you learn in the program comes with a handout or worksheet, and it can take time to absorb and practice these skills. If you are committed to putting in the time to really invest in the Matrix Model program, then it’s likely to be more beneficial for you.

Limitations of the Matrix Model

The primary limitation of The Matrix Model program is that it won’t be able to help you with any dual diagnosis conditions. The Matrix Model is highly structured and teaches specific skills that are meant to prevent relapse and help you through early recovery. It isn’t designed to help you with any other mental health disorder. If you have a dual diagnosis condition (such as clinical depression or an anxiety disorder), then you’re more likely to benefit from an intervention that targets both your addiction and your mental illness.

In addition, you should keep in mind that the Matrix Model was created to treat stimulant drug addiction, specifically. Although it’s often successfully used to treat other types of addictions, the research so far only supports its effectiveness for helping people with cocaine or methamphetamine use.

Resources

If you or a loved one are struggling with narcissistic personality disorder and substance abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer

At RehabAid.com, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

We provide our readers with factual, evidence-based content concerning the causes and nature of addiction, as well as available treatment options. However, this informative content is intended for educational purposes only. It is by no means a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. With regard to any addiction-related health concerns, you should always seek the guidance of a qualified, registered physician who is licensed to practice medicine in your particular jurisdiction. You should never avoid or delay seeking professional health care advice or services based on information obtained from our website. Our authors, editors, medical reviewers, website developers, and parent company do not assume any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a result of the material presented on RehabAid.com.

Key Sources

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Obert, J., McCann, M., Marinelli-Casey P., Weiner, A., Minsky, S., Brethen, P. & Rawson, R. (2000) The Matrix Model of Outpatient Stimulant Abuse Treatment: History and Description. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 32(2): 157-164. DOI: 10.1080/02791072.2000.10400224

Rawson, R.A.; Obert, J.L.; McCann, M.J.; and Mann, A.J. Cocaine treatment outcome: Cocaine use following inpatient, outpatient, and no treatment. In: Harris, L.S., ed. Problems of Drug Dependence, 1985: Proceedings of the 47th Annual Scientific Meeting, the Committee on Problems of Drug Dependence, Inc. NIDA Research Monograph 67. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1986, pp. 271–277. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/monograph67.pdf

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