The Matrix Model is a treatment approach that is administered over the course of a structured, 16-week period. Used most often with people who are addicted to stimulants (mainly cocaine and methamphetamine), the program is highly structured and is largely made up of group therapy sessions.
Users learn about the addiction and recovery processes, how to avoid a relapse, and how to socialize in a drug-free environment. As part of the Matrix approach, families are encouraged to actively participate in the recovery of their loved one. Weekly drug testing is another important component of programs that utilize the Matrix Model and is conducted to assess recovery progress and encourage program compliance.
Understanding the Matrix Model
The Matrix Model is a 16-week intensive treatment model for drug addiction.1 It was developed to treat cocaine and methamphetamine users,1 but it can be implemented in the treatment of any type of substance use disorder and has even been adapted for residential inpatient settings.2 In most MM programs, participants come to the rehab center for treatment and return home each day.
The model was developed during the cocaine epidemic in Southern California in the 1980s. At that time, no outpatient treatment existed specifically to treat stimulant addiction.1 Drug rehabilitation efforts were often geared toward either heroin or alcohol users. Many programs were designed around a 28-day inpatient stay and relied heavily on the 12-step model.2 It was thought that a more targeted approach would benefit this new group of users who had begun showing up at treatment centers. Over time, the Matrix Model took shape based on clinical experience and research findings.1
Even though the Matrix Model can be an integral part of any addiction treatment program, it was developed originally to help people with stimulant use disorders.3 In contrast to alcoholics, people who are addicted to cocaine and other stimulants tend to have shorter histories of use, experience periods of abstinence followed by relapse, and are not in denial about their addictions.2 They have powerful cravings, and preventing relapse is the key issue in treatment.4
The Matrix Model draws on a number of evidence-based treatments for substance abuse, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and 12-step facilitation therapy. They have been studied in large clinical trials, compared to other types of treatments, and have been found to reduce symptoms over the long term.5
Several studies have examined the Matrix Model’s effectiveness with regard to various treatment outcomes.6
- A 1985 pilot study found that users who chose the Matrix Model program over a 28-day inpatient hospital program or a 12-step group showed lower rates of cocaine use 8 months after they were treated, compared to those who participated in those other types of treatment.
- Another study of methamphetamine users who were treated using the Matrix Model found that this group had significantly reduced their meth and other drug use 2 to 5 years after treatment. Many of these people also had also become gainfully employed and stayed out of jail.
- A 48-session alternative Matrix Model program for gay and bisexual men who abused methamphetamines found those who participated were less likely engage in risky sexual behaviors (due to their reductions in drug use), an important factor in preventing the spread of HIV.
The Matrix Model brings together many different components of addiction treatment, including relapse prevention, family therapy, group therapy, addiction education, and peer support groups.3
The main components of the model are:1,6
- Individual therapy sessions: These meetings focus on treatment planning and checking in to determine the person’s progress in the program. They may also involve family members or significant others.
- Early recovery groups: Users who are in the first months of sobriety meet to learn tools for dealing with cravings and managing their time. They create a daily schedule and monitor their progress with support from other group members.
- Relapse prevention groups: Users learn and share strategies for staying sober. These groups are very organized and include 32 different topics on preventing relapse, such as changing behaviors, altering patterns of thinking, and getting involved in 12-step groups.
- Family education groups: These groups take place over the course of 12 weeks and teach family members about the biology of addiction, the health effects of drugs, the conditioning of addiction, and effects of addiction on the family.
- Social support groups: These groups occur in the last month of treatment. Users focus on finding drug-free activities and friends that do not use.
- Twelve-step meetings: Part of the Matrix Model approach is introducing participants to the 12 steps and encouraging them to attend meetings. Some programs have onsite meetings.
Additionally, the model incorporates several therapies, such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Also known as CBT, this therapy helps users understand how their thoughts influence their behaviors. They learn how to replace negative thoughts that can lead to self-destructive behaviors with positive ones that promote healthier behaviors.7
- Motivational interviewing: This counseling technique is used to help people with substance abuse problems overcome their resistance to quitting drugs and engaging in treatment. The therapist/client relationship is a partnership, wherein the therapist works with the recovering individual to identify their motivation to get clean and make positive changes in their life.8
- Contingency management: This treatment strategy rewards drug-free behaviors, such as attending treatment sessions, and withholds rewards or implements consequences for drug-using behaviors (e.g., failing a drug test or not taking prescribed medications).9
Matrix Model programs also perform drug tests randomly on a weekly basis. Drug testing is used to keep users accountable and reward sobriety. It is not used to punish users. A positive drug test may indicate a need for increased structure in the program.2
Core Principles of MM
The Matrix Model uses 8 core concepts or guiding principles. These are:1
Matrix Model therapists adopt a positive, encouraging relationship with their patients.
