During the coronavirus pandemic, many medical and behavioral health treatment providers worked to move their treatment services online for those in need.
While telemedicine has existed for some time, the dangers posed by COVID-19 transmission increased the urgency for making virtual care more accessible for the American public.
That includes virtual rehab services for the more than 20 million Americans who live with a substance use disorder, commonly referred to as drug addiction.
What Is Telehealth Rehab?
Telehealth rehabilitation, or virtual rehab, is a term that’s used to describe rehab services that are delivered virtually.
This can occur by phone, a smart device (e.g. iPad, tablet), or by way of a computer using video conferencing technology.
Telehealth treatment services are sometimes offered by:
- general clinicians
- social workers
- nursing home facilities
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT) providers
- drug rehab centers
Not all healthcare providers offer virtual medical care or substance use treatment options.
At the same time, the array of providers who do offer virtual care has expanded over the last two years, due in large part to safety precautions related to COVID-19.
What Kinds Of Telehealth Rehab Services Are There?
Addiction rehabilitation is most effective when it takes a holistic approach to treatment, incorporating both medical and behavioral health services.
To help meet the needs of people with addiction, rehab centers and individual treatment providers have adapted a variety of treatments for a virtual rehab environment.
Common forms of telehealth rehab services for addiction include:
Virtual Rehab Programs
Inpatient rehab is often the ideal option for someone with a severe addiction, particularly when they’re newly sober, in the early stages of recovery, or medically unstable.
During COVID-19, however, many addiction centers closed their doors, or began accepting a limited number of clients to prevent potential virus spread within their facilities.
As this occured, many rehab centers developed and launched virtual outpatient programs, including virtual intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization (PHP) programs.
How Virtual Rehab Programs Work
Each rehab center differs in how they operate its virtual programs. But the goal, typically, is to provide the same amount of structure and support as in-person rehab.
Virtual rehab programs may require access to a computer for video-based treatment programming, or a phone for video or audio-based services.
Virtual rehab programs may offer:
- behavioral therapy
- individual counseling
- group therapy
- support groups
- virtual medical care
- virtual interactive services
- psychiatric services
- remote patient monitoring
- medication-assisted treatment
- psychoeducation (i.e. drug education)
- mental health/dual diagnosis treatment
Like in-person rehab, virtual rehab may require that you attend treatment for a certain number of hours per day or week.
Treatment programming may be adapted to meet accessibility needs and other guiding principles for effective addiction treatment.
Drug and alcohol counseling is a cornerstone of treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Many addiction counselors offer this counseling virtually.
Virtual therapy services may occur over video, using a phone or computer, over a phone call, or through text messages—depending on client preference or the available services of the provider.
Virtual counseling can help by:
- having someone to check in with you regularly
- teaching supportive coping skills and strategies
- allowing clients to continue treatment without risking COVID-19 transmission
- helping you remain accountable for avoiding self-destructive or otherwise non-recovery-oriented behaviors
- helping to prevent drug or alcohol relapse
Virtual Group Therapy
Various forms of group therapy, including self-help support groups and skill-learning groups, can be helpful for building up a strong support network during the addiction recovery process.
This can also help you, or a loved one with addiction, develop important life skills in recovery and learn from the successes and challenges of others.
Like with individual counseling, telehealth group therapy may involve dialing in to a meeting through the use of a phone or accessing it via a secure, HIPAA-compliant video platform.
When in-person options aren’t available, virtual group therapy can help by easing feelings of isolation and helping you remain accountable in your recovery.
Some psychiatrists may offer telehealth, also known as telepsychiatry, for clients with mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or a dual diagnosis.
This may take place over the phone or through the use of a computer. Each provider is subject to differ in the types of mediums they offer and the platforms used.
Does Health Insurance Cover Virtual Rehab?
Insurance coverage for telehealth rehab services can vary depending on your insurance provider, your individual policy, and other individual factors.
Some insurance companies have expanded, or initiated, insurance plan coverage for drug and alcohol telehealth services during COVID-19.
This may apply to people with:
- public insurance (e.g. Medicaid, Medicare)
- insurance through an employer
- private insurance
- military insurance (i.e. Tricare)
But this isn’t true of all insurers. To find out whether your insurance provider covers telehealth, you’ll need to contact your provider directly or check your policy for more information.
Benefits Of Virtual Addiction Treatment
Telehealth services for drug and alcohol addiction can offer a number of benefits for people in all stages of their treatment and recovery process.
During COVID-19, virtual rehab has offered a way for people to continue to attend treatment for addiction without risking virus transmission.
Additional benefits of telehealth rehab include:
- eliminates transportation time/costs
- convenience for parents and working adults
- ability to continue treatment amid facility closures
- makes treatment accessible for incarcerated populations
What Are The Limitations Of Virtual Drug Rehab?
Virtual rehab isn’t for everyone. Despite its benefits, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has its limitations in both accessibility and effectiveness.
Limitations of virtual addiction treatment might include:
- lack of insurance coverage for telehealth services
- lack of social connection with at-home services
- requires stable and secure access to a phone/computer
- reduced ability of treatment providers to read body language over the phone/screen
- a narrower range of treatment providers that offer telehealth
- less opportunity for stringent monitoring of client behaviors
- greater risk of triggers in a home/non-clinical environment
- personal challenges in being emotionally vulnerable over the phone or via video calls compared to in-person sessions
When considering telehealth rehab for a drug or alcohol problem, it’s important to keep these potential limitations in mind, should they apply to your own personal circumstances.
If you have an existing relationship with a treatment provider, such as a family physician, consider consulting them about the pros and cons of virtual treatment.
Finding Telehealth Rehab For Addiction
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a challenge for families to find safe and effective treatment for addiction.
If you or a loved one are considering telehealth rehab, call our helpline now to learn more about your treatment options.
Published on January 28, 2022
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine — Rehabilitation Therapy | Telehealth and Video Visits
- Healthcare.Gov — Mental health and substance abuse health coverage options
- University of Michigan Health Lab — COVID Forced Psychiatric Care Online, and Many Patients Want It to Stay There, Study Finds
- U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — Telehealth Insurance Coverage