In recent years, online addiction treatment has become increasingly popular as a convenient and accessible option for those seeking treatment. Even prior to the COVID-19 global health pandemic, many individual therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists began to slowly migrate some if not all their clients to virtual sessions. The health concerns of the pandemic swiftly changed the game, with most clinicians and even many larger agency treatment providers in the addiction and mental health space forced to deliver services virtually to abide by social distancing and health and safety protocols. However, over three years after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, many individual clinicians and even many treatment centers and rehab continue to offer online addiction treatment.

Positives of Online Addiction Treatment

There is no question that virtual treatment services like therapy, counseling, and psychiatry offer many benefits to both patients and providers. Virtual mental health services create a wider accessibility for people, especially those in rural areas without many options or for busy professionals that either have difficulty scheduling sessions in-person or who may travel a lot for work. Virtual sessions also offer providers the benefit of easily working from home and less overhead costs to providing services outside of an office setting. However, virtual therapy or treatment, while almost always easier for everyone involved, may not always be the best option for everyone. Additionally, when looking specifically at the delivery of treatment for addiction and substance use disorder in a programmatic setting, there is little question that quality of care diminishes through virtual service offerings and overall treatment suffers when delivered in a virtual environment.

Let’s begin by stating the obvious. Virtual treatment is easier to deliver to patients for treatment centers and rehabs. The cost is less, the overhead is less, the staffing is easier, and the number of patients on a census can rise exponentially. Financially, virtual services for a treatment program are a no brainer. Virtual treatment services can also offer rehabs and treatment centers the ability to treat patients that otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend in-person treatment, or continue treating patients in aftercare once they return to their home state which may be far away from the inpatient rehab or residential treatment center they go to for primary care. However, and while many may not want to admit this, let’s also state a very obvious point: Virtual treatment in a program setting just isn’t as good or comprehensive as in-person care, no matter what argument is made to the contrary.

Issues with Online Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a disease of isolation. Addiction is a disease of loneliness. Addiction is a disease of disconnection. Recovery, then, is about connection. Recovery is about community. Recovery is about finding ways to stop withdrawing from the world, and rather finding healthy ways to be a part of something greater. Why then would patients find truly what they need out of treatment when that treatment is delivered in a way that supports more isolation, more loneliness, and more disconnection?

Online Addiction Treatment Lacks Personal Connection

Virtual treatment for addiction lacks personal connection.  Virtual services are often more impersonal and less intimate. It allows for distractions. It can often be disrupted. Patients and clients are not able, especially in a group setting, to create intimate connections with their clinicians and staff, and certainly not with the other patients in their treatment setting and community.  Building rapport in a virtual environment, and as an extension building trust with their therapists, counselors, and patient community, can be much more challenging. Clinicians in an addiction treatment program may often find it much more difficult and challenging creating or establishing a therapeutic alliance with their patients without the benefit of in-person interactions.

Limited Contact

From a therapeutic perspective, virtual treatment also limits clinicians in their ability to deliver the highest quality patient care. Therapists and counselors are limited in their ability to physically be with a patient, feel the energy in the room, and pick up on non-verbal cues. As opposed to being in a physical environment, patients in a virtual environment can more easily present as being physically or mentally stable, not being high or intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, or limit the scope of what their clinician can see through the screen. This lessens the connection and the trust the therapist and patients can have with one another, making both feel less connected due to the physical distance and lack of shared physical space.

What Makes an Effective Addiction Treatment Program?

Instead, let’s look at what creates a highly effective addiction treatment program. First, it includes a highly dynamic team of professionals working together to intimately get to know, work with, and support patients. A team of therapists, counselors, social workers, doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, and recovery support staff that work together throughout the day as a team to be able to support each patient’s individual journey of recovery during their treatment episode. It also includes a patient community, a group of patients walking together to support one another through treatment and early sobriety. Both groups work together to deliver support, pivoting as each patient deals with the clinical issues and transformative life changes that occur in a treatment setting. It includes vital family engagement of each patient, bringing parents, spouses, children, and other loved ones to be a part of the treatment experience, while they also seek and receive support for their own needs and their own recovery. It includes collaboration with other mental health, addiction, and primary healthcare providers, who are also stakeholders in a patient’s case and are invested in the care and recovery of that patient. Finally, it includes individuals in the outside recovery community, who become healthy and sober support for patients, as patients begin to engage in a life of sobriety and recovery. It takes a village for an individual to find recovery, and high-quality treatment is a delicate balance harmoniously created by all these different parts working together in a comprehensive approach for the betterment and support of each individual patient in a treatment program.

It sounds fairly overwhelming and difficult, doesn’t it? Now, does it also sound like something that can be done virtually?

Online Addiction Therapy is Better than No Therapy

Let’s be clear, this is not a condemnation of virtual therapy. For many individuals, being able to see a therapist once a week or once a month virtually is a godsend. For many therapists in an outpatient setting, being able to see clients virtually allows them to offer services to many who would be unable to access them otherwise. Virtual mental health services are an important resource for many. However, when viewing treatment from the perspective of an addiction treatment program, patients suffer when addiction treatment is delivered virtually versus when it is delivered in-person.

Virtual mental health treatment or virtual therapy can absolutely be a convenient and accessible option for those seeking help, and for many individuals suffering from mental health issues, virtually therapy can literally be lifesaving. However, when someone is suffering from addiction or substance use disorder and have reached the point where they need to go a rehab or into a treatment program, there is no doubt that in order to receive the most comprehensive and highest quality of care, they must go to a treatment center delivering care in an in-person environment. It is virtually impossible to create the connection and community needed to recover in a virtual world. It may be the easier, softer way, but there is certainly evidence that suggests the easier, softer way rarely works in recovery from addiction.

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual-diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Contact us at (866) 929-4318 or email our team at