- Establish a positive and collaborative relationship between the therapist and the recovering user. The therapist treats the person with empathy and respect instead of confrontation. They set goals together and work as a team.
- Create structure and set expectations. The program outlines to the person what is expected of them, such as attendance at weekly groups. The structure provides consistency and helps them learn how to plan.
- Teach the client about the nature of addiction. The recovering user learns how their drug use has affected their brain and what changes they can expect to see in key areas (thinking, mood, and relationships) over the course of the program as they begin recovery.
- Employ cognitive-behavioral concepts. The program teaches the person skills they can use to avoid using stimulants in the future, such as identifying triggers. The person goes out and practices these skills during the program and reports back to their group.
- Reinforce behavioral change. Participants receive rewards that promote abstinent behaviors. For example, in some programs, participants that submit a drug-free urine test can take part in a pizza party at the end of the week.
- Educate family members about recovery. The family learns about the addiction and recovery process, as well as ways to help their loved one during treatment (e.g., by attending scheduled sessions).
- Introduce the user to self-help groups and encourage participation. The 12-step model is presented to people in the program as a way to receive ongoing support in a drug-free environment.
- Monitor drug use through urine tests. Matrix Model programs use drug testing to monitor patients and provide feedback, such as rewards when they submit a negative test or discussion about a positive test.
Matrix Model therapists adopt a positive, encouraging relationship with their patients. They try to cultivate the patient’s self-esteem and dignity.3 Their overall approach is non-judgmental, patient-centered, and designed to move at the patient’s own pace, and it meets the patient where they are in the recovery process.2
The goals or desired outcomes for patients who go through the Matrix Model program are the following:
- Become educated on addiction: discover how the brain is affected by drug use and how drug use impacts the life of the user and their family.
- Learn about the recovery process: understand how the recovering individual’s brain heals and the stages they can expect to go through as they remain abstinent.
- Understand cravings and triggers: learn how they lead to relapse and how to manage them before they get out of control.
- Become involved with support groups: attend 12-step meetings and learn the value of these groups in recovery.
- Build a sober support network: realize the importance of being involved with drug-free peers and figure out how to meet and connect with these people.
- Stay clean: avoid a relapse and, in the case of a lapse, understand the reasons behind it and move forward in recovery with new insight.
What to Expect
A typical Matrix Model program lasts 16 weeks. During that time, the patient works directly with a therapist, who coordinates the patient’s care.6
Treatment consists mainly of groups, with 3 to 10 individual sessions over the duration of the program. Patients attend 2 relapse prevention groups and 1 family/education group per week. During the first 4 weeks, they also attend 2 early recovery skills groups per week. After they’ve been in the program for 12 weeks, they attend the social support group instead of the family education group.1
A sample schedule might look something like this:1
- Weeks 1-4: early recovery skills group
- Weeks 1-16: relapse prevention group
- Weeks 1-12: family education group
- Weeks 13-16: social support group (continues past week 16)
- Weeks 1-4: early recovery skills group
- Weeks 1-16: relapse prevention group
This schedule also includes random urine tests once a week.
If you’re living with stimulant addiction and interested in a rehab program that offers the Matrix Model, reach out today. You don’t have to suffer one more day.
- Rawson, R. and McCann, M. (2014). The Matrix Model of Intensive Outpatient Treatment. Matrix Institute.
- Weiner, A. (2016). The Matrix Model in the New Healthcare World: Implementing EBPs. Matrix Institute on Addictions.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). The Matrix Model (Stimulants).
- McCann, M. (2009). Matrix Model Overview. Matrix Institute on Addictions.
- Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. What Is Evidence-Based Practice?
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. Psychotherapy.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1999). Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Abuse Treatment.
- Higgins, S. and Petry, N. (1999). Contingency Management: Incentives for Sobriety. Alcohol Research & Health, 23(2), 122-127.